There are literally thousands of things we COULD focus on in our experience.
Even when we’re sitting by ourselves, alone in a room, there are hundreds and hundreds of things we COULD focus on and think about.
Every single minute of every day, our senses are overwhelmed with input.
The things we could look at; the things we could listen to; the things we could feel and smell and touch.
Most of what our brain does every day is filter all of this sensory input.
Our brain has to make choices about what we’re going to notice, and what we’re going to ignore. It’s a cognitive process called “sensory discrimination.”
One of the reasons why different people have such dramatically different experiences of life is that they have developed different patterns in what they pay attention to.
Some people have gotten used to paying attention to everything that is broken in the world.
They see every problem. They see every inconvenience. They see every part of every obstacle.
Other people have gotten used to paying attention to everything that is threatening in the world.
They see every danger. They see every accident waiting to happen. They see every tragedy in the making.
Most of the time, we have not consciously chosen our patterns of focus.
Our patterns of focus are usually modeled on what we saw our parents focusing on, how we saw our parents interpreting and responding to the world.
This is one of the reasons why depression and anxiety seem to “run” in families: because children tend to mirror and mimic their parents’ patterns of focus that contribute to depression and anxiety.
As well, most of the time we don’t fully realize how much our characteristic patterns of focus contribute to our struggles.
If you’re constantly focusing on what’s broken and tragic, it’s hard to NOT be depressed.
If you’re constantly focusing on what’s dangerous and unpredictable, it’s hard to NOT be anxious.
This doesn’t just apply to what we focus on in the world. It also applies to how we think about our past.
If we are overly focused on the ways we’ve failed in the past, it’s hard to build a self-image as capable and productive.
If we are overly focused on times we’ve been rejected, it’s hard to see ourselves as attractive and worthy.
Understand: there is a LOT more than our patterns of focus that contribute to emotional difficulties.
Our genetics, our brain chemistry, and our life stressors all contribute significantly to our current emotional state.
But our patterns of focus represent possibly the best opportunity for us to make an intentional, positive change in how we experience the world.
When we’re talking about patterns of noticing and interpreting the world, all we’re talking about are habits.
We get “good” at habits for one reason: we’ve practiced them, over and over and over again.
Any habit that has been learned, can be un-learned.
This goes for patterns of mental focus, patterns of behavior, and patterns of relating.
We can dig our way out of any hole the same way we dug ourselves into it: bit, by bit, by bit, by bit.
Get curious about your patterns of focus.
Get curious about what you notice— and what you ignore.
Get curious about how attention shapes your experience of life.
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