Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mental Energy: Attention & Intention

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity? — from Tal Ben-Shahar's Six Tips for Happiness, as presented on NPR

“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.” — Anais Nin

When I have a migraine, it usually means I'm going to cycle between hot baths and lying in bed, doing my best to stay quiet until it passes, often in about 24 hours. My energy is drained, I'm in pain, and I can't concentrate. Bright lights, strong odors, and loud sounds can seem intolerable. It's not much fun and it takes days to rebuild my stamina after it’s over.

On Thursday, I found myself slipping into an habitual pattern of thinking that it was my fault that I had a headache and that I'm broken, weak and hopeless. That added a huge weight of suffering on top of the pain I was already experiencing. In addition, I was anxious about all the things that weren’t getting done and feeling overwhelmed at all I was going to need to do to catch up when I felt better (including writing this post). Whew!

Lucky for me, I have a lot of practice paying attention to what's going on in my head and heart. After getting thrashed around for a while in the whirlpool of negativity, I regain my perspective and then my power. It helps that I'm blessed to have friends who are skilled at providing a reality check when I need one.

And so after a little while I woke up to the effects of the negative thoughts I was having and decided instead to acknowledge what a good job I was doing taking care of myself in very trying circumstances. I also recognized that by making my immediate needs a priority I was speeding my recovery so I could get back to work sooner. Even though I still felt bad physically, emotionally I was much more at peace. It felt like I had gone from being in the presence of someone who was selfish and spiteful to one who was loving and supportive, from being assaulted by my critic to being cheered on by my coach.

Over the following days I have made rest, mild, exercise and eating well a priority. When I have stopped to take inventory, I have seen that I actually am getting a fair amount accomplished, even though my "do list" is stretching into next week. Though I'm still tired, my confidence and optimism have returned. I'm thinking about possibilities instead of feeling burdened. While talking to a friend recently, she remarked that I was a different person from the one she spoke with at the end of last week. Choosing the most skillful way to interpret my experience made all the difference. It's good to be back.

Practice exercise:

What is your explanatory style? That is, when you explain to yourself the events, situations and experiences in your life, do you tend to:
1) take them personally (“It’s my fault that happened.”)
2) see them as permanent (“I always lose my keys.”)
3) believe they are pervasive, i.e., see the situation as affecting every area of your life (“I can’t do anything right.”)

Pay attention to how your thoughts are shaping your experiences (which make up your life!). Are there equally valid and more empowering, more energizing explanations for what is going on?

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

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