We’re into week three of Shelter-in-Place here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The novelty is wearing off in our house and we’re sobering up to the new normal. Trying to find the balance of being mom to two children, wife to a restaurateur, and coach to my clients has been a moment-by-moment effort in navigating with grace.
While settled in with my family I feel a surreal sense of peace and calm despite the anxiety of uncertainty that surrounds us all. But, beyond my home life I’ve felt withdrawn and confused – lost without the wave of purpose and direction I was riding before the pandemic hit. Reaching out and staying connected to others is probably the most important thing right now, and I find that this has been the hardest thing to do. I have been boosted by the messages of hope and solidarity my colleagues are sending out to their networks, and I’ve been bothered that I’ve not been able to do the same for mine.
This past weekend, something shifted in me while on a walk with my kids and dogs. I remembered that the object of my focus determines everything about my experience. The focus I sustain determines my thoughts and feelings, which in turn dictate my mood, which is what my family plays off of, keeping me stuck in a cycle of focusing on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. Whatever I focus on, I create for myself.
I’ve been lazy with my focus! I’ve been largely focused on uncertainty.
And my goodness, there are wonderfully positive things I could be focusing on instead: air pollution has decreased globally, families are more present with each other, people are becoming more selfless, and we’re all learning to embody what’s most important – love and hope. We cannot deny that there is tremendous struggle, pain and loss for everyone during this pandemic – from losing loved ones, to losing jobs, to losing enterprises. While that all may be happening throughout the world, we can still choose to focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong and free up valuable mental and emotional bandwidth to powerfully get us to the other side.
If you want to bust through mental malaise and get “back up on the horse,” then there are two decisions you’ll need to make:
Whatever you focus on determines the thoughts you think and thus the feelings you feel. Think about what happens when you watch TV. If you turn it on and up pops a horror film, and you don’t like horror films, what do you do? You change the channel because you don’t like the way horror makes your feel. Your focus is like the remote control of your mind. If you don’t like what you’re feeling then change the channel of your focus. Care more about how you feel and let your feeling be your guide. If you don’t like what you’re feeling, change your focus to what’s right, what you’re grateful for, and what’s possible.
Us humans are a resilient bunch and growth is a fascinating process. I remember learning about transitional pain, as distinct from unwanted pain, while preparing for an unmedicated home birth for my second child. “Transitional pain” occurs as a part of the life cycle – like teething, growing pains, and death. It’s not unwanted, it’s just a part of the process. In seeing labor as transitional pain and not unwanted pain, I naturally released any resistance and met the experience in a very powerful and present way. I believe we can do the same with this pandemic. Everything that we’re going through in this pandemic is no doubt unwanted, but we can’t alter the fact that we’re here. The next best thing to do is drop our resistance, focus solely on what we can do, and expect triumph on the other side. No one ever said that feeling good was an indicator of progress and that growth happened solely in the light. I believe that our human species will unite through these incredibly trying times, regard our planet, and each other, with a love and a respect that will catapult us into an evolved reality, and THAT will be our new normal.
Focus is a tricky balance
Shifting focus once doesn’t mean I’ll stay bolstered forever, especially as I continue to tune into the news to stay informed – there is a fine line between just enough and too much. Intentional focus is a muscle I’ll have to adjust regularly according to how I feel throughout each day.
And, it’s worth it. The cost of mental malaise is too high, especially because our mental and emotional resources are needed now more than ever. Hopefully you’ll join me in practicing intentional focus. Together we can free up our attentional bandwidth to allow for brilliant and powerful ideas that will contribute to our transformed reality that lies ahead.