13 Ways to Break Out of Self Focus (When Your Whole Life Is Already Built around Serving Others)


Perhaps you’ve heard that one of the best ways to overcome an inward focus (and the discouragement and depression that it can bring) is to serve others.

This is good advice. But what if your entire life is already built around serving others?

Let’s say that you’re a mother or a teacher or a caregiver or you serve in ministry…and practically everything you do is already either serving someone else or structured around the times and ways you serve.

And let’s say you’re finding yourself overwhelmed, and your emotions are turning in on you.

How is adding one more act of service supposed to feel like anything less than an extra burden? How is baking cookies for your neighbor, for instance, going to feel like anything other than one more thing to do for one more person?

And if baking cookies won’t help, what can you do to break out that self focus?

Here are thirteen ideas:

  1. Worship God—More important than turning your gaze outward is turning your gaze upward. Spend time simply worshipping God for who He is. Read Isaiah 40. Renew your awe of God.
  2. Go to the “ocean”—I live in Southern California, and a trip to the ocean always brings a calming sense of perspective to me. Looking across such vastness of space and power, totally independent of me, is a reminder to me that life is bigger than me. It’s a physical way of renewing my awe of God’s greatness and restoring healthy perspective of my finiteness. Perhaps you don’t live in Southern California or perhaps you’re not free to go to the ocean today. Go outside tonight and look at the stars. (Read Psalm 8 as you do.) Watch the sunrise tomorrow morning. Find “ocean” places and times that pull your perspective back to a big God and a little self.
  3. Pray for others—One of the greatest drains in ministry or service is investing in others without praying for them. If you find yourself weary of service and discouraged because of investment without fruit, take time to pray for God to work in the lives of those you’re serving.
  4. Read Psalms—Within the Psalms are raw, honest expressions of emotion. But they are more than venting. They are expressions of emotion to God. And they are inspired prayers by which we can express our own emotions while escaping that awful sense of our emotions caving inward on us. Even in honest expression, the psalmists help us turn our hearts upward toward God. Pray the Psalms. And if you’re too overcome to pray them, at least read them.
  5. Encourage someone—Look for an opportunity to give an unnecessary act of encouragement. It may be as simple as a “praying for you” text. It may be a handwritten note or a volunteered act of service. Give in a way that is not related to your position or your responsibilities.
  6. Thank someone—Not only is this a way of encouraging someone else, but it is good for us who are serving others to recognize there are people who have invested in us. Thanking others fills us with gratitude. And gratitude is the sister of joy.
  7. Read a Christian biography—Biographies, especially those of godly people, have the story benefit of pulling you out of yourself into another person’s world. But they have the added benefit of doing it while increasing your faith in God and renewing your desire to make a difference with your life for Him.
  8. Pray for suffering Christians—There are so many hurting people. Pray for the widows in your church, those going through cancer, those in the hospital, and for brothers and sisters around the world being persecuted for their faith. Pause to think through the needs of their hearts and how you would want people praying for you if you were in their circumstances. And then pray.
  9. Spend time in God’s Word—Emphasis on the word time. Take an hour or two or three to infuse your mind with truth. Read a whole book of the Bible. Even a long one. Or read one of the short epistles and just let its truth absorb into your soul. Listen to it on audio while you walk. Or read (and even listen too!) with a cup of coffee.
  10. Meditate on truth—Look up a passage of Scripture God has recently used to minister to you, maybe in a recent sermon or in your own Bible reading. Ruminate on it. Think it through from every angle. Write down insights from it. Share it with a friend.
  11. Spend time with a godly friend—In the midst of giving relationships, we need replenishing relationships. Invite a friend to meet for an early morning cup of coffee. Or choose a biography you’d both like to read and then set a time to talk about it later together. Talk about God’s goodness together. If you’re both busy (which is the premise of this post), look for a way to serve together.
  12. Remember the purpose of why you do what you do—Serving people requires many repetitive actions (moms washing dishes, teachers grading papers, ministry leaders preparing lessons and making visits, etc.). But they all add up to invest in a life. Don’t let the repetition become mundane. Remember the lives you’re touching and the why behind your responsibilities.
  13. Take note of what God is doing in your life—If we’re not careful, we forget that there is a much larger picture of what God is doing in our lives than the snapshot of today’s to-do list. Periodically pause to remember recent victories, reflect on how God has deepened your faith, and to give thanks for the opportunity to serve others in His name.