Mental Health · Personal Development

Our focus is the only thing that changes

making waves” © Elizabeth Donoghue, 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I get up and go to the gym. Climb onto an elliptical and put my headphones in. An hour of time three days a week where I don’t have to say anything, answer any questions, evaluate or receive feedback. Simpler than the three days I spend lifting. Concentrating on proper form: shoulders back, deep breath, hold, tight core, begin. On cardio days I don’t even really have to think. I zone out completely. Stare at the numbers on the display in front of me. Listen to my music, my breathing, my heartbeat. It’s freedom. But it toes the line of complacency.

When I have the option of getting in a groove I can lose my focus. My attention drifts to the TV set hanging from the ceiling in the gym. Before I know it my pace has slowed, my heart-rate dropped, my breathing become easy. It’s just like that in everything, isn’t it?

We stop pushing. Settle into a rhythm and neglect to notice we’ve stopped trying. Stopped growing.

Eventually something happens to bring my attention back to it. My weight creeps up again, my brain becomes cluttered, my moods swing wildly. I wake up with bruises, I miss a deadline, I find myself standing too close to the edge.

So I make an elaborate gesture to make up for all the time I’ve been slipping.

I clean up my diet, start running, write a new blog post, break up with an abusive boyfriend, quit drinking, throw out my stash again. Great big things. Impressive and shiny. Always beneficial, but rarely long lasting. Not because I’m not committed, but because I lose focus again. Forget to stay conscious of how I’m using my time, my energy, my brain power.

My attention drifts off and I neglect to pull it back. By the time I notice something has to change, I have an insane amount of work to do to make up the difference. And it’s just not sustainable. That’s how I burn out. Fatigue. Get overwhelmed with the constant bigness of everything.

Imagine instead if I applied consistent effort toward maintaining focus on the things I want to achieve. Unwavering commitment and a refusal to compromise. No distractions. Eyes on the prize. Always.

It’s not dramatic. It’s not extreme. It’s not even all that difficult. It’s just paying attention. Always paying attention. Pulling my focus back to the place it needs to be to keep moving forward. Keep progressing. And there’s only one way to learn to do that: practice. When my mind wanders, I practice guiding it back. Meditation in the day to day. Routine pressure.

Learning to act against the forces which have been acting against me.

Done being the rock walls.

Ready to be waves.

Personal Development


"We got more" © Raul Lieberwirth, 2012. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
We got more” © Raul Lieberwirth, 2012. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
There’s always one more thing to do. One more counter to wipe down. One more bag of trash. There’s always one more email to answer or one more article to read. One more picture to look at on Facebook. One more thing to write. One more piece to edit. One more text message that needs attention. One more light to turn off. To turn back on again.

“Hold on. Real quick. Just one more thing.” Always busy. Always moving, sorting, doing.

I set aside time every night to stop. To sit. To give into the quiet and the stillness. It’s important. My doctor told me so. I make the time. I work it in. Fifteen minutes. It’s all scheduled. All laid out perfect so I can get to bed by ten. Get up in the morning at a quarter to six. Constant lists of things to do. A month’s worth of runs and gym trips planned in advance. Coffee dates and grocery shopping. Showers and mascara application. It all has its special timeframe. I wonder what I end up missing. The things that would happen if I let myself just be. Just do nothing. Sit with myself and just breathe. Spontaneous peace. Continue reading →

Personal Development


"Rotten Wood" © Paula Bailey, 2004. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Rotten Wood” © Paula Bailey, 2004. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
In mindfulness meditation I’m learning how to pay attention. Watch where my thoughts go and then bring them back to where I’m trying to keep my focus. Dandelion seeds floating in the air, they dance around unaware of the fact that they are “supposed” to be doing something.

You can’t pass judgment on where your brain decides to go. It’s interesting. It’s something to pay attention to. But there is never anything wrong with what you’re thinking about. There is no direction you’re supposed to head. The mind does what the mind will do you and you just have to let it. Coax it back to your breath. Ease it back into your center. Try not to get angry or frustrated with how it behaves when you let it run around without you. None of it has to mean anything. It doesn’t have to hold weight. Doesn’t have to change, define, or shape anything about you. It just is and that’s all it has to be. Continue reading →