Focus on the Many Things You Like (Not the One Thing You Don’t!)

The title of this post really says it all and is self-explanatory.  But, this concept was made crystal clear to me when I found myself focusing on one gift I received this holiday season that I didn’t like.  I had received so many wonderful gifts from various people and yet I was focusing on one “bad” gift.  This was only for a brief moment but it caught my attention.  Because this gift instance is a straight forward example, I was able to see the utter ridiculousness of putting our attention on what we don’t like or want.  Literally, surrounded by all these wonderful gifts and directing my attention at the one I didn’t like!

I realized how, as with the gifts, we have the choice to focus on one, or maybe even a few things, we don’t especially like or appreciate the multitude of other things we do like.  We can be (are!) surrounded by tons of good things – at times, they may seem like insignificant things, but they are good nonetheless – and miss them because we choose to emphasize the bad thing.

It’s pretty simple, so let’s not complicate it.  Do we want to dwell on the bad or good gifts?  What we put our attention and thoughts on determines how we feel.  The choice is ours.  (And remember, looking at the bad stuff won’t make it magically go away or improve.  See Law of Attraction and Joy)

What great gifts are all around you?

Politics and Joy

This is an oxymoron for me, as I have never enjoyed politics at all.  But, with such an intense and enduring election in USA, with a shocking result, it seems necessary to be able to find some joy somehow.  So, I dug deep.  I realized that most people’s default setting is that someone or something -like government- will help them.  Or we need someone or something to blame when things aren’t going how we like.  Or sometimes we use people or situations to distract us from our own issues.  All convenient but not accurate, nor helpful. (Disclaimer: Yes, of course, government programs and actions do help and serve many people.  But we cannot become dependent on anything or anyone outside of ourselves to live our lives for us.)

The truth is that we are the creators of our own lives.  That’s painful to acknowledge when things aren’t going how we’d like.  Yet, we hold the key to our thoughts and feelings.  And our thoughts and feelings create our realities. So, how was I expecting the government to help me, how was I blaming the government for what I didn’t like about my own reality, or how was I using this situation to distract me from my own issues?   In other words, how was I not taking ownership of my own life?

The morning after the election, my knee was hurting badly for no apparent physical reason.  Checking in my Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life book, I am reminded that knee problems have to do with pride, stubbornness, inflexibility and not giving in.  Ooooh, I had been stubborn, to say the least, about seeing how the president-elect could be beneficial.  I was being inflexible about how I believed he was selfish, disingenuous, and uncaring (among other less nice characteristics).  I certainly know that agonizing over bad aspects of anyone or anything is never, ever a good thing.  (I had to re-read this post.)  This case is no exception.

Because of this knowledge and the hope that I would find relief for my aching knee, I opened up to try to find one thing about him that wasn’t awful.  I found it!  He doesn’t care what people think of him.  Which is a trait I exceedingly cherish and try to have.  I mean, that’s my life’s work – to be me regardless of other people’s opinions.  (Disclaimer #2: This does not mean that I want to do the same actions as him.  We have different values and want different things.  I’m just talking about the not living life based on needing the good opinion of other people part.)  From there, I found a couple other aspects that weren’t terrible.

I felt some relief now and realized how much energy goes into hating.  With the respite, another level of information came to me:  This has to be something to do with me directly.  I don’t even know him and I’m not into politics, so why is this bothering me to this extent?  I realize it’s not even what he says, but his general mannerisms that irritate me so much.

Then it hits me like a ton of bricks. He reminds me of someone I know.  Someone I had issues with.  Not just annoyance but deep issues from childhood.  I thought I had already dealt with these issues.  But now I see that even though I had become aware of them and forgave the person, I never opened the gift.

The gift is all the wonderful lessons we learn, how we evolved because of it, and noticing the good that came or could come from it.

As is customary after receiving a gift, we thank the giver.  Closure cannot come without acknowledging and thanking the person.  Without opening and giving gratitude for the gift, the issue just sort of lingers and lurks about waiting for our acceptance.  So, I thoroughly went over this issue from childhood and found the good in it and felt genuine gratitude to the persons involved.

