We are, as a species it seems, predisposed to focus on the negative, and on what we perceive as stressful.
I suppose from an evolutionary perspective this makes sense. It’s pretty important that we pay sharp attention to whatever does us harm, and then strive to avoid such situations in the future. So staying alert to danger, and acting accordingly when it arises is a life-saving behaviour.
I like to think of this as my ‘meerkat’ – up on its hind legs, beady eyes peeled, ears open, constantly swivelling its head to scan for signs of danger.
Unfortunately my reptilian brain hasn’t really clocked on to the fact that actually I’m pretty safe in my cosy home with a fridge full of food, and no wild animals planning to eat me. It still seems to be on the look-out.
And I’m not alone. Estimates are that we have up to 70,000 thoughts a day. And the extraordinary thing is, we’ve probably had 95% of them before (nothing’s new huh?) and here’s the rub, 70%+ of them are negative.
I have spent a long time studying the challenging subject of human happiness, and how to get more of it. It seems we need to train ourselves to think, feel and act differently. That’s what coaching is all about really. Working out why we think, feel and act the way we do now, identifying what we want, and then figuring out how to get there. Here’s one of the simplest ways I’ve learned about.
Focus on the pleasure. And on what’s going right
It seems in our rush to stay safe, we forget to notice all the good stuff. And even when life is really tough, there is still good stuff. Stop right now, and begin to make a list. Pleasant things your senses can identify. Things you are grateful for. Things you’re looking forward to. Nice things that happened recently. Happy memories.
You can zoom your focus right in: the fluffy dressing gown I’m wearing right now and the nice warm feeling I have in my belly from the bowl of porridge I just ate (Yes, I am writing this in my pjs after breakfast!). And you can zoom your focus right out to the beauty of this planet we live on; and now I’m recalling the glorious sunsets I saw over the South China seas a few years back.
This week have a go at focusing on pleasure
- Make a conscious effort to keep noticing all the things that please your senses, make you laugh, feel warm inside
- Conjure up memories of past pleasures. Get out the old photo albums
- Cook something delicious and savour it
- Plan something to look forward to
Make a decision to do something that you know will be enjoyable, such as walking in the woods, having coffee in a café or listen to a favourite album.
It’s not as easy as it sounds to keep this focus. We are creatures of habit and we keep back-sliding into those negative thoughts, so what could you do to remind yourself? I like to put a pebble in my pocket, or a ribbon round my wrist. Then every time I see it, or touch it, I remind myself of my commitment to myself to focus on the pleasure today.