Here's a little story for you guys. In my adult life I have a recurring, highly stressful situation that has been persistent for almost twenty years. While I know you are probably curious about the details of what it is and how it came about, trust me when I tell you that those details are not important to this story. Suffice to say, it is something I have no control over and cannot change, and frankly it sucks. I have a feeling many of you can probably relate, because it seems we all have at least one challenge we deal with on a regular basis.right? (Please tell me I'm not alone on this...)
Because my situation was (and still is) stressful, it was at the forefront of my mind on most days and was often the topic of conversation with my friends and family. I would habitually talk about it and focus on small things that I had absolutely no control over. I recycled the same stories again and again for whoever would listen or innocently asked how I was doing. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to change it or make it better and it took up not only a lot of energy, but a lot of space in my mind and heart.
Sadly, that's not the worst part. What I recognize now is that during the years that I was highly focused on this situation, I was literally "missing days" with my husband and kids. What I mean by this is, there were beautiful, joyous, funny things going on in my home and life but I was not fully present or able to experience them because my focus was often elsewhere. Ugh...that's hard to admit. The thing is...
Since I had no control over the underlying situation, it never occurred to me that I might have the ability to change my experience.
And then one day I heard someone talking about the idea that "What you focus on expands?" This concept has been around in some form or another for decades and the basic premise is that whatever you spend the most time thinking about is what you ultimately experience in life.
I know I'm not sharing some brilliant new revelation here, but the part of this concept that intrigued me was the possibility that we can proactively change our experience in life, simply by changing what we are focused on, regardless of the circumstances. What if it was true?
So I decided to find a way to SHIFT MY FOCUS away from this ever-present negative situation. And let me tell you, it was HARD. Like crazy hard. I discovered that my mind had been so trained to automatically hone in on the negative circumstances that had been present for so long, that shifting my focus was like trying to flex a completely unused muscle for the first time. In the beginning, it was often a moment by moment practice, but after a short time, I began to make progress.
Here's how I did it. I made a conscious decision to never talk about that stressful situation unless absolutely necessary. I didn't bring it up and when I was asked, most of the time I said "there's nothing new". That was HARD, but honestly it was amazing how powerful just that step was.
I don't think we really recognize the impact of the spoken word on our lives, and the power we give to negative situations by talking about them constantly.
Simultaneously, I began actively searching for positive or joyful events to focus on. Every time something heartwarming, funny or positive happened, I made a conscious choice to breathe THAT in. I didn't just let it pass as a brief moment of happiness or appreciation, I REALLY took it in...recognized it...appreciated it...INFLATED it. I let that be what I focused on and therefore what expanded and grew in my heart and mind.
The result of this conscious change in what I talked about and where I focused my attention was that I developed a newfound gratitude for even the seemingly routine moments in my day. I looked for the joy and I found it...in the silly joke that was told at the dinner table, during the car ride to school or when I tucked my daughter into bed at the end of the day. And before I fell asleep each night, I literally "counted my blessings". I reviewed my day, counted all of the amazing, wonderful moments and made sure that was what I focused on in the moments before drifting off.
As time passed, I noticed that the balance began to shift and it was no longer an effort to notice the amazing things in my life. I had flexed that muscle often enough that it became the dominant force. I found myself filled with gratitude on a daily basis, rather than consumed by something that was negative and out of my control.
Nothing in my life had substantially changed, other than where I placed my attention.
There are so many ways to accomplish this, whether with a gratitude journal, a post-it reminder on your bathroom mirror, or a subtle shift in how you view your day, the key is to move your focus from what is challenging and out of your control to what is joyous and beautiful, every day...in each moment.
As I write this, I am still confronted with that difficult situation on an almost weekly basis and it still impacts my life. It is often necessary to devote some time and energy to dealing with it, but what has changed is how much energy I give it, or anything seemingly negative that happens in my life. When issues arise, I don't avoid them or let them overtake my life. I deal with what is absolutely necessary when I must, and not for longer than I have to and then I refocus.
I return to noticing each joyful second, each peaceful moment and every beautiful day and I am filled with gratitude for the life I am living.
Gratitude was the cure for the most difficult challenge in my life and has been the key to finding joy and fulfillment every day.
So if you are struggling with an issue that is challenging and feels out of your control, maybe it's time to notice what you are focused on. What do you talk about most often? What do you spend your time thinking about? Are the moments of joy and beauty that are happening each day being overshadowed by your focus on something you have no control over? How could you shift your attention and possibly change your life?
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences with this...please feel free to comment below.
Have a wonderful week!