The point of this post isn’t that everyone has a personal issue related to a political representative.  But the idea is that we have the power in our own lives.  It’s our choice how we feel, react, and respond to whatever is going on around us, whether it be in our own house, the country, or the world.  Are we going to love or hate?   Are we going to live in courage or fear?  It’s a personal choice of which we have full power.

Second point, it’s always beneficial to not dwell in fear and negativity.  When we look for the positive and good in all situations, absolutely including politicians we don’t agree with, when we stop playing the I’m- better-than and the blame game, then we give ourselves a chance to feel relief, love, and joy.  And from here, we get all kinds of things we want.  Maybe even a politician hearing us.

We can’t be full of hate and negativity and expect to see a loving, positive world.  Through each of our own individual attitudes of love and peace, the world will reflect that.

A Complaint-Free Day

I was taking an online course from a much-loved author, Doreen Virtue.  She suggested to try to go 24 hours without complaining.  I thought it sounded like an interesting and exciting experiment; very doable, easy even.  I started that very moment.  But, why?  What exactly is the point of not complaining?

Complaining is a form of negativity.  Complaints focus on problems rather than solutions; on what we don’t want rather than what we appreciate.  When we complain, the Universe gives us more to complain about.

Our complaints may well be 100% true.  We’re not saying that what we are complaining about is not valid.  But because of our negative focus, we are literally creating more of what we do not want.  If we want love, health, and fun, complaining is simply not the route to the good stuff, regardless of whether the complaint is true or not.

To my surprise, within the hour I had a thought about something I did not want.  I told myself that that was not a complaint; I was just noticing something unwanted.  But really I knew it was just a tiny step away from an outright complaint. As time progressed and I had more “non-complaints”, I found myself justifying how these were not complaints, but simply facts.  For instance, my legs are sore (from excessive yard work) is just a statement of fact.  But, of course, behind that “fact” was a miserable feeling of pain.  In other words, a complaint!

That got me to thinking what exactly is a complaint?  According to dictionary.com, it is, “To express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; find fault; to tell of one’s pains, ailments, etc.”

Oh boy.  I had definitely been complaining.  I would add to that definition that complaining is focusing on the negative, feeling victimized and powerless to change unwanted circumstances.  Important to note is that complaining doesn’t necessarily have to be expressed to someone.  It can be just our own internal thoughts.  We may not complain aloud, and so our ego may trick us into believing we are not complaining.

After accepting that I was indeed complaining, but still trying to defend these “non-complaint” statements to my husband and internally to myself, I asked why do I want to allow these statements?  What is to gain from complaining?

Personally, I felt as if I couldn’t function without them.  I needed them.  Complaining, in the form of venting, can actually be a sort of release of frustration or anger.  But there is an extremely fine line which, nine and a half times out of ten, gets crossed.  It can go from being (somewhat) helpful to toxic in the blink of an eye.

The next day I clearly saw how I used complaining as a sort of common ground or small talk with acquaintances.  She was complaining, so I complained back.  It gave me a feeling of connection to another.  It gave me a sense of security by having something to say to somebody with whom I didn’t have much in common.  At work, I perceived that it was a way to waste time or procrastinate.

I also noticed the more I complained, the more I drew to myself more complainers!  Complainers feed off of each other.  If we find ourselves in the company of complainers – or one person who complains a lot –that serves as a good wake-up call to our own state of complaining.

I also used complaining as a way to justify my rightness by pointing out what’s wrong with others or the government or the world….whomever, so long as “they” were wrong and I was right.

Another so-called benefit from complaining is to get sympathy from others.  Have you noticed it’s often the case when you offer a solution to someone who is complaining, they ignore it.  (Or maybe you are the one ignoring a suggested solution.) Usually complainers are not looking for a solution.  When we do not nurture ourselves we resort to looking for love and caring from external sources.  Complaining can be a way to get that from others.

Clearly the ego reaps different types of benefits from complaining.  But when scrutinized, these were not the type of benefits I wanted anymore.

How to stop complaining?

