Keep the Focus on Now: It's What Counts Most

October 10, 2020

Photo by Peter Pryharski on Unsplash

 

“Forget past mistakes, forget failures, forget everything except what you’re going to do now, and do it.” – Will Durant

 

Far too many people waste time worrying over things they’ve done in the past. In the process, they often neglect or worse, can’t even recognize, opportunities that may be right in front of them.

Frankly, aren’t we all guilty of this on occasion? Even if we don’t want to admit it, I suspect we are. Regardless, being willing to see our possible tendency to dwell on past mistakes and/or perceived failures and then moving past that temporary negative line of thinking to remind ourselves that we live in the present and not the past is a good thing. This turnabout ensures we pay attention to the present, which is where we can act and implement plans. That’s the only way to accomplish goals, broaden horizons, and pursue long-held dreams.

And it’s a truth that lacking focus, we’re not going to be able to see where we want to be in the future. That’s true whether the future in question is next week, a year from now, of 10 years beyond today.

Here’s what happens when we commit full attention to an activity. It typically gets done faster, and usually with better results. It’s easier to zero in on what’s a necessity, to minimize distraction and sharpen attention to the task at hand. Athletes know this as being “in the zone.” It’s a good analogy to preparing for working on what needs to be done now.

Before you can focus, you need some task to begin, a goal to pursue, or an activity requiring effort now. Focus is not a concept of abstraction. It’s always specific in the context of action. Put this in real terms. Focus means figuring out what we need to do to concentrate our attention in the here and now and jumpstart our ability to be fully present.

This may require some practice, especially for those too accustomed to getting lost in social media or other time-wasters. Learning how to focus and live in the present won’t happen overnight. Suppose you tell yourself you’re going to eliminate all distractions and pay attention to what must be done now. That’s not going to make all those ever-present distractions somehow magically disappear. Instead, it will take concentrated effort to wrest thoughts away from dwelling on the past and a list of what went wrong (as well as worrying about mistakes or failures that may never occur in the future) to remain firmly in the present and do what needs doing now.

Another strong recommendation is to have a list of things to do. That way, there’s less likely to be a vacuum where thoughts can drift back to ruminate over painful experiences in the past.

Although everyone can benefit from some downtime, that too can be scheduled. Be sure to carve out time for enjoyable activities like gardening, reading, taking a hike in nature, lunch, or coffee with friends, starting a hobby, or taking a mini-vacation with loved ones and family members. Keep in mind, though, that even downtime requires focus. The best downtime recognizes living in the present and maximizing every second of being alive.

This is truly what counts in life.

 

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Be an Enthusiast in Life

September 28, 2020

Photo by Kai Visuals on Unsplash

 

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life…if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” – Roald Dahl

 

Life is definitely worth living. And when it comes to living, the only way to live is to do so wholeheartedly, without reservation or regrets, no holds barred, and full-speed ahead.

Too many times we tell ourselves that we’ll only go so far, that we’ll give something a try and then give up before we’ve even allowed it to have a chance. That’s not living. That’s dipping a toe in the water and deciding it’s too cold to go any further.

This kind of defeats the purpose of discovery and exploration, doesn’t it? You have to be willing to entertain the unknown, to step into unfamiliar territory and overcome your reticence and fears if you have any hope of living a joyful, zest-filled life.

Maybe you don’t regard yourself as very enthusiastic, preferring to play it safe rather than be bold. It’s OK to be a little tentative at first, but do venture forth and do something out of your comfort zone.

To make it easy, start small. If you’re petrified of water, don’t go out on a boat ride. Spend some time gazing at the water from the safety of a secure dock. If you can’t stand heights, but have to use an elevator to get where you’re going and the elevator is made of see-through material, don’t look down. Look out instead. While this won’t make you an enthusiast about the water or less-than-afraid of heights, it will be pushing your boundaries. You will realize that you can attempt things you didn’t believe yourself capable of.

As for giving yourself permission to go after what interests you, there’s no time like the present. After all, life is short and you might not have this opportunity again. This isn’t about being fearful you’re going to die but about taking advantage of the preciousness of life and living it to the fullest.

When something sparks your interest, pursue it with vigor. Learn all you can about it and jump in with both feet. Indulge your curiosity. Feel your excitement build. Follow the energy. That’s living vibrantly and with purposefulness.

