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.

Addiction · Mental Health · Personal Development

Living in the gradient

Looking back” © Brandon, 2014. CC BY 2.0.

Rivers cut new channels into valleys. Minerals in drops of water pile on the ground to create stalagmites taller than I am. The sun pulls itself slowly over the horizon line and a new day creeps into existence. Then back out again.

We know everything takes process. One small thing connected to another, pushing us gradually in the corresponding direction. But I still find myself struggling to give credit to each little piece.

There’s point A and there’s point B. The line between? AB. Defined by its end points. Always. And if I can’t make it–guaranteed–from one point the other, I have a tendency to abandon mission.

What a toxic way of thinking.

There is no “finish” anyway, right? Not in earnest. Most important things will never be “complete”. Nothing is only accessible by following one specific path.

Come on, kid. You know this.

Nothing is certain. Nothing guaranteed. You could do everything right and still fail. You could do everything wrong and still accomplish everything you set out to do. The only thing I have any control over is the little things.

And I’ve been ignoring them. Acting as if they don’t count.

As if every day of sobriety will be worthless if I ever slip up. Every word ever written wasted if I never publish a book. Every weight I lift won’t count for shit if I never deadlift over 300 pounds. Every day I feel good about will never have existed if I fall asleep sobbing on the bathroom floor again. Every moment of peace, of beauty, of love is meaningless the next time I find myself feeling like I just can’t fucking do this.

A painfully effective way of creating an environment you cannot grow in. You feel trapped in. Where nothing matters for as much as you want it to. Where nothing matters at all.

It gets stuck in your throat. Coils itself around your head, whispering soft in your ear. Non-stop explanations of why you can’t do this, why it doesn’t matter, how pointless the fight has become. It forces you into the extremes.

But I want to live in the gradient. Those small and gentle spaces in between. Where everything counts for credit. Where as long as you’re still conscious in your movements you’re doing everything you should be doing.

Where as long as you’ve picked a direction and you’re taking steps you are successful. Where distance traveled is measured in something other than, “Are you there? Yes or no?”

Because we never will be. But we are still moving.

Mental Health · Personal Development


"Quiet Silence" © Massmo Relsig, 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Quiet Silence” © Massmo Relsig, 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“When you live with wolves, you learn to howl.”

A Mexican proverb that’s been running through my head on and off for years. You become who you spend your time around.

It explained how I grew so curt, so harsh. Gave me room to point to my influences–to my life experience–instead of turning in.

“Of course I lived like that. Of course I turned out like this.”

And yeah, a lot of that is true. There are habits we pick up off the ground and carry on tattered ribbons around our necks for a lifetime. Scars other people placed on us that we now must live with. I know we want to let them go, recover, move on.

I know it’s hard. I know. I know. We’re trying.

But the kind of trying I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. The wrong kind of fight. Struggling violently is only tightening the grip. It’s time for a new approach.

Time to realize I’m the wolf. That all those stories I spin myself every day are playing a big part in my hurt. No, maybe I can’t change the things that made me think that way, but I can chose to stop listening.

I’ve been teaching myself to say, “Stop.” Sometimes quietly under my breath while sitting behind my desk. Sometimes loudly and repeatedly while I’m showering in the morning or walking home from work. Every time one of those thoughts comes into my head and tries to light a fire that doesn’t need to exist.

Alarmist. Extremist. Paranoid. Delusional. Built on years of abuse and broken promises. Molded from heartbreak. Repeated over and over until I forgot they didn’t have to be true anymore. Forgot I didn’t have to give them my time, my respect, my attention.

I’m practicing stopping them in their tracks. Cutting them off completely. Giving them no time to get their claws in.

“He didn’t call me because–STOP.”
“I can’t do this–STOP.”
“They’d be better off if–STOP.”

Censoring the telegrams my learned behavior keeps trying to send.


Practice. Practice stopping. I don’t want to go where they’re going and I don’t have to follow them.