Despite the belief of the multi-taskers among us, we can only focus on one thing at a time. While we are focusing on this thing over here, we can’t be focusing on that thing over there.
Nor can we think of more than one thing at a time. Sure we can sometimes switch between thoughts and shift our focus rapidly, but in each moment we can only think about or focus on one thing at a time.
While we are focusing on problems, we can’t in the same moment be aware of solutions. While we are focusing on things that are upsetting us, we can’t have awareness of things that might make us happy. While we’re focusing on things that annoy us we can’t find things to appreciate. We can use this aspect of our thinking to our advantage. Learning how to more consciously direct our attention and thoughts can be life-changing and it is simple, given a bit of practice.
This is one of the promises of mindfulness – learning where our wandering mind is taking us, being mindful and aware of that (and its impact) and then consciously directing our thoughts in a new, more positive, calming or appreciative way, can instantly make us feel better and it can also make us more effective. For the deep thinkers out there, ruminating, which is when we think the same thoughts over and over can sometimes be very problematic. It can make us feel anxious about feeling anxious or frustrated about being frustrated. Time-wasting and obviously uncomfortable!
A good analogy to understand the concept of focus is to imagine you’re in a large warehouse and that in this warehouse all possibilities exist. All of the beauty, all of the ugliness, all the problems, all the solutions. If you shine a torch in the warehouse, you’re only going to see what lies within the torch’s beam. In that moment, you will literally not be able to see anything else, so all of those other things might as well not exist, they are not currently available to you. As trite and simplistic as this sounds, it isn’t always easy to change the direction of our thoughts, as we will have built up habits of thinking over many years – they’ve gone from being soft little possibilities to hard-wired superhighways of thought. But we can start to notice the things we are focusing on and we can gain awareness about whether what we’re choosing to place our focus is helping us or harming us. If it’s harming us, we can guide ourselves to focus instead on something that will help us.
We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. If we want to see the world in a different way to how we’ve become accustomed to seeing it, we’ll need to change our habits of thought, since our thoughts influence our experience of life by impacting what we focus on and therefore what we notice. How mindblowing is that to consider?
We get what we go looking for, that is what our thinking filters or “reticular activation system in our brain” does for us. These thinking filters, which are created in our childhood, literally set us up for how we perceive the world, and everything that we see from childhood onwards is being run through these pre-existing filters of ours, causing us to delete, distort and generalise the vast quantity of information coming at us in every moment to look for evidence that what we think is true. If you have never heard this before it can sound really far-fetched, but consider this, what say all you needed to do was change your filters to experience your perception of life differently? Would you if you could or are you happy with how you think currently?
It can be difficult to do this for yourself – after all, you can’t see what you can’t see. How can you be aware of what you’re not aware of? This is where some outside help can really assist you to unearth and bring to conscious awareness your thoughts, their origin and their impact. With time and practice you can learn how to redirect your thoughts and change what you focus on and therefore what you experience. This is what coaches refer to when they talk about “uncovering blindspots”. Simply powerful and life-changing stuff.