Lesson # 10: We can choose to focus on what we no longer have or on what we still have
It’s only natural that after we have lost something, we focus on what is now missing and talk about it (usually in great detail) because we are experiencing the unpleasant feelings (emotionally and physically) as the byproduct of the loss. There are, of course, great benefits of expressing our feelings and being validated by compassionate people. However, when we focus on practicing this kind of conversation at every opportunity we are presented with, it becomes our story template. Some details may change from time to time and we may even customize the delivery style, but overall, it tells the same story about what we no longer have.
Ever notice how some people talk about their ailments or various life stressors or relationship foes with new rigor every time you see them? We can almost predict what they will bring into a conversation. Their story becomes their identity and their go-to topic in their interactions. It is their comfort zone. We all know that there is no radical change that leads to personal growth when we stay within our comfort zone. In other words, our stale story keeps us stuck in a state of “I don’t have this and that to be okay. I can’t do this and that to feel better. I’m destined to be this way forever.” It may not be our intention to stay there, but it is the result we get nonetheless.
T. Harv Eker said, “Where attention goes, energy flows and results show.” So if we focus on what we no longer have due to a loss of any kind, we basically give extra energy for it to expand in our awareness, which inevitably creates more unpleasant feelings about it. Some people may argue, “But what choice do I have? It is what it is!” We can certainly choose to believe that. Or not.
I choose to believe that I always have a choice. I can choose what I focus my attention on. I can choose to talk about what I have instead of what I don’t have, what I want instead of what I don’t want. I can choose to learn new coping skills instead of continuing to complain about my lack of ability to deal with certain situations.
When I focused (my attention, my conversation, my thought) on not having my husband (who came with financial security, physical protection, affection and intimacy, deep friendship, and the roles of a handyman, lawn care specialist, Uber driver, traveling companion, dream collaborator, etc.), I would feel depressed and scared. It made me want to crawl into a dark cave and cry, and never come out to face the world without him. Sure, people would give me understanding, but was that all I wanted? For a while, yes. But not for the rest of my life. I wanted to be happy again. I wanted to live the best life I could create with what I had.
Once I pinpointed what I wanted, I could do an inventory of what I already had before deciding on what I needed to get, develop, or learn to live my best life. But figuring out exactly what I wanted wasn’t easy, let alone declaring it. There was a twinge of guilt for wanting to be happy again. There was a dose of doubt about what I could really accomplish. There was just enough skepticism on what was even possible. I found it easier to look back at what I had before I met him than what was left in me after the loss and start my inventory from there.
As a child, I possessed a wild imagination and big dreams that no one really took seriously. But I used to rehearse the kind of life I wanted through play, through make believe. I had the passion to learn to dance. I had the love for teaching friends in the neighborhood who struggled at school. I had the knack for giving advice. I had the passion for writing stories. I had the ability to connect with others in a deep way. I had enough crazy ideas and the determination to go after what I wanted even if some people thought I was out of my mind. I’ve had the guts to step outside my comfort zone since I was young. I believed in the possibility of a better future even if I didn’t know how to get there exactly.
It felt really good to collect what I already had in my inventory. Try it!
Then it was time to decide what I needed to get, develop, or learn. So, I went back to school to get a master’s degree in counseling. Being in school, doing homework, gobbling up new information and new skills were all I talked about back in those days. After that, the excitement of helping people occupied my mind. Then the idea of owning a private practice began to dance around in my head. Notice how the content of my thought, the conversations I held, and the experiences I had all changed? Little by little, I got to see my new life emerge before me. And these were the new feelings I became most aware of: hopefulness, curiosity, excitement, and confidence!
That said, there were moments when I missed what I used to have, and my heart wept. I honored those poignant moments by taking the time to acknowledge my feelings, sit with them without judging, and extend compassion toward myself. The more I did this, the easier it was to refocus my attention on what I still had—what I could still be grateful for.
So choose to ask yourself: what do I want to experience after a loss (any type of loss)? What kind of life experience do I want to create now? What do I still have that I can use to create a positive change in my life despite what happened in the past, despite the losses I’ve experienced? Look back into you past if necessary. What do I need to learn or develop to create the life experience I want? Take your time. Ask for help if needed. Remember, we always have a choice.