The Focus of Attention

There is a saying common in create-your-own-reality circles, “What you focus on grows larger”.  This is exactly the same as a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.  If all you can see when you look in the mirror is that big, red pimple on the end of your nose, you are also sure that is what everyone else is looking at as well.   This is certainly true in middle school, and your peers will reward you with confirmation of it.   What you seek, you do indeed find.

This also the basis of the parenting advice taught in schools, ” Catch your child being good!” and “Children will live up to, or down to, your expectations of them”.  Why so many quotes?  Partly to point out that “what you focus on grows larger” is just a woo-woo way of saying something that is pretty well accepted by mainstream society, and partly to lay the groundwork for using consciously directed focus to improve your life.

Think of a dark cabaret, filled with people and talking, staff moving around, smells wafting through the air.  The spotlight comes up on the stage and everyone focuses their attention on the stage.  If the performer is good enough, your awareness of all that other activity can simply disappear.  Imagine then, how selective attention to what you enjoy about what is happening in your life can make the parts you don’t enjoy “disappear”.

Each thing has positive and  negative aspects, so you have the choice of what to put your attention on.  This takes practice as well, and at times, it takes giving yourself permission to ignore things which you dis-enjoy.  Or to put a positive “spin” on it.  Same thing.  For example,  I am regularly visited by the ghost of martyrdom past that I learned at my mother’s knee. I find myself thinking that my family leave things undone for me to do; belongings strewn around, food unrefrigerated, toilet paper unstocked, etc. I think, ‘Why is this always my job? or ‘Can’t anyone else see that this has to be done’ or similar versions of the same theme.  So I suggest, or complain, or nag, all the while angry that I should even have to say anything.

In fact, I do not have to do any of those things.  I can choose to leave the thing undone, I can choose to do it for my own reasons, I can choose to mention it as a problem and ask my family for input in resolving it.  What I actually choose to do will vary, but the task in front of me each time is to focus on what I want and not on what makes me angry.  Sometimes I want help, sometimes I want appreciation, sometimes I want it not to be up to me at all.  When I can identify that desire, I can move towards it.  If all I am looking at is what is wrong, all I can see is what is wrong!

Sometimes we get in too deep to be able to find a positive side.  As always, there are options.  Ignore it until you feel better and then try again,  just a little bit.  I knit a sweater once from the pattern from hell.  Lots of things didn’t work and my fixes seemed to make more problems.  I finally posted my quandry on a knitting forum and one responder sympathized, saying she had some projects like that in a drawer.  I was flabbergasted.  I could put it in a drawer! That had never dawned on me.  When I finally pulled the project back out, months later, I had gained a new perspective and was able to make choices about what I was willing and not willing to do and the sweater got done.  Distraction is not only a wonderful parenting tool, but a terrific self-sanity tool as well.

We are used to disregarding many of our thoughts, feelings, accomplishments.  Dis-regard, not look at.  This is a terrific tool, and very useful, but only when you are dis-regarding what you DON’T like!  So, while you are dis-regarding the things you don’t like, what are you putting in their place?  Simple.  What you DO like.  When someone compliments you, do you tell them it is nothing? Your project is great- do you say yes, but there are still problems?  Try this: whenever you hear yourself say, “Yes, but…”, change it (at least mentally) to “Yes, so…”  It is surprising the places that simple word choice will lead you!

Look at what you have and appreciate it.  Look at who you are, what you can do,  and appreciate it.  And then, as Abraham urges, look forward with eagerness to what is coming.

 

 

The importance of feeling good

Seems like a no-brainer, right?  Feeling good is it’s own reward.  This is true and obvious, so why do we all do so many things that don’t feel good?  The short answer is that we have convinced ourselves that we must.  We “have to” work at that crummy, low-paid job which isn’t even fun and the managers don’t appreciate what unique and valuable things we have to offer.  We “have to” get up all night long to feed that baby, and then spend all day cooking, cleaning and taking care of the other rug rats.  We “have to” chop that wood, bale that hay, can those vegetables.

