Choosing Our Focus
If I knew the response I would get to my Coping Mechanisms post, I would’ve posted it sooner. I’ve always known that depression is a much bigger issue than society is willing to acknowledge – even in 2014 – but I’m blown away by the many, many messages of support and gratitude. So allow me to say you’re welcome… and thank you.
I may be a speaker and a writer, but your words of encouragement, support, and gratitude have left me speechless. They mean more to me than words can possibly express, and since words can’t adequately describe my thanks, I hope that you can feel my gratitude. You are why I do what I do.
I have to confess that I was reluctant to talk about my relationship with depression because I believe that what we focus on expands. My fear was that if I talked about depression, it would get worse. But then I realized that my real intent wasn’t to speak about depression, but rather how to embrace it and allow ourselves to move through it by using tools that strengthen us. My focus was on coping and then thriving, not on the depression itself. Once I understood my intention and my focus, it was easy to speak honestly and openly.
I’ve read many times, and from many sources, that our focus determines our reality. This simple truth has been addressed by philosophers, spiritual leaders, and even scientists. One of the easiest ways we can see this principle at work is to use the example of filters. No, not coffee filters or water filters, but perception filters – as in, the way we perceive things. Each of us has filters through which we view the world, and we use those filters to reinforce our beliefs. How? When faced with evidence that may contradict a strongly held belief, our filters will screen out that evidence, leaving us to notice only those things that reinforce our worldview.
Let’s say that two people just arrived in New York from out of town. This is their first visit and both of them are going to the same hotel, so they decide to share a cab. While one passenger is excited about his visit to the Big Apple, the other one has been dreading the trip. On the way to the hotel, the passenger who has been dreading his trip notices the heavy traffic, the rude gestures, the honking at being cut off, the expletives, and the bikes weaving in between cars with no regard for their own safety or that of others. By contrast, the passenger who is excited about his visit notices how drivers stop to let other cars merge into traffic, the waves of thanks, the honks to let others know that they can pass, the words of appreciation, and how bike riders take great care to avoid causing accidents.
The two passengers see the world through totally different filters, filters which are influenced by their beliefs. One passenger believes that the world – and New York in particular – is filled with ornery, rude, and selfish people, while the other believes that most people are kind, honest, and generous. Even though they see the same things, their interpretation of what’s going on around them is influenced by their beliefs. Their focus – conscious or unconscious – is on their prevailing beliefs.
Each of us has the ability to choose our focus. When I learned that my choices extend to the things I focus on, my life changed radically. I stopped noticing rude drivers and I instead noticed how orderly the roads are given the number of cars out there. I stopped noticing clueless retail clerks, and I instead noticed that most retail employees enjoy their interactions with customers, and that they do the best they can with the education and training they have. When I changed my focus, I started to see an entirely different world – one that I loved to be a part of.
Having said that, I realized that I must stay focused every day, and I have think and act consciously. I’ve learned that when I switch to “autopilot,” (in other words, when I go unconscious and I don’t deliberately choose my thoughts), things quickly fall apart. My mood sours and I have one of those proverbial days from hell. This is going to sound a little odd, but even days from hell are good things. They serve as reminders that I’m no longer consciously choosing my thoughts, and they act almost like a proverbial bitch slap to bring me back to consciousness.
Every day begins with a choice, and that choice determines the outcome of my day. I therefore choose to focus on those things that will keep me balanced and happy. For me, I choose to focus on gratitude and fun. Everything else falls into place once those choices have been made.
As I continue to write and speak about reclaiming one’s passion for life and being happy, I will occasionally refer to depression and other emotional challenges that are part of the human condition. The intent is to use those points of reference to focus attention on the simple things we can do every day to thrive and live happy, regardless of what’s going on. That’s because our focus really does determine our reality. The good news is that we can choose our focus by choosing our thoughts. By making small, simple shifts, our entire world (our reality) changes with us. Yes, it takes practice, but it doesn’t take any effort. In fact, when we choose to dwell on thoughts that feel good or fun, everything else feels effortless.
Before I go, I will leave you with this question: What will choose to focus on today? If you make it a practice to ask – and answer – that one question every day when you wake up, and you will be amazed at how incredible life really is.
About the Author
Appio Hunter is an author, speaker, spiritual guide, and self-described champion for living joyously. He uses his seminars and workshops to facilitate conversations about authenticity, alignment, and the daily experience of community, connection, and joy. Appio is also a weekly columnist with The Good Men Project and co-host of the Real Men Feel Show along with his good friend Andy Grant.