Tag Archives: change behavior

How to Use The Power of Focus To Improve Your Life

focus, how to focus, focus on the positive

Focus is a powerful thing. When used correctly, it has the potential to help us get our life back in balance and have more objective perspectives of what is going on in our lives, which in turn allows us to take a step back and make better and more informed decisions.  When used incorrectly, however, focus has the potential to cause us to feel utterly out of balance and become subjective, which in turn causes us to make rushed, uneducated decisions or poor choices that we may later regret, not to mention causing us added stress and anxiety about what may be going on.

Let me give you an example:

Take a moment to quickly evaluate your life as a whole and rate your current situation using a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 means you are at your ideal, exactly where you want to be, and 1 means there is MUCH room for improvement.  Now fold a piece of paper in half, and on one half of it make a list of the good or positive things in your life as it is right now and on the other half make a list of what you consider bad or negative things that you would like to change or improve on.

Let’s say rated your current situation a 4.  On one side of the paper you would list what’s good about your life right now; these are the things that helped you to rate your situation at this number. You could add things like:

I have a home
I have a job
I am healthy
I have a family that loves me
I do make some money
I can pay most of my bills on time
etc…

On the other side of the paper you would list the bad or negative things currently going on in your life.  These are the things which, when changed or improved, would help you to rate your life a 9 or a 10. You could add things such as:

My relationship with (…) sucks
I have no savings in the bank
I am fat
My car is old and broken
I don’t have money to vacation
etc…

So, in this example, the positive side is a 4 (because that’s what you rated your current situation) and the negative side is a 6 (the difference in the 1-10 scale).  Now take a look at your paper with your lists side by side and read them again. How does it make you feel?  Do you still believe you rated your life accurately? If you did this exercise honestly, you’ll probably realize that your initial rating was lower than it should have been.  I’m also willing to bet that as you were doing the exercise you had an easier time coming up with things to write on the “negative” side of the paper than on the “positive” side.  This is because on a day-to-day basis we’re generally mostly thinking about what is lacking in our lives rather than on the blessings that we already have.  Our focus is mostly on what is missing, what is wrong, what is broken, what needs to be improved.

Imagine that your life is graphed on a line like this one. We’ll place an x on it to indicate your rating:

Balance1

Now we’ll turn this into a scale or a balance by adding a support under it like this:

Which way is the scale currently going to tilt? It’s pretty obvious, right? It will tilt towards the “bad” side like this:

But now we’ll add something to our diagram; we’ll add focus which, for the purpose of this illustration weighs a full 10.  If we add it to the “bad” side of the scale, we’re stuck. In spite of the good things that are going on in our lives, we’ll continue to feel like nothing is working, like everything is bad, like this is a hopeless situation, because our focus is on what’s wrong, missing, or broken in our lives.  When this happens, we may enter a state of despair, depression, hopelessness, anxiety, sorrow, etc., and we miss out on appreciating and enjoying the blessings that we do have.

But what would happen if we shifted that focus and placed it on the “good” side of the scale? What will happen is that even with the rating remaining at 4 we will have managed to tilt the scale in favor of what’s good in our lives, and here’s where we can truly shift our perspective.

Here’s where we can truly see and accept that, while there is plenty of room for improvement, our life is already good. Here’s where appreciation and gratitude can truly take place, because our focus is now on our blessings, on what is working and what is positive in our lives. We’re not denying that there is room for improvement; we’re simply focusing our attention on what is already working because that is what’s going to help us get even better so that our diagram looks like this:

What we focus on expands

What we focus on expands, and what we resist persists. Focusing our attention on what is “bad” in our lives and resisting it or fighting it will only cause it to increase and persist.  It’s like trying to get out of a hole by digging the hole deeper.  This is not an efficient way of going about improving our situation. A more efficient and effective way would be to focus on what is already working and then figuring out how we can do more of it or expand it to other areas of our lives.

I picked a very low rating as an example to demonstrate that even with such a low rating we can shift our focus and gain a better perspective.  No matter how bad we think our life situation is, there is definitely much good going on already and there are definitely many things that are working. So I invite you to add the weight and power of focus to all the good that is already going on in your life and see how much better you’ll instantly feel as a result of it. You will not regret it.

To your success!

JC.

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Is Your Mind in a Constant State Of Emergency?

negative thinking, worry, fear, disaster, pain

In a previous post I mentioned that in my journey of self-discovery and self-improvement I came across the book Thoughts and Feelings by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning.  I learned a lot from this book, especially in the area of automatic thoughts and negative thinking patterns.  One of the negative thinking patterns that truly resonated with me was what the authors called “Catastrophizing,” which basically means turning any seemingly negative situation, no matter how small, into a major catastrophe in our minds.  For instance, not getting the job after an interview may mean that we will never find a job. When failing to make a sale, the salesman may conclude that he’s a failure.