“Whoa!”, you say, “Of course I have to do those things!  We’d never survive if we didn’t!”  I am not taking exception to things needing to get done in life, just the perspective of “having to”.  It strikes me as a fundamental need for people to have a sense of freedom (why else do we all want lots of money?) and if you look at the things you do all day as being required of you, rather than chosen by you, your sense of freedom is diminished.  (see “Choices”)

We may not have control over what happens in our lives, but we have always got the choice of how we choose to see and feel about them.  The steering wheel in my car had been shaking for a week or so, and I thought about checking it out to see what it meant.  Then yesterday my husband had a flat tire when he got up to go to work.  He changed the tire, but on his way home, the lug nuts must have worked loose and the wheel fell off while he was driving.  He was fine, but the truck needed a lot of repair.  This was a reminder to me to get on with seeing to my car, which as it turned out had a belt separation and according to the mechanic could have blown out at any time, but soon for sure.

Since I brought my car to the same shop as my husband had, the mechanic commiserated with me about so much car repair expense.  Then he said, “The thing that worries me, you know, is they say that bad things always come in threes…” .  “The trick,” I replied, laughing, “is to see it as a good thing!”  My husband had kept the car under control and escaped injury, I was chivvied into getting my car fixed, which saved the stress of a blowout as well as the cost of towing!  I counted all that as  four good things, minimum.

It is all about perspective.  Everything that happens can be construed as good or bad, depending on how you view it.  Even things that are almost universally considered bad have good aspects.  The Holocaust and the Twin Towers attack, which are  horrifying and fearful examples of  ‘Man’s inhumanity to Man’  have caused people the world over to look around with new eyes at the global community and what makes it work, to hold their loved ones close and remember to appreciate them, to be grateful for the good things life has to offer us, individually as well as world wide.

Okay then, the importance of feeling good.  I want to juxtapose the Law of Attraction and mainstream “reasons” for feeling good, mostly to save me a whole ‘nother post, as this is the only LoA thing I want to say in this context.  The LoA teachings posit that what you are thinking/feeling now is what you are attracting to yourself for the future.  Obviously then, if you want good-feeling things to come to you, you find a way to feel good now (or as good as you can, as soon as you can), no matter what is happening.

The more mainstream reasons to maintain feeling good are, firstly, that it feels good.  Duh. Secondly, when you feel good, you get inspired ideas for dealing with things.  This does not happen when you are depressed or angry or frightened.  You may think of solutions to problems at those times but they are depressed or angry or frightened solutions.  Thirdly, when you feel good you get where you want to go so much more easily.   Hard work feels less ‘workish” and more productive,  problems are challenges to surmount, you are more willing to exult in your progress, etc.  Doing your tasks without feeling good about it feels like pushing against yourself, slogging, increasingly difficult, and in the end- not good enough.  And certainly not worth the effort.

You know it’s true. You want to always do the things you want to do, and feel good while you’re doing them.  So if you want to make a living, take care of the children and keep the farm, you can choose to feel good about the ways you have chosen to do that.  Until you make another choice, that is…

 

 

Choices

There are very few things that we have no choices about.  If you think about it, we have choices about whether to eat, drink, and even breathe.  If you choose not to breathe, your body will send increasing signals to do so, and if you continue to choose not to, you will pass out and your body will resume breathing without your conscious participation.  The same is true to a lesser extent with food and water.  Eventually you will really WANT to eat and/or drink.  People who manage to withdraw from life to the point of terminal starvation/dehydration are really proving the point of free will!  But for most of us, it ought to be very comforting to know that even in meeting such basic necessities of life there is freedom of choice.

If we don’t “have to” eat, drink, or breathe, then how much less do we “have to” anything else?

