You Can Choose Your Focus: 4 things we can control part 3
Have you ever had a negative thought that keeps coming back over and over and over? Maybe your heart beats faster and your hands sweat, your fists are clenched, your shoulders are heavy and you start to cry. The thoughts make you feel anxious, angry, sad, helpless, and isolated.
This won’t work out.
I messed up again. I can’t do anything right. What’s wrong with me?
They would never stay if they knew the real me.
What if I she doesn’t like me? What if he’s mad at me? What if they were laughing at me?
I just can’t do this.
We all experience this type of thinking, at least from time to time. Although you may feel like you are all alone with these thoughts, they are actually totally normal and make a lot of sense.
We need this thinking to keep us from getting eaten the next time a lion is charging at us or when something disastrous happens. We need to be able to identify all the possible ways we almost didn’t survive so we are better prepared if it happens again. When we have gone through something terrible, this thinking understandably increases (like in the case of having trauma history).
It’s human to think negatively. So don’t beat yourself up for it, even if you have been stuck there for a really long time. It is never, ever too late to change our thinking and try something different.
That’s where shifting our focus comes in.
Whenever you notice yourself getting into negative or unhelpful thinking, you have the choice of what to do next. You can continue down the thinking path you are familiar with, or you can choose to shift your focus back to the present moment. This takes practice. But every time you shift your thoughts back to the here and now, you’re strengthening a new path in your brain and decreasing the painful impact of the negative thinking.
Imagine you’ve been pushing a wheelbarrow down the same path from your garage to your garden for 20 years and it has made a deep trench. Whenever it rains, the water will always follow that path. But let's say you start a new path to the garden. It takes some work to shift the barrow to that new path, but eventually it gets easier and the rain starts to get diverted to the new route.
This is how changing our thought patterns works. As we become continually more aware of our thoughts and we consciously and intentionally shift our thoughts back to the present, the thoughts become quieter and happen less often. When we shift our focus, we ultimately feel more empowered and calm.