A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone who struggles with distorting reality according to her feelings about a particular situation or person at any given time. When something goes wrong or someone disappoints her or she doesn’t like the consequences of her actions, everything in her life becomes overshadowed by a big ol’ cloud of negativity and despair with nary a silver lining to be found. All she can see is whatever isn’t according to her liking. As might be expected, she isn’t living a joy-filled life when she becomes caught up in spotting all the wrong in her world, and the resulting beastly behavior tends to affect the people around her in less than pleasant ways.
She needed and wanted a better way of viewing life in those moments following emotional blows and disappointments, so we talked together about our individual power to focus on whatever it is we want to see evidence of in the world. If we want to find excuses for discouragement, despondency, and detrimental behavior, all we have to do is fixate on bad memories, losses, slights, injustices, and everything else wrong in our world today. We’ll find abundant excuses for defeated living with such a view of our lives and the world at large. But we can re-train our minds to focus on the positive.
To help her make baby steps towards a more satisfied life, I suggested writing down 15 things which were pleasant or brought joy to her in this chapter of her life. To help her focus on something outside her own unhappiness in the moment, I suggested making a list of 10 people in her life along with whatever might be worrying them, upsetting them, or making them sad and creating a corresponding list of at least one way she could brighten each of their lives. She didn’t have to act on those ideas. Just thinking about others was a good enough start.
A joyful, worthwhile, fulfilling life is created when we use the power of focus in our favor and choose to direct our attention to what is right, what is good, what brings a smile, and what we can do to enhance the lives of those around us as well as our own. We don’t have to deny sadness, anger, pain, and loss or pretend to be happy all the time, but understanding that a painful memory, an unhappy day, an infuriating encounter, or an unpleasant week doesn’t mean everything in the present and the foreseeable future is bad gives us the power to shape our lives according to what we say we want. Our greatest power, sometimes our only power, in our lives is our power to choose how to respond.
Our focus is like a camera lens by which we increase our likelihood of seeing what we expect to see, what we want to see to justify how we choose to act. If we’re having trouble seeing the good, the happy, or the right in the world, chances are we need to shift our perspective.