We often forget that we have gotten to where we are by making decisions, some of which are so long-standing as to be assumptions.  It can be helpful, therefore, to re-examine some of those previous decisions.  I have a friend who holds herself to very high standards and often finds herself overstretched to meet all of the expectations and deadlines placed on her.  She usually manages to fulfill those expectations, but at a very high cost to her health and well-being.  She feels like she’s being ground into dust all the time, isn’t compensated well enough for it, and isn’t having fun doing even those parts that she might otherwise enjoy.  And as soon as one set of objectives is met, others spring up to take their place, so there is no respite.

From an outside perspective, some of the choices that she has made are obvious, and in fact her friends and family are always suggesting options which she finds unsuitable. But for this discussion we will examine a few.

She feels that she must accept all of the assignments she is given and that she must deliver a product which is up to her high level  of expectation.  She feels that an outside agency has the right to dictate her deadlines and require multiple revisions of her work. She feels so driven by these requirements that she is willing to sublimate sleeping, eating and her desires to relax by working out, meditating and working on other projects.

Some, if not all, of this pressure is internally generated.  Some could be relieved by substituting the words “I want” or “I choose to” in place of “I must”.  In fact, that is one way of clarifying to herself that not only does she have options, but that some of the tasks she feels she “must” do are much less important than others, helping her to rank their priority.  Underlying all of her willingness to take on this workload are the assumptions that she must work hard to get what she wants, that suffering will pay off in the end, that at least some tasks can be more important than feeling good, that she must always attempt to reach her highest quality and output, no matter what, and that others have the right to demand this of her.

So now she has a lot of things to look at.  What can she say no to, or put other limitations on?  If it is this hard to do what she is trying to do, is it really worth it?  Other people of our acquaintance seem to be able to get what they want without suffering, so is that old saying a bad assumption?  At what point does she tell the outside world to go hang so she can relax and feel good, or will she keep going until she crashes and burns?  If so, what does that accomplish for her or her clients?   This is a lesson many of us have to learn as parents, to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our children.  It is ironic, in that situation, that we choose to learn how to feel better in ourselves for someone else’s sake.

At those times of feeling trapped, pressured, or frustrated, it is very helpful to remember what choices we made that got us there and then question whether it is time for making a new choice.

 

Words have Power. Or not.

Sometimes words have the power to open a new door to the world.  Sometimes they can strike a thrill of fear into your heart.  And sometimes, they are just noise flowing over you without making any impact at all.  So what makes the difference?  And what difference does that make to you?

The power of words lies in your hearing of them.  Your buzz words are someone else’s blah words.   In fact the words that activate you, for good or evil, do not even stay the same from one time to another.  To my great disappointment, that 3 word jotted note I made, to remind myself of an amazing insight I wanted to record, now portrays nothing of particular interest.  The ability of particular words to work on you depends on a multitude of factors from your mood, the timing of hearing them, and the issues that are cooking in your life at the moment.

The significance of noticing this effect, though, is that when you get a “ping” from a word or phrase that has power for you, it is a moment of opportunity.  If the “ping” is one that feels good, it helps you to identify something you want.  You could use it to build an effective affirmation.  My friend Coffee Lady (not her real name) is a big believer in repeating affirmations.  I have found that doesn’t do anything for me unless I believe it, and I can tell by saying it whether it falls into the category of

a) helpful-the ping feels good and I feel like I could elaborate on it,

b) counterproductive-the ping feels bad and I even hear myself arguing with myself about it or

c) just noise-no ping-no effect.

If the ping feels uncomfortable, it is still an opportunity.  This might be in the form of recognizing an issue you want to change in your life, and you can significantly defuse an issue by defusing the power words that bring it up.  I owe a significant change in my life to a time when I was feeling quite depressed and my friend Jill turned that experience upside-down by saying, “I prefer to think of it as ‘cocooning’ not ‘depression’.”  Just to call it by a more positive name gave me relief immediately, and then I had a new perspective; I could see my feelings as manageable.

