Energy flows where attention goes
When I learned to snowboard the best advice someone gave me was to look where I wanted to go, not where I didn’t.
This advice came in handy again as I rode a motorbike around Bali. Road lanes are ill-defined in Bali, so it’s not always so easy to know how much space you have. It was nerve wracking as I watched cars or other bikes come at me. I would tense up and start heading toward them. The bike would literally move in the direction I looked even though I didn’t want to go that way. Then I remember the terrific snowboarding advice and applied it to motorbike riding. When a bike came my way on a narrow path I didn’t look at the bike; I looked at the place on the path where I wanted the bike to go.
It’s pretty obvious how this advice can apply to all areas of our life.
I spent nearly all my time growing up looking at the things I didn’t like. Thinking if I could push against them hard enough or control those things they would go away or I would be protected. I also didn’t look too much at the good things. If we don’t get our hopes up about a good turn of events, we won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t pan out.
I was in my 30’s when a friend recommended the book, Excuse Me Your Life is Waiting, by Lynn Grabhorn. In a nutshell, this book taught me to look at the things in life I liked and were working for me and not put my attention on the things that were frustrating, annoying or not at all in my control. The idea is that by focusing on what’s working you will see more of that in your life. .
The concept of putting my attention on what I liked had never been presented to me and honestly, at the time, I thought it was a bit ridiculous to think that what I focused on had any influence over my reality.
Now I know the more I focus on what is good and going right the more of that comes into my experience.
Did practicing these techniques make my left perfect? No. Did it make my life better? You better believe it did!
What I’ve come to learn is our brain seeks out potential dangers (what’s not working) as a survival mechanism. This was great for protecting us back in the day but we no longer need to be ever vigilant of the dangers lurking around the corners. We are safe and most of have our needs met. Let’s teach our brains it can rest a minute.
Be thankful for what you already have
A gratitude practice is the training. Consciously take the time to focus on what is working. The practice is that simple. Like with most practices, you have to do it more than once and keep doing it. I recite items I’m grateful for at bedtime or as part of journaling. I also repeat the mantra, “Thank you for all the gifts I received today and tomorrow, bring me more.”
Do you take time each day to look at the good? When you’re stuck in traffic can you remain calm and think “Now I have more time to listen to my favorite podcast or the music I like.”
That’s what focusing on the good can bring you. Ease and peace in almost every situation.
Another focus habit that goes along with this is what I call catastrophising. When I walk down the street I might have a flash in my mind of me falling or if I’m headed to the airport I picture myself missing the plane. Not just picturing but playing out the whole story of how it happens. Catastrophising is creating a story in your head of a situation not working out for you.
I used to go down a crazy spiral, drawing the story out to its horrible end with great detail. I could feel the stress in the pit of my stomach and up my shoulders. Did the bad thing happen? All most all the time it never did, and if something didn’t work out it was never as bad as I imagined. But I had put myself through the stress as if it had.
After years of practice, I’ve tamed this habit. I still catastrophize at times but I catch myself quickly and remind myself that things always work out for me. And even if it doesn’t work out as I hope, I’ll be able to manage what does come and there is no point in worrying about it until I know what I’m facing.
Ah! What freedom. Do I catch myself every time? No. But this is why we practice. When we find ourselves focusing on areas that bother us, catch it and make the conscious effort to look at what we want or what is working for us. We change the story by what we focus on. Each time we catch it we are teaching our brain a new habit and the practice becomes easier the next time.
The only way to know for sure is to try it for yourself. Be your own n=1 experiment. Before you begin, take note of how you feel. What is your stress level? How quick are you to anger and frustration?
During the week, actively focus on what is working in your life. If you catch yourself paying attention to that that is annoying you shift your focus. Don’t beat yourself up that you were focusing on the negative, just shift your focus. If you catch yourself imagining horrible scenarios, stop and think of all the good ways the scene can unfold.
Take notes each day. Are you shifting your focus more easily? Are you catching yourself more often? Is there a greater sense of ease in your day?
We get to create the stories in our lives so let’s create ones that unfold brilliantly.
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