I knew a young middle-aged man I’ll call George, who had a drinking and driving problem, like quite a few others I’ve met in my recovery mentoring work. George stayed way too late at the pub and had far too much to drink. However, the 3 km road home was straight and flat with no traffic at that time of night, so he decided to drive. There were no houses on that stretch and only one tree.
As he drove home he kept reminding himself that if he does go off the road, he must not run into that tree. You know the rest: he lost control and crashed into the only tree on his route. George wanted to get home safely but he had focused on what he didn’t want…and got it.
You’ve been there; I’ve been there. When I think about not eating the chocolate in the cupboard, I am more likely to indulge than if I focus on the tasks of productive and healthy living.
If you have to take regular medication, you are much more likely to remember it if you focus on building it into your daily routine, rather than on trying not to forget it. What you focus on gets planted in your subconscious.
Stay focused on what you want. If you find yourself focusing on what you don’t want, whether it be lack of money, loss of friends, illness, getting too fat or your adult children taking big risks, don’t be too hard on yourself. You are bombarded daily with negative media stories and advice telling you what not to do and what disasters may follow if you ignore the advice.
The basic form of the advice is this: don’t (eat, breathe, drink, go, do) or you’ll (get cancer, asthma, ulcers, go to jail, become a drunk). A somewhat earlier version of focusing on the negative appeared with the “thou shalt nots” in the Ten Commandments.
You are probably like most other people in that you want to be a good person and live a good life. Unfortunately, if you focus on all the negatives, that is, all the things you don’t want or shouldn’t do, life becomes very constricted. You may be seen by others as a good person, but you know deep down you couldn’t possibly follow all of the edicts about what you shouldn’t do. You know clearly what you don’t want, but what you do want is elusive and never seems to materialize. This is when you need to stay focused.
I invite you to reflect on how much attention you pay to what you don’t want or shouldn’t do. Then for each of those things reflect on its opposite, what you do want or could do. Make this a habit. It can be very freeing and life enhancing. It’s a recipe for living a more expanded life and leaving a more appreciated emotional legacy.