  • When we do complain (aloud or internally), don’t beat ourselves up. We are human so we are not going to be 100% complaint-free.  The goal of this exercise is to become more aware of how much we actually complain.  Not to point out how bad we are, but to rise above it.
  • Focus on things that make us feel good rather than on things that make us want to complain. For example, if we know a new law gets us riled up, don’t keep reading about it!  If we know someone that irritates us, don’t ask them to lunch!
  • Counter complaints with the positive side. For instance, with my sore legs complaint, I could counter with:  My legs are sore, but I really did a nice job on the yard.
  • Ask ourselves, what benefit are we getting from this particular complaint? Then ask if it is worth all the negative sludge that comes with the benefit? For example, was it worth it for me to feel secure and connected to that acquaintance of mine?  No, because I don’t want a connection based on negativity and I don’t need to talk just for the sake of talking. If the benefit is sympathy, then we know we need to put more focus on nurturing ourselves.
  • Ask ourselves, is there something we can change regarding the subject of this complaint? If yes, then do it.  If not, then say a prayer or affirmation and move on.
  • If we are complaining to vent, find another way to let off steam. Exercise, scream in our car or home alone (this one is sure to make us laugh too!), write it down and then tear or burn it, take deep breaths and ask God/Divine Beings to help us let it go.

There’s always going to be things we don’t like and to complain about.  Even if we get our personal lives to the point of being 99.99% to our satisfaction, there will inevitably be something in the world at large with which we could complain about.  The point isn’t to make the outer world and circumstances perfect.  But rather, to be aware that we have the capability to choose our personal thoughts, words, and actions which will make all the difference in terms of our happiness.  When we are happy, those around us will be happier, or at least, they will have a better chance to be happier.  For sure, nobody will be happier around a complainer, including ourselves.

Turning Debbie Downer on her Head

I recently have been aware that I say and think many “Debbie Downer” lines. Debbie Downer was a character on Saturday Night Live that always brought up a bad or negative point in a conversation among a group of people.  As I had been noticing my behavior in doing this, I began to look at it in depth.  The first thing I told myself was what I was saying were facts. These negative points are true.  For example, I told someone I had a craving for frozen yogurt.  He said go get some at lunch.  My reply was that it’s too far away.  And that was a fact!  It was too far for the time I had available.

Yes, it is true that Debbie Downer lines are facts. But they are looking at the negative.  My ego had me so tricked by this – had me believing that just because it was a fact, that being negative was inevitable and, sort of, necessary and that being positive was implausible.

It’s true – there are plenty of negative facts.  But there are plenty of positive things to focus on, as well.  It really is a matter of what our point of focus is on.

Debbie Downer lines can be about simple and insignificant subjects or meaningful topics.  They come in response to a comment from somebody or even in response to your own self.  Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about: My husband suggests to send flowers to a family member.  I immediately shoot it down saying that is a dumb idea because flowers just die!  Definitely a fact that flowers die.  Another example is wanting to go to Europe for a vacation.  It’s expensive.  Another fact, indeed.  A third example is that I want to write and publish a book.  Debbie says to that, there are already so many self-help books available.  True, thousands already exist.

The upside is that now that I clearly see this behavior in myself, I can change it.  When I catch myself saying or thinking a Debbie Downer line, I tell myself (my ego), yes that is a fact.  But, what is the positive statement about the topic?  In the fro-yo example, it would be that I can go after work or tomorrow.  So you sort of pivot from the negative fact to put a positive spin on the subject at hand.  This, of course, leaves us feeling good rather than down, which is the ultimate goal. In the sending flowers example, we could say flowers are so beautiful while they are alive; even though it is a short time, it is well worth it. The Europe downer could be if it is something we highly desire we can save up money for it; the experience will merit the money spent.  And about the book publishing, there can never be too many self-help books, all add value, people always want a new book to read.  And so on.  We can always find the positive side to a negative fact.

We first want to go from saying the Downer lines aloud to just having them in our thoughts.  Of course we don’t want them there either.  This is a process.  First we catch ourselves before we say them aloud.  We pivot in our minds and say only the positive.  We want to get to where we no longer put the negative facts out there for others to receive.  Eventually with some practice (and it will be quicker than you think!), we get to where we no longer even think the negative fact.  (But we don’t criticize ourselves when we do have them.  We are always kind to ourselves.) Simply pivoting with the positive spin will become a habit.