Go on, be an enthusiast in life. You can do this.

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Treat Yourself to Happiness

September 10, 2020

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

 

“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” – Iris Murdoch

 

As someone who loves small treats, this quote really resonates with me. Whether it’s the tiniest nibble of a decadent dessert, watching the magnificence of the sunset, relaxing with a good book, or laughing at a well-told joke, a treat I give myself contributes to my happiness.

Some might say I’m easily pleased. That’s a good thing. I find joy in life’s smallest treasures. For me, nothing is too small to count.

But I didn’t come by this realization all at once. It took years of experience, learning from mistakes, close brushes with tragedy, and death for me to appreciate the little things – which add up to the big things, as in life itself.

Let’s just say you don’t go for the blowout and expect it to last. While it’s great to have an exhilarating moment, if you think it will be here forever, you’re wrong. Life doesn’t work that way. That’s why it’s important to savor the bite-size moments, the here and now, exquisite experiences of all the senses of sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell.

What constitutes a small treat to you?

  • To qualify, it has to have some meaning.
  • Does it make you smile or laugh?
  • Do you treasure the relationship or bond and the expression of your caring or love?
  • Is this a little reward for hard work you’ve put in, solace for not quite achieving a goal, a shared treat with friends, loved ones, co-workers, or others?

Looked at in this way, treats can encompass just about anything. It isn’t what the treat is, but what it means to you, how it makes you feel.

Perhaps the bigger issue is your willingness to allow yourself treats in the first place. If you don’t think you deserve them or are somehow being punished, you likely won’t seek them out at all, or, if you do, you likely won’t permit yourself to fully enjoy them.

Life presents each of us with myriad challenges. The good experiences, the positive moments, the little treats help us find and experience life’s vibrancy, purpose, and happiness.

 

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Look at Experiences as Blessings

September 8, 2020

Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash

 

“Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.” – Buddha

 

There’s certainly no shortage of experiences in this world. Indeed, we have dozens of them every day. Some we don’t even think about since we do them so often they’ve become automatic. There are, of course, some experiences that are more memorable than others. Then too, some experiences cause us pain. Some are easily accepted, while others linger with perhaps more negative emotions than we’d like. Yet each of these experiences is valuable. How so? Consider the following:

Experience teaches.

We learn from doing, even if that lesson is what not to do the next time. For example, if you burn your fingers picking up a skillet handle, you immediately feel the pain and remember to use a potholder or towel when you attempt to do this again. A corollary to this is that when something great happens, the experience also teaches a worthwhile lesson.

Everyone has experiences – why not use them?

Instead of sleepwalking through the day, going on autopilot, and having no sense of place or time, tune into the moment. Really feel and be present in what you’re doing. Whatever it is – making coffee, getting ready for the day, driving to work, finishing a job assignment, taking a meeting, walking during lunch, shopping for groceries, running errands, stopping off for a yoga class, or playing with the kids when you return home – inhabit every part of the action or activity. Take notice of how your body feels, the rhythmic cadence of your breathing, the sights, smells, sounds, and touch of things around you. This is making use of your experience. Not only that, but it will also fill you with an appreciation of life.

How to see experiences as blessings

OK, so we can get behind the lesson that experience teaches and that we all have experienced experiences, so we’ll try to use them. How can we begin to see experiences as blessings – particularly those experiences that are painful or ones we’re desperate to forget? Shouldn’t we try to get past those as quickly as possible?

Think for a moment about who we are today and how we got here. Not in the sense of physical movement but in terms of the choices we’ve made. What we’ve done is a result of deliberate and conscious choice on our part. We are a product of our actions, our experiences. Whether the experience was good or bad, it shapes us. While this may not be clear, or perhaps we never thought of the experience in this way, in each of these experiences is a hidden blessing. Going back to the example of the burnt fingers from a hot skillet, the experience, while painful, taught us a valuable lesson: don’t do that again. It also allows us to be grateful we are alive and able to go on, albeit with a sore finger. Sometimes pain brings us back to the present like nothing else: Voilà, a blessing.

Mostly, though, the blessings inherent in each experience are more transparent. We get a good grade or receive kudos from the boss on a project well-done, and this translates into something better as a result. Digging in the garden to plant seeds, bulbs, or transplant flowers or shrubs yields an immediate blessing: beauty, a sense of accomplishment, a transformed setting. Talking with a loved one who’s traveling, visiting a sick friend to bring some much-needed cheer – these are also experiences that are rich with blessings.

