Last week I wrote about one way to notice the good things in life: broaden your focus. Step back and look at things from a 10,000 foot level. That can give you an entirely new perspective. But there is another way for this to happen: narrow your focus. Set aside the distractions and release the nay-saying voices. Zoom in on just one thing and connect with it deeply. Look whatever it is in the eyes, and allow yourself to be absorbed by its mystery. When this happens, when we see the deeper truth, all kinds of things become possible. Today, we learn how.
It’s easy to get distracted by all the stuff that isn’t going right. Indeed, if it wasn’t easy to get distracted, coaches would be out of a job. And that’s true even for people who don’t suffer from ADHD. Our brains are hardwired for survival, and that means they are constantly scanning for potential threats. Notice something that looks like danger, sounds like danger, smells like dangers, tastes like danger, or feels like danger, and that old limbic system kicks right in. We’re distracted.
That was a great characteristic for most of human existence and it continues to be a great characteristic whenever we find ourselves in hostile environments, whether of natural or human origin. We need eyes in the back of our head, so to speak, to avoid getting taken by surprise and suffering the consequences. Some people have that ability more than others, but all people have it to some extent. If that wasn’t true, we would not be here today either as individuals or as a species.
For many of us, however, our environments are not that hostile. We are not literally facing life or death threats. We are just facing normal, everyday life and stuff crops up that bugs us. Perhaps some of these things bug you:
- Long lines
- Bad drivers
- Messy people
- Clean freaks
- Ringing phones
- Loud talkers
- Crashed computers
- Tight deadlines
- Late meetings
- Traffic jams
- Lost luggage
- Pharmaceutical ads
- Junk mail
- Lousy service
- Chain letters
- Physical discomfort
There’s no end to the things that can annoy and distract us from whatever it is we want to do. I’m sure you have your own list. The difference between people who successfully manage such distractions and those who do not involves perspective and focusing.
In last week’s Provision, Broaden Your Focus, I wrote about perspective. Referring to the Inner Game developed by coach Tim Gallwey, I introduced you to the STOP tool:
- Step back
- Organize your thoughts
That gives us perspective. The longer the STOP, the more perspective we gain. It’s like going up in an airplane to 10,000 feet, where we can see exactly what is going on. It may not make the traffic jam go away, but when we see the accident and the ambulances and the people on stretchers, we become a lot more understanding of the whole situation. We appreciate dynamics that our immediate circumstances may not afford, and that alone is often enough to calm down our limbic system and bring us back to center.
But there is another way to accomplish the same thing, and it works particularly well in traffic jams and other situations where we have no control over what is happening and how things are going: focusing on details that we can control and games that we can play. In other words, we can narrow our focus to a level of granularity where the joys of autonomy, flexibility, and creativity can be experienced however partially.
I am aware that I do this all the time, even in the midst of pleasurable activities. It adds to the richness of my experience and to my joy of living. Take, for example, running. A couple weeks ago I ran a half marathon as part of a triathlon relay team. So, of course, I had plenty of obvious things to focus on such as my pace and breathing. Along the way, however, I invented a new game.
At a couple of spots they were passing out energy gels (think sports drink the consistency of toothpaste in little foil packets). I actually prefer gels to actual sports drink, so I was carrying three gels of my own. The game I decided to play: could I end the race with more energy gels than I started without going out of my way to grab more gels than were being offered to me? A silly game to be sure, but I had control over that and I even decided to go for the flavors I liked. In the end, I won that game as well as the race I wanted to run which meant my celebration and gratitude were doubled.
Narrowing our focus works the same way when it comes to annoyances. We can always find little things to appreciate and new games to play. One of my favorites is to look at people’s faces. Really look. What can I infer about their mood from the looks on their faces? If I change the look on my face, what happens to their faces? How can I effect situations nonverbally? That game is always worth playing and always interesting, especially when people smile back or otherwise brighten their countenance.
Another game that I like to play during long waits is the memorize-poetry game. I keep about 50 of my favorite poems on my mobile device, so it’s easy to play that game at just about any time. For a less rigorous albeit less inspiring game, there’s always other games to play. Narrow your focus and find something interesting. Occupy your mind. Move your body. Regulate your breathing. Notice your emotions.
The key is to stay engaged with stuff you find relevant, challenging, and beneficial. In the worst of human circumstances, there are always stories of people who find ways to transform those circumstances by choosing to play a different game. The games that work for me won’t necessarily work for you, but we will be meeting similar needs for contribution, connection, challenge, cooperation, competition, choice, competence, creativity, and control (to mention only needs that start with the letter “C”).
So let that be the frame we come from in life and work. It doesn’t help to react to every situation as though it was a matter of life and death. It’s usually not, but our brains can easily react as though it were. And that can lead to full-blown distraction of the “fight, flight, or freeze” variety. By keeping things in perspective and by focusing on those little things that we can influence, celebrate, and appreciate.
Hank Robb, as quoted in the book Curious? by Todd Kashdan, has reworked the well-known Serenity Prayer in the following way: “Let me seek acceptance of life as I find it, even though I may not approve of what I find, wisdom to see what would be good to change, willingness to act as well as willingness to follow through, and gratitude for the opportunity to try to live my life the best I can.”
Now that prayer communicates both perspective and focus! And that’s a combination we can all benefit and learn from.
Coaching Inquiries: How are things going for you right now? How could you make life more interesting and enjoyable? What things could you focus on? What games could you play? What little things would give you a sense of autonomy, flexibility, and creativity? Who could you look at, right now, through new eyes?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Wow! Your On The Web feature in today’s Provision, Broaden Your Focus, spoke to me! I am a relatively new Wellness Coach, long-time athlete, and firm believer in the effects of exercise on mood. Vigorous, dynamic (preferably moderate to high impact) exercise fuels my creativity and positivity! Thanks for the affirmation. Hoping to get a chance to meet you this weekend in Boston. Love Provisions each week!
Good morning! I love your weekly provisions! Thank you for your awesome inspiration.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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