The Incredibly Illusive Danger That You Cannot See

By: Jim Murphy

The Incredibly Illusive Danger That You Cannot See


  1. We all have the same basic life-dream: to live a meaningful, fulfilling life, with amazing experiences and deep, engaging relationships, a life of wonder, peace and joy.
  2. We also all have the same basic obstacles: a mind that thinks negative thoughts, has limiting beliefs, and an ego (that Great Trickster) that’s constantly comparing, endlessly threatened, and never satisfied.
  3. There’s one particular challenge that we all face, the nature of which is incredibly hard to see and even harder to own as our biggest obstacle and problem.
  4. Because it’s so illusive, most of us have no idea it’s a problem, THE problem. Even those who do realize it have serious difficulty navigating it.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich or clever or good looking, but they are not. They’re proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good looking there would be nothing to be proud about.” – C.S. Lewis

The greatest obstacle that we all face is fear (and its cousin anxiety) because it’s so debilitating. Because fear focuses on the future, it misses the beauty and possibilities in the present. And since fear is self-focused, it brings up all our limitations and weaknesses and reminds us of all that we want but cannot control.

Fear, however, is not the illusive (deceptive illusion) danger at the root of our greatest challenges. The great, illusive danger–which is our human default–is the never-ending focus on self.

I’ve shared with you before how selfless is fearless, but our natural default, however, is the exact opposite: we’re inherently self-centered. We place ourselves in the absolute center of the universe, and so we see and relate to the world with ourselves at the center. From this position, with so much out of our control, how could we not continually be offended, embarrassed, or irritated, afraid or anxious?

Pulitzer Prize finalist David Foster Wallace, in his commencement speech to Kenyon College, began his talk by telling the story of two fish swimming together. They come upon an older fish who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks, “What the heck is water?”

We’re like the fish. We’re so immersed in our own worlds that we don’t even realize the sea of self-obsession we’re swimming in. We can’t see the forest through the trees (or the ocean through the waves). We lose sight of the fact that the world we deal with and interact with is not the real world; it’s the world we’ve created in our minds. The world we respond to is the world that we believe exists.

We take away the infinite possibilities in the real world and replace it with the very limited and confining world we’ve imagined.

The problem is that your beliefs create your world, but your beliefs are limited. Your beliefs come from every experience, every misunderstanding, every pain, every memorable moment you’ve had. This lens that you see the world through is immensely crowded with painful moments from the past.

The key is to get free from all the clutter, or as Kevin Costner’s character in For the Love of the Game might say, clear the mechanism.

The self-centered clutter, however is quite immense. Our busy minds, full of ourselves, go in two directions: towards self-inflation and self-rejection.

We self-inflate (think more highly of ourselves than is true), which creates pressure to live up to the inflated self. We also think too low of ourselves, which necessitates a constant search for validation, leading to trying to control what we cannot so we can be ok (and so often end up in self-rejection). Both come from thinking of ourselves too much.

Like fish in water, this instinctive self-centeredness is the air we breathe. The illusive danger is that we don’t realize that we’re seeing the world through a completely limited and filtered lens. The deception is that, even if we realized it, we would miss the fact that this is our biggest problem, the one that leads to fear (since fear is the result of self-centeredness).

The solution is to have an accurate view of self (aka to be humble), to constantly remind ourselves of our limited, biased lens, and to intentionally step away from that lens as much as possible.

The solution is not, as Tim Keller says, to think less of ourselves, but to think of ourselves less. To get to the point, where we could be just as happy for the gold medalist ice skater who did the triple axle as if we did it, even though we fell and missed out on a medal.

The incredibly illusive danger that you cannot see is putting yourself in the center of the universe and not knowing it, and then not realizing that you’re not living in the real world, but the one you created, filled with limitations and self-centered fears.

Your universe easily becomes a web of illusions and deceptions that take you off track, from the unlimited potential you were created for, to a life of constant comparison, anxiety and fear.

What you can do

  1. Ask yourself this question: Who’s the first person that comes to mind who could really use this information, who may not realize how much their self-focused framework for viewing the world has limited their lives?
  2. If that person’s not you, have you not just proved my point? Other people need this, not me. I see the world pretty clear.
  3. Ask yourself if your life would change at all if no one could ever know about your skills or abilities, your possessions, achievements, looks, money or status (PALMS)? If no one would ever know if you failed over and over or instead were the architect of the greatest cathedral in the world? Would either of those impact your day to day life?
  4. Try the Inner Balance trainer from Heartmath. This is a device that plugs into your phone and attaches to your ear that helps you train your brainwaves to get into the zone, for most of us, to slow the brainwaves down. It uses the science of connecting the heart and mind. When you’re fully present, by definition, the focus on self is gone.
  5. In your next performance or game you play, ask yourself (or remind yourself) why you’re playing. Is it so you can compare well and feel better about yourself? So you can feel validated or at least not be embarrassed? Is your ego driving that motivation? Or are you playing to fully experience the moment, to use the game and your life to learn to master your ego and live the selfless/fearless life?

The choice is up to you. The default of living with ourselves in the center of the universe leads to a pride that is so hidden, few of us ever notice how it’s spread to every part of our lives. There is, however, immense freedom, peace and joy available in those moments when we’re completely self-forgetful.

Love Jim


Personal update: We just finished the remodel of the home gym. Now we’ve got a Clearlight IS-3 infrared sauna with red light therapy, a home-made cold plunge (thanks Tman!), a Peleton bike, an Inspire Fitness FTX Function trainer, and no more excuses. 🙂

Audiobook update: If you want to and have time to add any last-minute feedback on the upcoming Inner Excellence audiobook, let me know. I’ll send you the sneak-peak edition! We’re getting close!


Hope you had an amazing St. Patrick’s day! This article was finished after a few intense games of Dominion, where, thankfully, i remembered why I play, and that I can use every game, every moment to master my ego and focus on what I truly want: the absolute fullness of life that comes from complete self-forgetfulness.

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