Imagine you’re happily driving down a country road on a clear, sunny day. Suddenly a semi truck crosses the center line and is heading right at you. Heart pounding and adrenaline rushing, you react. Will you avert disaster? Maybe. Maybe not. In this moment, your life depends on where you focus.
Professional driving instructors tell us that what people usually do in emergency situations is to stay focused on the object they are trying to avoid. In driving, where your eyes and mind are focused is most often where you will steer.
Unfortunately, if you were focused on the truck in the situation above you would likely steer right into it. The route to safety is to focus on where you want to go. In this case, you’d look away from the truck to a place that’s safer. You would then automatically steer the car in that direction. Safe!
You may be wondering, “What the heck does that have to do with creating more pleasure, passion, and purpose in my life?”
My response is “A great deal!” As in the example of the truck, your life depends on where you focus.
Focusing on What You Don’t Want Steers You to More of That
Often when we are feeling stuck, dissatisfied, confused, or unhappy we are focused on what we DON’T want. We are looking at the truck we’d like to avoid.
We’re thinking or saying “I don’t want to be in this miserable job another day” or “I don’t want to work on this project” or “I don’t want to have pizza for dinner tonight.”
From the big events to the small details in life, we tend to put a lot of our thoughts and attention on precisely what we don’t want.
So, what’s the problem with that? Well, it’s kind of like steering your car into the truck. The more you focus on what you don’t want, the more you head in that direction.
Your mind is wired to create whatever you focus on.
Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” and Maxwell Maltz’s “Psychocybernetics” are two classic books on this subject. These and other researchers tell us that the mind can’t tell the difference between something you’re thinking about that you want and something you’re thinking about that you do not want.
Whatever you think about, your mind goes to work to make that happen.
Getting More of What You Really Do Want
If you’d like to get more of what you want in life (pleasure, passion, purpose), shift your focus away from what you don’t want and clearly, purposefully towards what you do want.
Your mind will go to work creating that. You’ll get unstuck. Your energy will increase. Solutions, alternatives, and options will come to you more easily.
Here’s a recent personal example. At the end of a long day, I was getting ready to prepare dinner. I’d been grocery shopping and had the ingredients for three complex dishes I hadn’t made before.
Hungry and tired, I reviewed the recipes but quickly became frustrated and overwhelmed. I started saying to myself “I don’t want to make these dishes. I don’t want this to be so hard. I don’t want these recipes to be so complicated.”
Those thoughts increased my agitation. I felt stuck and upset. Then I took a deep breath. I asked myself, “What do I really want in this situation right now?” (Besides a personal chef!)
The answer was “I want to make a healthy and great tasting dinner in a way that is fast and easy for me.”
I quickly saw a solution I’d been unable to see minutes before: make only one of the new dishes that night along with a simple salad and save the other new recipes for another evening.
So that’s what I did. The cooking was less stressful and the food turned out great. I switched from what I didn’t want to what I did want. And it worked!
Are you focused on what you want or what you don’t want?
I know many (maybe most) of us have an ingrained habit pattern that focuses us on what we don’t want. Changing this pattern can be challenging. And I’ve seen with myself and my clients that it’s definitely worth doing!
In Your Life
The more you focus on what you do want, the more pleasure, passion, and purpose you will create in your life. Focus on the clear road ahead, not on the truck coming at you. Try experimenting with this.
1) When you’re feeling stuck, stressed, worried, angry, unhappy, or upset, become aware of what you’re focusing on. You may be focusing on exactly what you don’t want.
2) As soon as you notice you’re focusing on what you DON’T want, ask yourself, “What DO I want in this situation?”
3) Purposefully and intentionally, change your focus to and keep your focus on what you do want.
4) Repeat as needed.
A better life has been achieved when we are no longer trying to achieve a better life. It means that we are content, as we should be, with ourselves and what we have. To be anxious for more or to envy someone else’s life or possessions is self-defeating. We are then in a constant state of frustration, always hoping and waiting for more happiness.
So what is important? Enough, not more.
“Think of what you have rather than of what you lack. Of the things you have, select the best and then reflect how eagerly you would have sought them if you did not have them.” – Marcus Aurelius (121-180)
There is, here and now, much to appreciate. There is life itself with friends, family, and everything that is naturally before us. We just have to look around and take it in. Perhaps it is time to make a list of all the good things we have to grateful for.
Are there people in your life that you would miss dearly if they were not here? When you go for a walk don’t you see, hear, and smell, many things to appreciate and feel nice about? Like the flowers, trees, birds, and the clouds in the sky. A caterpillar crossing the sidewalk or your neighbor waving. A cute pup or child enthusiastically enjoying that moment in life.
“Whether in favor or in humiliation, be not dismayed. Let your eyes leisurely look at the flowers blooming and falling in your courtyard. Whether you leave or retain your position, take no care. Let your mind wander with the clouds folding and unfolding beyond the horizon.” – Hung Tzu-ch’eng (1593-1665)
It just makes good sense to be satisfied and at peace with yourself and others, and to enjoy life now.