Think about what actions you took today; all the experiences you had from the time you got up. What about them made you smile, enriched your life, made you feel fulfilled? There’s a blessing in each one of them. All you need to do is look for it. This necessitates a conscious decision to embrace all of life, the good and the bad, and to regard each activity as an opportunity to realize the blessings inherent in all experiences.

 

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Connect to What Matters

September 7, 2020

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash.

“I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace – a connection to what matters.” – Oprah Winfrey

Are you looking to find meaning and joy in your life but find daily distractions get in the way? Perhaps the key isn’t so much the striving for what you don’t have but a focus on what you do have – and what really matters.

Consider the fact that life is never static; it’s constantly on the move. Whether you learn and grow from experiences or stagnate and continue to make the same mistakes is entirely up to you. Somewhere in the process is a vital step: connecting to what matters. If you can identify who and what matters to you the most, and recognize these individuals and events when you encounter them, you’ll be better able to live your life with an understanding that they are instrumental to your overall well-being and internal peace.

What happens when you’re late for work, the kids are squabbling, and you just dropped and broke a dish scrambling to get a meal on the table, you’re worn out and just want to go to sleep, you’ve had a fight with your loved one or a disagreement with a friend? Where are the well-being and internal peace here? Is it lost for the moment? How can you recapture it and weather the distraction, annoyance, problem, or issue?

Remind yourself that this latest disruption, as with most things, is temporary. You can get through this by concentrating on doing the best you can at the moment. Remembering what matters and being fully connected to those vital aspects of your life will not only sustain you through rough times, you’ll also be the stronger for the experience.

First, know what matters. Keep this foremost in your mind at all times. Refer to it as necessary. The beauty of connecting to what matters is that this is an ongoing learning experience that builds and sustains well-being and internal peace.

There is no downside to this process. Indeed, life is much richer with connections that matter, whether that’s friends you can rely on and enjoy good and bad times with or a career that motivates and excites you, broadening your horizons through travel, engaging in a relaxing or stimulating hobby, or whatever.

Maximize your joy in life through connection.

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Choose the Best Version of Yourself

September 6, 2020

Photo by Picography

 

“The best version of yourself is all that you need to be.” – Martellus Bennett

 

Children are often asked by their parents what they want to be when they grow up. Among the typical answers are professions where individuals display daring, skill, or great knowledge, such as a firefighter, doctor, jet pilot, astronaut, or someone with unique talents, including superstar athletes and videogame designers. Less often, but equally compelling, are the answers that include being a mom or growing up to be just like dad. What all the answers have in common is a desire to be the best version of yourself.

Isn't that the essence of what our time on earth is all about?

After all, life is short, comparatively speaking, and no one knows precisely how much time we have. All the more reason, then, to spend the days in pursuit of self-improvement and personal growth, so that we can use what we learn each day as a springboard to greater knowledge.

This does not mean, however, that obstacles won't appear along the way, perhaps thwarting or delaying achievement of certain goals. Indeed, much of the knowledge and skill that individuals acquire comes as a result of mistakes made in the earnest effort to reach success.

In my experience, when I've regarded a mistake as the end of any possibility of success, such an attitude fairly determined the outcome. On the other hand, when I heeded the advice of wiser counsel to simply learn from the mistake and keep going, the ensuing result more often than not turned out to be positive. Even during times of great personal hardship, mental anguish, physical illness, and financial or social difficulty, being optimistic and maintaining a determination to persevere made all the difference. As such, I am a fierce optimist and always see the positive in any situation; despite that, however, much negativity may appear to cloud the view.

How can we be the best version of ourselves? Is there a template to follow, or must we wing it? Perhaps the following will be useful:

  • Be true to your values, never sacrificing honestly held core beliefs just because they may be unpopular.
  • Always have a set of goals to investigate, pursue, and work to achieve.
  • Surround yourself with proactive, positive people.
  • Remind yourself of what you're good at, as well as areas where you've achieved success.
  • Instead of giving up on your dreams, seek to retain some portion or aspect of them that gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
  • Share your goodness with others, since the generosity of spirit is a welcome addition to everyone's life.

 

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