Another way to pivot would be to affirm the topic and then remind ourselves that anything is possible.  For instance, let’s use the Debbie Downer line of going to Europe is too expensive. Then we would pivot and say, But it certainly is possible that I could find a cheap airfare, or I could receive unexpected additional income, etc.  Then really feel the feeling of that being plausible.  Ending with the line, Anything is possible with God/Divine/Source (don’t get caught up on the label!), will certainly put Debbie in her place.

This is simply another way to deliberately be joyful.  As the Dalai Lama says in The Art of Happiness, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”.  In other words, we aren’t just automatically happy.  Our happiness is in our own hands.  Therefore, we must intentionally focus our minds and behaviors on joy.

Let’s be open to seeing where or when we might be a Debbie Downer.  Then turn Debbie upside down and put a positive spin on the negative fact.  We realize Debbie is just our ego, not our true selves.  And remember to laugh at the ridiculousness of Debbie!

Fighting Against What We Know is Good for Us

So we’ve gone over lots of ways to feel more joyful.  We love them, are excited by them, tried them out and know they work!  So why do we not keep doing them?  They’re not difficult.  That’s not the reason. They don’t require something we don’t already have.  That’s not why.  They don’t cost a thing.  That’s not it.

Whether the thing we are not doing is as big as not following our heart’s desires, or simply not praying, meditating, doing exercises to increase our self-worth, eating well, physically exercising, etc., it all falls under the category of fighting against that which is beneficial for us.  (Steven Pressfield calls this Resistance, with a capital R and has an entire book about it, The War of Art.  Be sure to check out his life-changing ideas.) Note, we are not talking about things we “have to” do but aren’t, such as a work project, filling out our taxes, or studying for a required class, etc.   These are things others are telling us to do but we are not interested in.  We’re talking about things we know will help us, things we know are good for us, things we know we will enjoy once we get started.  Why on Earth would we fight against doing them!  And, more importantly, how can we ‘just do it’? (thanks, Nike)

Put simply, we fight against them because that’s human nature.  It’s part of the process of being human.  As said, Steven Pressfield’s book elaborates wonderfully on ‘the why’ of this.  So no need to get into all that here.  I’d rather focus here on ‘the how’ of overcoming it.

First, we must recognize that it is merely part of the human experience; everybody struggles to do what they know will be good for themselves.  We all struggle with self-doubt and fear of change.  This struggle is ego in action.

Then, focus more on what it is we are resisting rather than the resistance itself.  Don’t give too  much meaning to the challenging thoughts.  Don’t analyze fears and opposition.  Once we get involved in weighing our fears, they will most surely win.  Ego will always make us believe the fears and excuses are justified.  If ego asks ‘what ifs’ about it going wrong, answer ego with ‘what ifs’ about it going right.  And be specific.

Ask for help and support from family or close friends. Sometimes we need an objective boost.  Be sure to ask ones you know are on that wavelength.  Don’t ask a skeptic or Negative Nelly!

If you don’t have anyone like that in your life (and even if you do), turn to God/The Universe/Creator/Source (let’s not waste time and energy by getting caught up in the name).  I used to think it was a weakness to ask for help, be it other people or even God.  I realized that is ego once again resisting doing what is good for me.  A succinct request, such as, ‘God, show me and help me to do the next step of divine work/highest good/best for me and all concerned’ will do.

After we ask for divine help, then wait for answers and inspiration in hopeful, fun, light, anticipation.  Rather than milling around in despair.  Solutions, motivation and courage won’t come or be clear when we are feeling down and out.  Do something fun or light-hearted and forget about whatever has got us hung up while happily holding in the back of our minds the eager anticipation of the solution or progress.

What are you resisting that you know would be good for you?  How would you feel if you did it?  How would you change for the better?  Focus on these answers rather than beating yourself up for not doing it.

Making Positive Lists

Let’s remind ourselves why deliberate positive thoughts are necessary. If our minds are left untended to, the ego creeps in and takes over with worry, fear and negativity. This is just human nature. So it is vital to our joy to consciously place good, positive thoughts in our awareness lest our egos will take charge.

