Shift Your Focus to Shift Your Outcomes

How was your 2013? The answer you give can reveal a lot about your focus.  Do you remember everything that went wrong? Do you remember every embarrassing failure or disappointment?

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I once received a fortune in a cookie that read, "You are what you think about all day long."  I think this is nearly right; I would change it slightly to say, "You are how you think all day long." Our thoughts create our reality in a big way.  I don't mean that the freezing, hungry homeless person doesn't have anything to worry about other than what he's thinking.  But the well-fed man living in a comfortable house who can't stop worrying or obsessing about something is certainly not happy.

How do you focus on the good stuff and stop feeling guilty about the bad? Keep track of the good things that happen in your life and that you accomplish!  In 2013, I made a Good Times Jar and placed it on my kitchen counter. When I did something enjoyable - took a walk at sunset, enjoyed dinner with friends, finished a project, or worked on a goal such as writing more - I jotted down a few quick words on scrap paper, along with the date, and placed the folded paper into the jar.

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Yesterday, I dumped out all of the little slips of paper and read through them.  Wow, I thought, I had a really great year!  I met my work goals, I spent time with people I care about, I enjoyed my health, and I completed some fun projects, such as building a nifty hanging planter box for my onions.  Were there some bad parts of 2013? Of course.  Every year has its ups and downs.  But I am not allowing those to be my focus.  I'm choosing to think about what made my year wonderful, and as a result, I'm able to focus on what I want to accomplish in 2014 without being bogged down by replaying my failures or misfortunes.

If you want to make some positive changes for yourself this year - whether at school or in other parts of life - try making your own Good Times Jar.  Did your biology test score go up one point? Put it in the jar! Did your English teacher finally have a positive comment on one of your essays? Put it in the jar! Did you get up the courage to submit an article to the school paper? Put it in the jar! Did you create a new friendship or get out of a toxic one? Put it in the jar!

If this sounds cheesy to you, do it anyway and just don't tell anyone!  Seriously, your secret's safe with me.  For some reason, we tend to think that happy people are lame.  Suffering is what makes us interesting, right? It turns out, though, that happy people get a lot more done.  Happiness is just more efficient.  I know it's impossible to be happy all the time.  Life is full of changes, curve balls, speed bumps, and other metaphorical roadblocks.  But that is exactly why I have become a happiness proponent: the bad stuff will come along on its own, so I don't need to add to it with a negative mental state.  In my own experience, I don't think well when I'm focused on the negative.  I freeze up. I panic. I can't see a solution.  When I am calm and self-forgiving, I am much more likely to figure out how to get out of a sticky situation, often by asking for help.

You can't control all of life, but you can control how you think about your life - to some extent.  I'm not saying it is easy to dismiss negative thoughts.  If you have automatic negative thoughts, you may have to work hard to dismiss them and replace them with a habit of calmness or positive thinking.  (If you really struggle with negative thinking, check out Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by brain scientist Dr. Daniel Amen!) But the Good Times Jar is an easy way to start.  You don't have to commit to making any big changes in your life.  All you have to do is not let the good things slip through the cracks of memory.  Acknowledge them now, and at the end of the year, delight in them.  Even if you do it in the privacy of your own room so you won't be branded as one of those creepy "happy" people.