I watched a Tedx talk yesterday about “How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals” by Stephen Duneier. The autoplay was on, and another video started while I was cooking. The video was about focus (The art of focus – a crucial ability – Christina Bengtsson).
She said something along the lines of – there are many thoughts traveling through your mind and focus is deciding which one you’re going to pay attention to.
This goes hand in hand with something I heard Eckhart Tolle say once (I’m paraphrasing) – “You don’t have to believe your thoughts.”
I sat thinking about those two ideas and then I remembered something I’d learned over a year ago. I wish I had the exact source to quote and give credit to, but I can’t find it. I searched for it, and many experts have used this analogy, so I’m not sure who is the original source of the information. (If you know, share it in in the comments below so I can give credit!).
So here’s the basic premise: Our brains are marked by different thought patterns. The things we think about frequently become like superhighways over time. The things we don’t think about that often become like dirt roads, or untraveled paths in the woods covered with fallen trees, roots, and brush. So going down the highway is easy, fast, and takes minimal effort but going down the path in the woods takes diligence, effort, and is a slow process. When we are changing our thought processes, it is arduous and unnatural. It is uncomfortable, slow, and difficult.
Our brains have countless thoughts in a day, but deciding to shift our attention (focus) to a different set of thoughts is a big undertaking. However, the good news is, the more consistent we are at shifting that focus, the easier it will become. Over time, that new thought process will become like a superhighway, and the old thought process will become overgrown and untraveled.
If we focus on our failings, for example, it becomes easier and easier to focus on them because our brain gets used to it and it becomes very efficient at it. To switch our train of thought is hard at first. We are getting off the highway we’ve created and traveling on some dirt roads. It’s bumpy and uncomfortable, and we are cutting our knees on sharp branches, we are out of breath after traveling only a short distance, we are going slower and encountering more obstacles. But the more we travel this new road, the easier it becomes for our brain.
The interesting thing about this is that I am focusing on thoughts unconsciously. I’m not giving thought (haha) to the thoughts I’m thinking. So negative thoughts that aren’t going to help me reach my goals are running down a superhighway, and constructive thoughts (ideas for routines, solutions, resources, etc.) are dirt roads for me.
So let me recap. Here are the three ideas I’m combining:
1.) Christina Bengtsson (paraphrasing): We have countless thoughts – focus is deciding which ones we will pay attention to.
2.) Eckhart Tolle (paraphrasing): You don’t have to believe your thoughts.
3.) Source unknown: The thoughts we focus on most often become easier over time, the thoughts we focus on less often (or never) become difficult.
What I decided to do was spend an hour in quiet before anyone in my house woke up and write down my honest thoughts about everything. I made categories: Family, motherhood, friendship, career, health, free time, etc. I wrote all of my messy thoughts out on paper and didn’t edit myself. Then I went through each section and thought of ways to reframe thoughts so that they are constructive instead of destructive.
My plan is to go through these new constructive thoughts every morning so that they become a superhighway.
Note – these new thought processes are not lies. For example:
Destructive thought: “I’m bored and unfulfilled.”
I wouldn’t change that to: “I’m fulfilled and engaged” (A lie).
Instead, I’d change it to, “I’m thinking of ways to create fulfillment, I’m seeking ways to become more engaged in my life. What actions can I take?”
Here’s an honest list of what I’ve been focusing on and how I want to shift it:
I don’t accomplish enough in a day >>>>shift to>>>here are the top three things I am going to accomplish today
Finding fault with situations or people (It’s cold, I’m bored, that person was rude, etc) >>>>>shift to>>>>>Finding gratitude for people and situations (She went out of her way to help me, my son was patient during the traffic jam, etc).
This is a big one:
I’m scared, this fear must be a sign that I’m doing the wrong thing.>>>>shift to>>>>This fear is normal and a sign that I’m going out of my comfort zone (Which is a good thing).
I could go on and on about ways I want to shift my thinking and the new superhighways I want to construct. I don’t believe that positive thinking is the answer to all my problems, but I do think that shifting my focus, and shifting my habitual thoughts, will lead to an increase in action. And the shift in the actions I choose will change the course of my life.
Thank you for stopping by creating a skyscraper!