Okay, so another way to use our thoughts to increase our joy is in finding positive aspects. We can find the positive in ourselves (which we’ve touched on in increasing our self-worth), in others, in circumstances, and even in challenging situations.

Positive Lists are similar to the appreciation exercise, but Positive Lists are aimed at a specific topic or person. For instance, we could make a list of positive traits of our spouse/partner, parent, friend, co-worker or ourselves. It could also be about our job, a vacation, or our home. It can even be about a (seemingly) “bad” situation or someone we don’t like.

The idea behind these lists is to shift our perception from negative to positive, to get us on the wavelength of a high vibration. Simply put, to make us feel good! Sometimes it is fun just to list a bunch of good things about someone or thing. Other times, it is greatly beneficial to deliberately adjust our bad feeling about someone or thing.

For instance, once when I was particularly feeling irritated by my husband’s actions (by the way, this is a normal part of close relationships!), I wrote a positive list about him. Not only did it make me feel better to focus on his good things, but I no longer felt irritated. Not only did I not feel irritated, but he no longer was doing those things in my presence! One time he began complaining about something that happened at work. Rather than try to ignore him (which I had tried in the past and found out does not work) I focused on my positive list about him. At the end of his rant, he ended by saying he was going to talk to another co-worker about it and not think about it anymore in that particular moment. Mind you, I had not even said a word to him. Within a month he proclaimed he wanted to be less cynical and more positive about things.

It is important to note that circumstances changed after I felt good. And that I did not set out to change anyone or thing, except for how I was feeling. I truly was focusing on and deeply feeling his positive attributes. It was not for pretend. The whole list was and is real. But, it did not matter if he saw his own good or not. It was all about how I was feeling about him. This is a good exercise in overcoming the ego rather than going down the usual ego path of pointing out how wrong or bad they are so we can feel better about ourselves. We are not trying to feel better by making another person wrong or inferior or by comparing ourselves to others. We truly are just acknowledging the positive in the other person, in a completely egoless way. We are deliberately making ourselves feel better and if circumstances happen to also change for the better, then that’s terrific as well.

Who or what are you going to make a Positive List about today? Try it! It will make you feel good!
Next time, we’ll focus on a Positive List about a “bad” situation.

Deliberate Joyful Activities

Awhile back when I was doing an appreciation list, I realized that, although thoughts and feelings are of utmost importance (which the appreciation list comprises), we are physical beings living in a physical world and our activities cannot be dismissed. So, along with appreciating, I have found that doing things that are joyful is also a big part of being joyful. Yes, having a joyful attitude no matter what activity we are doing is essential. But why not also deliberately put joyful activities on our to-do lists, as well. I’m a list person, so I made a list, ‘Do 3-5 things that bring me joy today’. I have a tendency to get caught up in things I have to do, as many people do. What this list does is remind us to make time for joyful activities. The joy list is vital because before we know it the day is over and we didn’t get to do anything we enjoyed. And before we know it our lives will be over and we didn’t do anything we enjoyed. A joyful day- each day – adds up to a joyful life.

The list also brings into our awareness that what we are doing is joyful; we remember and acknowledge joy. For me, a lot of times I don’t even realize I am doing something I enjoy because too much of my focus is on the negative (ego in charge). I have realized that I am more joyful than my ego would like me to think! The joy activity list serves as a reminder that we are indeed leading a good, happy life which may just be covered up by a focus on the negative.

What kinds of things are on a joy to-do list? They don’t have to be big, exciting, thrilling activities. Bigger isn’t better. Remember the point is to remember and acknowledge joy. A typical list of mine includes things, such as, listen to music I love, exercise, walk in nature, talk or email with family, do an art/craft project, read an inspiring book, watch a funny show. This will be a very personalized list. Whatever is enjoyable to you can be on your list. Remember the point is not what you are doing, but that you are making a deliberate effort to do what you enjoy and acknowledging the fact that you are doing it.

At the end of the day I like to think about each thing I did on my joy list. That is when it really sinks in that I did indeed have a fun, joy-filled day and the ego cannot tell me otherwise. This review really makes the most of the joy activity because not only do we enjoy the activity in the moment of doing it, but then we get to re-live the good feeling when we think back on it.

What’s on your joy to-do list today?