The INAM Challenge – backgrounder

The INAM Challenge is simply saying “It’s not about me” in your head before you respond. This helps you become a good listener and enjoy true and deep relationships with those you love.

Because our very first reaction to anything – everything – is self-centered, and that stops us from being a good friend, a good listener, a supportive partner. Don’t feel bad – everyone does it. That’s just what humans do by nature.

This challenge in theory is not hard at all. We all already do the “It’s not about me” challenge in some situations. We just have to do it consistently and all the time.
For instance, someone says “There was a huge earthquake in New Zealand.” Our first reaction to it is “I was just there last year!” or “I should check my earthquake kit.” But we check it, and the first thing we actually say out loud is “Oh my gosh! I hope everyone is ok!” That’s basically what we need to do more often.

Being a good listener is the skill to keep the focus on the person in front of you, and we have to fight all of our biological instincts to make that happen. 

Our biological instincts want to insert ourselves 1. by literally making a reference to ourselves or 2. by emotionally reacting to things that aren’t about us. 

Below are examples from social media of what that looks like:

Poster: My new puppy and I had a great time at the beach!
Commenter: My dog and I love the beach too!

Poster: I am so excited about my new fitness plan with my wonderful trainer!
Commenter: What you need to do is eat vegan. I have a book for you. <3

Poster: My mom who has Parkinson’s didn’t eat anything for a few days, but she finally got some creme brule down! She always loved dairy!
Commenter: My mom loves dairy too! We have so much in common.

Poster: My son is fighting cancer, and I feel so angry that some people don’t vaccinate their kids, exposing him to preventable diseases.
Commenter: Sorry about your child’s health issues, but it doesn’t give you the right to criticize my parenting. How dare you accuse me of making your son sick!

Poster: My new bride and I apologize that we could only invite very few friends to keep our wedding small and intimate.
Commenter: So honored to have made the cut!

Pretty obvious so far? Now, how about this advanced example:

Poster: I am so excited about my new fitness plan with my wonderful trainer!
Commenter: Have you made a list of goals?

Poster: My new bride and I apologize that we could only invite very few friends to keep our wedding small and intimate.
Commenter: It was so beautiful!

Poster: I am saddened to announce the passing of my beloved dog.
Commenter: What happened?

ALL of these commenters benefit from being told “It’s not about you!” 
Of course in this age of social media and social anxiety, no one says anything to other people any more. So it’s completely up to you to say it yourself to yourself: “It’s not about me.”



How long can you go without talking about yourself?

Contrary to popular belief, most often, “talking about yourself” is not about a narcissist bragging. It’s about someone inserting themselves in someone else’s moment. Like that “I too love the beach!” comment. All of those social media comments above brings “I, me, my” into a post that had nothing to do with the commenter at all.

“That’s what I’m supposed to do! Say something to relate me to their story to show we have things in common,” is what I hear most often. This is where it could be very painful for you, so hang in. You might get offended, but it’ll be worth it when you get to the other side… You can saying “That’s what I know!” and keep doing what you’re doing. But if you want change, you can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing.

You probably feel “Can I just finish my story?,” right? In other words, you feel like they changed the subject? They actually did.


Don’t change the subject.

This is called conversation hijacking, and it causes an instant disconnection. When you encounter this, you’re just waiting for your friend to take a pause so you can leave and talk to someone else who’s interested in hearing your story. You’re in the right to feel they changed the subject. Because the topic of all of these conversations is YOU: not Paris, not hockey, not cycling. “I’m trying to tell you that we have this in common and trying to connect you!” is just an excuse for talking about themselves unless they are like a teenager and still under the curse of the survival instinct.

What if the positions were reversed? Can you finish this conversation without saying “I too was in Paris last year” at all and just let her talk? Can you let her finish a 15-minute monologue about her excitement without you saying “I” at all?

Advanced Class:

They might throw you a curve ball by appearing to invite you in to take the stage, “Have you been there?” or “Do you know anyone else who cycles?” But, oh no, you’re an INAM listener, so you know to bring the topic right back to her. “I have, [say to yourself “It’s not about me”] and I am excited you’re going! What’s the first thing you want to do when you get there?”

We all want to think we are a good listener. We aren’t.

When we are babies, we are all very self-absorbed. We are supposed to be. We are the protagonist of our story, and everyone else is a supporting cast. When they leave our sight, they no longer exist. You might be a genius, but still nobody is above that.

In the process of growing up, we learn that if we hit people, they hurt. If I win a meet, someone lost. If I am comforted by a shoulder to cry on, it means someone gave up hours of their life just to sit there. We learn that everyone’s life is their own story in which they are the protagonist, and their stories overlap with our stories. We learn to let each other have “their moment.”

It’s fine to have your moment. I like having my moment. The most important thing is to not take a moment that should belong to someone else. It’s called “stealing” the spotlight or “hijacking” a conversation.

We react to these adulthood negotiations in two different ways. One, we sit comfortably with this idea and accept our role in their stories as a supporting cast or as a background extra. Two, we focus on justifying stealing the spotlight.

We all do both of these in varying degrees and depths. If you don’t think you do the latter, it doesn’t mean you’re an exceptional listener. It just means you lack introspection. What sets a good listener apart from the rest is their commitment to acknowledging these disconnecting habits and to practicing other pathways that override them. “It’s not about me” challenge is a quick and easy way to cultivate a pathway.

Don’t let your excuses win.

When we want something, we are very clever in coming up with excuses to convince ourselves it’s ok to succumb to our desires. And there is no bigger desires than our survival instincts. You have a battle on your hand, and there is no shame in that.


How often do you take things personally? FAR more often than you think, and it’s self-serving.

The other way we insert ourselves into the conversation is by responding emotionally, i.e. taking things personally.

The typical way people mean by “taking things personally” goes like this.

You’re officiating a recreational ball game. You call a strike. The bench erupts in anger, throwing insults at you. They shout to each other “Don’t move! Someone dropped a contact lens!” You feel insulted, offended, frustrated, and upset from this incredibly unfair treatment.

Your anger is justified…. or is it?

Let me ask you. You’re upset and frustrated because the intensity and expression of anger you received wasn’t justified by your involvement in the incident, yes? So, by definition, you know that you couldn’t have caused the anger. You have nothing to do with it. You’re not the cause, the target, or the victim of this anger. It’s actually not even happening in your life unless you allow yourself to react emotionally to it.

A man wakes up and realizes his partner left him. He roars in shock and rushes out the door to get some fresh air and some coffee. He bumps into you and spills coffee. He screams at you and berates you. You are upset “What the hell is wrong with him! He’s the one who bumped into me!”

Your anger is justified. You were just on the receiving end of a violent, unfair treatment… Were you, though?


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