What other power do words exert?  How about words like “can’t” or “must”.  These are coercive words, exaggerations which rob you of a sense of choice.  Nothing you say can actually remove your options, but if you say it enough, you begin to feel that way, which is very convincing!  (see “Choices”)

Our family had a tongue-in-cheek rule, “Never say always or never!”, because these are usually fighting words.  “You always…”, “You never…”.  The double whammy,  “I always have to…” or , “I never get to…” are a sure sign someone needs to take some breaths and figure out what they are really asking for.  Even for adults “always” and “never” can be counted on to push buttons.  Always :)

The words you use, the words you choose are either an accurate assessment of how you see yourself, your life and the world around you, or else they are an old habit.  In either case, they can teach you a lot about how you think, and they represent a powerful tool for change as well.

Do you want to feel good?

Better said, do you want to have the ability to feel good no matter what comes into your life?

You do have that ability already.  However, most of us need to build up that muscle a bit.  Identifying this ability and improving it in ourselves is the basis of these pages, and my path in this life.

I make a distinction between wanting to feel good no matter what, and having the ability to feel good no matter what.  It seems obvious that we all want to feel good all the time, but the truth is, if you haven’t already discovered this, that having some “bad” in your life really makes you appreciate the “good” ( you can’t have a rainbow without rain, eh?).  I use the quotation marks as a reminder that “good” and “bad” are judgments that we apply to things, but those judgments may change over time, or they may only partially describe an experience.

Cass Elliot of  “The Mamas and The Papas” (a vocal group of the 1960′s) was hit on the head by a falling pipe during the salad days of the group (“bad”, yes?) and afterward her already-impressive singing range was increased by three notes (“good”, yes?).  So was that “bad” or “good” or a “mixed blessing”?  Overall do you suppose she figured, in the end, it was a “good” thing?

So, let’s say we want to feel good at least most of the time, if not all of it.  We all have that ability to some extent.  For example, when something “bad” happens, like a car accident, very quickly the people involved will find things to be relieved about. “At least no one was hurt”,  “At least we were insured”, etc.  The desire to feel better is very strong and we “instinctively” look for the “up” side,  particularly when the unpleasant feelings we are having are intense and unexpected.

However, throughout the day, every day, we are faced with things we label as “good” or “bad” and then feel the appropriate feeling about. It is essential to understand that every thought we have has a feeling that will accompany it.  “I am no good at this” will always feel irritating, frustrating.  “He always drinks the coffee before I can have a cup in the morning” will always feel resentful.  “I am so good at this!” will always feel energizing.  “That was so thoughtful!” will always feel affirming.  My point is that each time we react to an event in our lives with a thought/judgment, it will generate a feeling.  More importantly, each thing that happens can be interpreted in more than one way.  The key here is to recognize that if you really want to feel good, you must consciously choose the perspective which will give you the good feeling!

For example, you wake up with a headache, there’s no coffee left, you hit all red lights on your way to work, the computer at work won’t boot up, your paper files seem to be misplaced…  You get the point.  Each of those things taken by itself is not a big deal, but the accumulation of them sends you into a downward spiral.  You find yourself saying, in your head at least, “This isn’t my day!” and “Now what can go wrong?”

I had a day like this recently, and despite all my practice in focusing on the positive, it took until the afternoon for me to see the humor in everything I touched exploding.  I heard myself complaining and being outraged at the continuous catastrophe, but I didn’t take the time to calm down and look for the ways in which I could appreciate it all, and as a result it got worse.  When I finally got tired of being frustrated and angry, I was able to see it as ludicrous, and therefore laughable.  At that point I could go back and look for reasons to be glad the day had gone as it had.  After all, the point wasn’t to be “realistic”, it was to feel better about it!

So even if you can’t control all of the things that come into your life, you always have control over how you choose to think, and therefore feel, about them.