Living Our Life to the Fullest: Choosing What to Focus our Thoughts On
November 10, 2012
It feels like an increasing number of my friends are battling the blues. Having the privilege of being a confidant to many of them, I have had many occasions to reflect on what causes said blues. Reflecting with my friends, we realized that often, they become blue because they dwell on unpleasant things.
We know that we shouldn’t dwell on the unpleasant things of life. While it is essential for our survival to know what can go wrong so that we can avoid it, dwelling on these things entrenches pattern of negative thoughts in ourselves, patterns that sap our energy. And yet, as recently posted by Things We Forget, “for every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Dwelling wastes precious time we could instead spend on being happy.
A subset of things we dwell on seems to be the wrongs, real or perceived, others have wrought on us. The abovementioned applies: why dwell, which saps our precious, limited energy, and waste time being hurt instead of happy? Furthermore, when relationships become difficult, it is usually related to a lack of maturity on both parts. We should perhaps then remember that “an infant must not be treated with disdain simply because it is an infant.” Dwelling on negative things related to bad friendships wastes precious time we instead could spend on good friendships.
Learning not to dwell on the unpleasant things in life seems all the more important in the context of community building. A community is not built by a group of people dwelling on unpleasant relationships. Rather, it is built on a group of people who have strong bonds of friendship; these allow for consultations geared on addressing the needs of the times they live in.
So, how can we adopt a healthy mode of learning that balances the need for “survival” with that of not wasting time dwelling?
I personally think it starts with oneself; we should stop dwelling on everything we do wrong. “We must be patient with others, infinitely patient! But also with our poor selves.” Not that we should pat ourselves on the shoulder, far from that. Rather, in a spirit of constantly striving to become better, we should “persevere and add up [our] accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and a bright side.” Dwelling on what we do wrong is not going to help us become better. But by building on our strengths, we can slowly overcome our weaknesses. If instead we choose to dwell on our weaknesses, it can be lead into very dark places. But, as Helen Keller said, “[k]eep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.”
Something else I realized through these amazing conversations with my friends is that if one manages to learn how to focus on what is important, the rest will fall away and will become easy to shrug off, even self-doubt, self-guilt and dwelling on other unpleasant things in life. Think of yourself walking on a path. The slower you walk, the more you have time to notice details on the sides of the path that will distract you from getting to your final destination. But the faster you walk, focusing on the quality of each step, learning to walk more and more efficiently, focused on the end goal, the more the side paths, the distractions, the unimportant things become a blur, and the sharper and clearer your goals become.
And so, which path will you choose? And how will you walk it?