People who catastrophize tend to use phrases that start with “What if…” and what follows these words is usually something negative and of an apocalyptic magnitude.  Here are some examples of everyday scenarios and some of the thoughts that may surface for a person who tends to catastrophize:

[While going for a night out] What if my house gets burglarized while I’m out?
[While driving on the freeway] What if I one of my tires blow up while I’m driving?
[When about to give a presentation] What if the entire audience hates me?
[When going into a tall building] What if there’s an earthquake while I’m in the building?
[When experiencing a headache] What if I have a brain tumor?
[Regarding our kids] What if my son starts using drugs?
[When watching a movie at the theater] What if there is a fire?
[When taking a flight] What if the plane malfunctions and crashes?
[When hearing of a couple who got divorced] What if it happens to me?
And the list goes on and on.

Now I’m sure many of us have experienced some form of automatic negative thoughts along these lines at some point or another, especially when something negative happened recently that may be related to the situation in which we are.  For instance, if we’re watching a movie at the theater and we suddenly recall that we heard in the news about a recent fire at a movie theater and recall hearing that there were many victims, the thought that it could happen to us may suddenly take a hold of us and cause a wave of panic to sweep over us.

This is normal and can usually go away with a bit of rationalizing; a person who does not tend to catastrophize will usually ask him or herself, “What are the odds that it could happen to me?” and this is usually enough to stop the negative thinking pattern and be able to enjoy the movie.

However, for a person who tends catastrophize it’s not as simple.  One catastrophic thought leads to another, the images in their minds become more and more vivid, and pretty soon they find themselves almost feeling as if the situation is already happening to them.  At this point it becomes practically impossible for them to enjoy the movie, and they may end up choosing to leave the theater because the uncomfortable feelings are just too strong to ignore.  As you can imagine, the level of stress and mental anguish that a person experiences as a result of these negative thinking patterns are very high.

So how can we deal with this?

Catastrophizing is a mental habit, and as such, the more we do it the stronger the habit becomes.  So the first thing we need to do is become aware of when we’re doing it.  This awareness will also be a tool in helping us stop the negative thinking pattern.

We also need to develop a plan action in advance.  If we know that we tend to catastrophize, we need to select a few techniques that we can use once we become aware of the negative thinking pattern.  Once technique I found extremely useful was asking myself the same question I was already asking (“What if …”) but in a positive way instead.  For instance, if my catastrophizing thought was, “What if my marriage fails?” I would switch it to, “What if my wife and I find a way to reconcile? What if everything turns out ok? What if everything is better tomorrow?” or something along those lines.  I would make it a point to replace every catastrophizing thought with 3-5 better feeling thoughts, and this usually did the trick.  Not only would I save myself unnecessary mental and physical stress, but I would also free my mind to consider better possibilities and see opportunities to improve my situation.

I used multiple positive “what if” questions in order to re-train or re-condition my mind to take this route instead of the one it was used to taking.  Remember, catastrophizing is a mental habit and like any other habit, the best way to get rid of it (in fact, some argue it’s the only way to get rid of it) is to replace it with another habit that serves us better. And just like anything else, the more we do it the stronger the new habit will become and the weaker the old habit will be.

The key here is to use better feeling thoughts that are believable to us, as opposed to positive but unrealistic thoughts that we don’t believe.  If I said to myself “Everything will be wonderful tomorrow!” not only would I be deluding myself but my mind would not accept it, and I would experience a different kind of stress caused by the conflict between my current reality and what I’m trying to make myself believe.

The magic of “What if” is that we open ourselves up to the possibility of something positive happening; we’re not forcing it and we’re not pretending it, we’re simply acknowledging the possibility of it.  Shifting our attention from the catastrophic thought to the possibility of something positive happening has the ability to help us feel more peaceful and at ease almost instantly.

Another good technique to use in conjunction with the “What if” technique is the rubber band method I shared with you in a previous post.  Wearing a rubber band around our wrist and snapping it lightly when we catch ourselves in the middle of a negative thought pattern can help snap us out of it, and then we can switch to using the “what if” technique described above to ease ourselves into better feeling thoughts.

Negative thinking patterns can be replaced with positive ones, but it takes patience, dedication and persistence.  If you find that you experience this negative pattern of catastrophizing, give this a try and let me know how it works for you.  Or if you have any other techniques that have worked for you, please feel free to share them in the comments box below.  I’d love to hear from you!

To your success!

JC

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Is It Really Possible For Me To Change?

