Photo: Marina Burity
There are many reasons why we don’t always get what we want. One of these reasons is because we focus on the opposite of what we want. Sometimes, we just can’t help it. But, if we are conscious of our thoughts, we can intercept these thoughts and shift our frame of mind towards our desired goals.
Have you ever been particularly annoyed by a person or situation? The more we complain about it, the more we notice it. The more we notice it, the worse it becomes. The next time we interact with that person or situation, we almost expect to be annoyed and thus subconsciously look for those small triggers that’ll make us annoyed.
In a similar example of an opposite scenario: Have you ever shopped for a particular kind of car which you’ve never noticed before? For example, a black SmartCar or a silver Toyota Prius. And suddenly, you see them everywhere? Similarly, have you shopped for a particular piece of clothing, let’s say a blazer style jacket for the spring, and suddenly you notice them everywhere?
Whether we focus on things we want or do not want, the truth is that What we focus on expands.
From my experience, dreams do come true, for the sole reason that the more you focus on something, the more of it you’ll notice and you’ll be particularly sensitive to opportunities that’ll come your way which will allow your dreams to become your reality.
Try It For Yourself! A Simple Exercise
Not convinced of what I’m saying? That’s cool. I still like you. :) But before you throw your hands up, try this simple yet powerful exercise. It’s so simple, you could do it anywhere.
1. Next time you are walking or driving somewhere, or sitting on the bus or a car. Remember to do this.
2. Pick a color and focus on it. Look for that color in your field of vision as you’re moving about. For example, focus on the color red.
3. Do this for several minutes. Do you notice this color in so many places?
4. Pick another color and focus on it. Forget about the first color, just focus on the second. For example, try the color green.
5. Continue for several minutes. Scan your surroundings. Do you suddenly notice your second color popping up everywhere?
6. Repeat several times using different colors each time.
Pretty cool huh? As simple or as silly this may sound, it’s a powerful exercise that I like to play around with. Each time we shift our focus on a new color, it feels like a shift in vision, or putting on special glasses that only filters this color.
I first learned about this cute technique from my mother. We were in the car and I was particularly annoyed about something and I started acting like an unreasonable child. She used this exercise to remind me that focusing on thoughts of frustration will only makes our frustrations stronger. I was deeply touched by the experience. I learned that we can proactively shift our thoughts by shifting our focus. A shift in our thoughts will shift our emotions, almost instantly.
Practices in Real Life
So, how can I put this into practice? Great question! There are many situations where you can benefit by putting your power of focus into practice. The following are some practical suggestions.
- Annoying People - It’s inevitable that we will interact with people who frustrate us. Instead of focusing on why they are frustrating us or the feelings of frustration, focus on things we admire about them. It might take some practice, but start it the next time you are in their presence. Look for things you like about them and what you admire about them. Perhaps they have nice shoes, or a nice smile, or their work ethic is admirable. Focus on that and look for more to focus on.
- Frustrating Situations - When situations do not favor our expectations, it can be super frustrating. But, the more we think about how annoyed we are, the more red-eyed and anger-consumed we become, which is not helping the situation or your health. Focus on the positives of a situation. Make an effort to pick them out. I know this can be tough to do, but just start. Look for things that you learned or enjoyed about the situation.
A personal story: More than a year ago, I traveled from Tibet to Nepal with my friends Jonathan and his wife Soyan. What should have been an easy 4 hour cab ride into the capital turned into a 10 hour ordeal resulting in 6 separate rides that got us into the city safely. It was a deeply frustrating and stressful situation, but amongst it all, we got to see the warmth of people from rural Nepal, and had a unique and enriching cultural experience.
- Feeling Sick - When we don’t feel physically well, do you notice that we like to tell ourselves that we’re not feeling well? We like to tell anyone at any opportunity that “I’m sick”. While you are entitled to saying anything you like, what will actually help you get better is by focusing on being healthy. Enjoy this time as your body rests and recovers. Focus on the image of you in perfect health.
- ‘I Hate My Job’ - I’ve heard of this from many others and have repeated it myself when the moments get rough. The result is always the same: as I find more reasons to dislike my job, I feel even more discontent. In these moments, I have a tendency to forget just how lucky and privileged I am to have such a job. My focus on the pain puts into a negative downward spiral.
Start to pick out and focus on things you enjoy about your job and all the wonderful opportunities you are afforded through it. Create a list of personal benefits from your job, and then focus on each point. For example: financial security, time flexibility, creative expression, feeling of empowerment when completing a project, inspirational co-workers, learning opportunities, chances to help others, health insurance, stock options, etc.
- Jealousy of Other People - When we judge other people as better off than we are, it becomes easy to get caught up in feelings of jealousy, which are self-destructive. Instead of focusing on why others are undeserving, choose to understand what makes them deserving. Highlight what they’ve done well and reasons why they have been successful. Now use these insights as a source of inspiration to help yourself excel.
- Stuck at the Airport, Missing a Flight or Losing Your Luggage - Most problems with traveling are frustrating experiences, especially when leaving home already puts us outside of our comfort zone. Focusing on how frustrating it is will only make us feel worse, and only for yourself. Focus on qualities that are empowering about the experience. How can you make the experience a positive one? For example, you can perhaps focus on:
- “I have an extra few hours to catch up on reading.”
- This has become a really great opportunity to meet a new friend.
- “At least I’m still alive. I’m breathing and all. The flight delay is to ensure my safety and I am thankful for that.”
- “Yes, delaying my luggage is inconvenient, but at least they’ll deliver it for free and I don’t have to wait at the airport for them.”
- ‘I don’t have enough time for…” - Have you heard of yourself start a sentence like this? And then waste time on unproductive tasks like browsing the web, chatting with a friend, writing verbose emails, channel surfing on the TV. I’ve been there! You and I both know it is an excuse to avoid doing something we don’t want to do. (*wink*) If something was important enough, we can create time to make it happen. Instead of saying “I don’t have enough time for X” and then brushing it off, practice saying “How can I create time to do X?”, “How can I make this a reality? How can I free some time from my schedule?”.
- Fear of Failure - The more we focus on the object of our fear, the more powerful the feeling is. Life rarely turns out as bad as we anticipate. Focusing on the worst possible outcome is extremely stressful. Whether it’s asking someone out on a date, or giving a presentation to an audience, it does not help to tell yourself that “I’m afraid I’m going to fail” or “What if I’ll look stupid? I might as well not try.” Instead, focus on what it is that you do want. Focus, by repeating what you want in a present tense statement. Example, “I am confident and knowledgeable about this topic and I can give a kick ass presentation. It’s a breeze!”