Controlling Your Attention (A)
In Lesson 5, you learned to manage your emotions by controlling your thoughts. Now, you’ll learn how to use your refocusing power to fight negative emotions.
Jargon klaxon! But stick with me. The technical name for shifting your attention is attention deployment. In this strategy, you turn your attention toward or away from something in order to influence your emotions.
Imagine you are getting ready for a very important meeting (or date) and you have a blemish on your nose, a tomato sauce spot on your shirt, are 20 pounds heavier than a year ago, or all of the above. (It happens, especially when you have a husband that makes killer spaghetti—ask me.)
If you allow your attention to continue creeping back to the pimple, stain or love handles you will likely feel less confident and more anxious about the event ahead—all those unwanted emotions.
You need to make a conscious effort to focus your attention on something positive, such as your tremendous hairstyle or (if you’re bald) your pleasant personality.
Comparing Yourself with Others
A common source of negative emotions such as self-loathing, resentment, spite, or envy is our tendency to compare ourselves with others.
When you join a gym, you might focus on all the people with athletic bodies, making yourself feel miserable or guilty because you don’t look as good as they do. Why not, instead, focus on the fact that you’ve started going to the gym! You’re actually using a treadmill to get fit instead of as a clothes rack like the one in the dusty corner of your bedroom! (We discussed this scenario in Lesson 3: Controlling Situations (S).)
To control negative emotions about yourself:
1. Acknowledge that you are focusing on things that make you feel bad, such as your flaws (real or perceived) or what others think of you. (Be it genuine or your own assumptions, what others think of you is really none of your business, as Deepak Chopra says.) (Preach!)
2. Order yourself to “STOP!”
3. Refocus your attention on your strengths, talents, and accomplishments: things that make you feel good about yourself. Only then, with a mind clear of negative emotions, will you be able to improve from a stance of self-love.
If you can’t come up with anything good about yourself, think: “What would <insert here the name of someone who loves you or likes you> say it’s good about me?” See yourself through their eyes.
When you follow the three steps above and shift your attention, you’ll instantly find you have more motivation in that gym situation because instead of feeling defeated for comparing yourself to the gym rats, you’re focusing on what you’ve already achieved (joining the gym) and striving for what you want to become. Now drop and give me 20!
Living in Another Time
Another common cause of negative emotions is our inability to be and appreciate the here and now. I mean, the body is always in the present, but many times the mind is excessively focused on the past or future.
Spoiler alert: The past and future exist only in our minds. Have you thought about that? And guess what else lives in those times? The triggers to negative emotions. The triggers for fear and worry live in the future, while the triggers for regret, guilt, self-blame, and resentment live in the past.
Let’s create a game plan to crush self-blame (which is a negative emotion that lives in your past) next time it pops its ugly head. Write this in your mind:
“Next time I start feeling upset at myself for something that I did (or didn’t do), here’s what I will do:
1. I will acknowledge that it is focusing on _________ what’s making me feel bad.
2. I will order myself, “_________!” Just “_________!”
3. I will refocus my attention on my qualities and on the good things I do, such as _________. Then, with a mind clear of negative emotions, I will be able to _________ from a stance of self-love.
Great job! Drop and give me another 20 for your reward. Just kidding.
What Happens When You Refocus Your Attention?
When you choose to deploy your attention as you learned in this lesson, you not only change your emotions—you also change your attitude. And people with a positive attitude are happier and more successful!
Attention deployment is not only a strategy but a skill developed with practice.
Abraham Lincoln said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” So ask yourself, “Which kind of person do I want to be, someone who tends to focus on the thorns, or someone who tends to focus on the roses?”
* * * *
In the next lesson, you’ll learn to control your emotions by controlling your Reappraisal (R).
See you tomorrow!
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