Narrowing Our Focus So We Don’t Get Overwhelmed

In previous posts, I have written about how important it is to keep the big picture in mind when in the midst of re-booting. Today, I’m taking the opposite tact. While, generally, I believe in a long term strategy, the fact of the matter is, no game is won without taking one yard at a time. (Nothing you didn’t already know.) The trouble with a big picture focus is that it can start to feel overwhelming. When a life goal appears to be an enormous challenge, I have been known to freak out and shut down. “OMG, what am I gonna do about my life?” It’s too much. There’s no way I can manage it. Years ago, in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, the only way I could cope was in two hour chunks—that was as much as I could handle.


Now, I do better.


While my problems continue to feel daunting, one of the coping strategies I employ is focusing on what’s going right in my life. Today. Right now. I seek out those things about which I can feel positive. They can be small things like making the bed or exercising. These days, I make a deliberate effort, as best as I can manage, to choose to be happy. It sounds so simplistic, doesn’t it? Each of us can come up with a world of reasons why we should worry, why we should feel distressed and upset. Trust me, a few years ago when my life appeared to be in far better order, I was a MISERABLE WRECK. Unhappiness doesn’t begin to convey where I was. To get through this hell, I thought I had to cling to the “big picture” as my goal—a goal, it turns out, I was saved from-desperately trying to “will away” my everyday suffering by reminding myself how much was at stake. Have you suffered similarly?


I’m not minimizing reasonable concerns about big picture issues–I have them, too. But a major problem with a big picture focus is that it necessarily involves projecting ahead to a whole bunch of stuff that we can’t control or predict—so we’re, in effect, worrying about possibilities that may not to come to pass. Why is it that it feels more conscientious to worry about what we might lose than it is to focus on feeling happy about what we currently have?


How good are you at choosing to be happy?


Taking for granted all the things going right in our lives is a common problem. In general, we feel criticisms or insults more keenly than we do praise. We invest far more significance in a negative turn of events than a positive one. Why is that? I suppose it has something to do with where we feel vulnerable. When things are going well, we usually feel confident and minimize what it took to get us to this happy point, whereas if some calamity occurs, it throws into question our entire narrative of us as the conquering hero. And nobody likes thinking of themself as the loser. Curbing that tendency of overinvesting in loss or potential loss is precisely why we are better served if we narrow our focus onto what’s going right in our lives. So what’s going right for you?


Ok, so I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard before, nevertheless it bears repeating. Redirecting our attention to what we can do and can manage and where we feel that sense of accomplishment ENCOURAGES US TO DO MORE. We feel energized and emboldened. “I did that!” we say to ourselves. The more fulfilling the activity—the more personal meaning it has for you—the more uplifted you feel. Think of a time when something happened that made you feel proud. What is it about that moment that gladdens your heart? Doesn’t just thinking about it lifts your spirits? We all need to be more like dogs. Do you think any of them worries about the big picture? Keeping our attention on our immediate positives better prepares us to find the energy to do more, to feel hope.


Next time you’re down in the dumps and wondering what in the world is going to become of you or your kids or your business, I want you to narrow your focus. Take a breath. Walk around the block. Remind yourself of two small goals you accomplished that day—brushing your teeth or getting the car filled up. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Start there.


Because, what’s your alternative?


A day or lifetime of handwringing about the big picture accomplishes nothing. You’re doing nobody any favors—least of all yourself.


Sorry to be so preachy, but I have found that it’s helpful to have the most basic of reminders when drowning in a pool of misery. I know how frustrating and frightening it can feel. Remember, no matter what your situation is, you always have more than you lack. The significance of your life extends far beyond any single crisis or mistake or unhappy number of years. There is much more to you than that. Many, many good things. Make the choice to see them today. Stop worrying about tomorrow…

 Joyful dog


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