One day while having a conversation with my father who was in his late 60’s at the time we got into the subject of bad habits.  He complained about some bad habit he had, and expressed his dislike for it.  I told him that if he really disliked that habit he could always change it, and he could start today just taking baby steps.  His response was, “I’m too old to change. I am an old man set in his ways, and change is impossible for me.”

I happen to know that he was not alone in his thinking.  It is a commonly held belief that the older a person gets the harder it will be for them to change.  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” they say.  But I’d like to share with you that contrary to this widely held belief that people do not change, they do change and often in dramatic, life-altering ways. I say this with full confidence because not only have I witnessed it happen time and time again, I am a living testimony that creating positive change in our lives is totally possible.

The journey begins with a deep desire for growth and a sincere commitment to make bring it about. This desire and commitment become the fuel that carries us through the challenges that effecting change brings us. Change will definitely bring us challenges, and sometimes these challenges will be uncomfortable, even painful.  But this is natural and to be expected.  Even our bodies experience pain as we go through our physical growth. Nevertheless, we know that this pain is only temporary and a natural part of growing up.

If we want to effect real and lasting change, we need to take an honest look at ourselves.  We must be willing to look in the mirror and see all there is to see; that which we consider good as well as that which we consider bad.  Making an honest assessment of our qualities and motives will be the first working step towards bringing about positive change.

Steven Covey, in his critically acclaimed book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, states:

The inside-out approach to change means to start first with self; even more fundamental, to start with the most inside part of self – with your paradigms, your character and your motives.

Having assessed ourselves thoroughly, we must now identify the areas which we want to improve and how we want to improve them.  In order to do this we must take full responsibility for our lives and our current situation and not place the blame elsewhere.  This is not to say that we are to blame for everything that happened to us that let us to the place where we are today.  Perhaps things happened to us when we were young and felt powerless. A child cannot be blamed for his or parent’s neglect or poor parental skills or abusive behavior.  However, once the child grows up it will be of no benefit to him to continuously blame his parents for his behavior or current condition.  Sure, it often helps to understand where certain unwanted behaviors originated.  But once we become aware of patterns of behavior that we wish to change, it behooves us to take responsibility for our life from that point onward, and to begin taking the necessary steps to heal and bring about change.

We now need to assess what qualities are required to effect the desired change, and determine whether our values are in alignment with those qualities. We must do the important inner work of discovering who we are now, what matters to us, what we are passionate about and what we place value on. If, for instance, the change that we want to bring about will require more patience, more nurturing, etc. we need to determine if these are things that hold value for us. If not, we will not be successful in our quest.

Awareness is of utmost importance when effecting change, because it allows us to live our lives being fully conscious of our actions; this in turn allows us to free ourselves from reactive and self-defeating behavior and realize our personal best. Often we are operating in a sleep-like state.  While we may think that we are making conscious decisions, in reality our subconscious is the one running the show based on prerecorded programs playing in the back of our minds.

Try this as an exercise the next time you’re about to make an important decision.  Simply notice that chatty voice inside your head and hear what it’s telling you.  Is it telling you that you’re crazy to consider what you are thinking of doing? Does it remind you of how many times you’ve failed in the past and warns you that you will probably do so again?

That is the voice of your subconscious.  But understand that that voice is not your enemy nor is it out to sabotage you; it really does have your best interest at heart.  The tapes that it plays for you, believe it or not, are for your protection. These are the messages that your conscious mind allowed your subconscious to accept as true, so you can hardly blame your subconscious for playing them back to you.

When we have identified that an old program no longer serves us, it becomes incumbent upon us to begin taking steps to replace it.  Once we implant new, better and more beneficial programs in our subconscious, they will become the messages that get played back to us whenever we need to make decisions.  In this case our behavior will be positively influenced by the new programs, and we will find ourselves feeling and acting in more confident and courageous ways.

In the words of Stephen Covey:

Being proactive means that we are responsible for our own lives.  Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.  We can subordinate feelings to values.  We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.

Through inner-work we will be laying the foundation for a state of mind that will allow us to make lasting positive changes that will create a more meaningful, productive and happy life.  We will begin looking at life through new eyes, and this will allow us to view everything that happens as an opportunity for growth rather than as a roadblock.

Change is definitely possible, regardless of your age, gender, or past or present circumstances.  If you have a burning desire to bring about positive change in your life, and make the commitment to do it, you’ll inevitably succeed.  You’ll definitely need some guidance, so you should probably consider hiring a life coach to help you along the way.  You can certainly succeed without one, but having someone in your life who can provide some guidance, feedback, and encouragement when times get hard, has the potential to help you catapult your growth.  But it all begins with a decision; the decision to not let your past or present situation define you, and choosing instead to create your own destiny.

As famous philosopher and psychologist William James puts it:

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.

Do you have any input on this subject?  Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

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