Make Sure You Have The Right Focus

Make Sure You Have The Right Focus

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Having worked as a therapist for over three decades involving thousands of people, if I were to give one bit of advice for increasing personal satisfaction and happiness, it would be this: "Focus on whatever is positive in your life and turn your attention from the negative."

Are you focusing on the right things? "Whatever you focus on will grow in your life," I have probably said this hundreds of time, (if not thousands of times) to people who have sought my advice. .

When we are having trouble with disagreeable emotions and experiences, our natural response is to fight with them or flee. We use such mental maneuvers as fighting, self-blaming, blocking thoughts, trying to forget or distract ourselves from thinking about the issues that disturb us.

Such mental maneuvers can help us to merely manage the problem. For instance, in spite of a nation-wide surge of "anger management" programs and "stress management" programs, the problems of anger and stress continue unabated.

Twenty-five centuries ago, Buddha, the prophet from the East said that holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at the person you are angry with. You are the one who gets burned.

How do you MANAGE the hot coal when it's right there, in your hand? It makes better sense not to pick up the hot coal in the first place. And, should you grab one before realizing what you were doing, drop it immediately.

Therapists in the 1970s and 80s were big on the cathartic release of negative emotions. A person who was "holding it in" was viewed much like a pressure cooker on a hot stove with the lid on. "Letting it out" to prevent a buildup of emotional steam was considered good advice.

Folk psychology loved the idea of "letting it out." Some felt they were doing the right thing by letting off steam and leaving those around them to bear the brunt of it. Recipients of this steam would open their own release valves in response. Results were quite often disastrous. So, therapists began to use caution in recommending cathartic release.

Here is a different idea: You don't have to undo your negative emotions. Positive emotions will undo them for you. Simply focus on the positive emotions.

"Sounds great doc," I often hear in response, "but how do I do that?'' Another popular response is, "Easier said than done, tell me how." Actually, ancient Eastern societies had found a solution, which was neither to manage nor release negative emotion, but to activate a counteracting positive emotion, instead.

There are records that Indians, two to three thousand years ago, practiced a technique called, "The opposite feeling." Take for example, anger. The opposite emotion is love. Therefore, to apply this technique, if you are angry with somebody, the goal of your emotional effort is not merely to arrive at the point of being able to say, "I am not angry anymore; I am just annoyed."

To continue with the example, your emotional work is not to just reach the point, "I am no more angry. I am not even annoyed (leave me alone!)." Since the opposite emotion of anger is love, your work BEGINS by activating the emotion of love for that person. You take a few deep and relaxing breaths, open your heart, start feeling the love and sending it to the person you are angry with.

See, according to this technique you don't focus on anger, you focus on love.

I recommend this technique when I think a person is ready to do this type of work. Some might not be emotionally ready for it, yet. Others might have had am extreme set of experiences to work through. Granted, but don't sell yourself short. High expectations, high achievement and low expectations result in low achievements.

We must raise our expectations of what to expect from ourselves and believe that we are capable of feeling love for the person with whom we are angry. The greatest obstacle is that we really wish to be angry with the person. Our mind would scream at the idea of forgiving, let alone sending our love in that direction. Alas, if only we could realize the danger of that "hot coal" we are holding on to.

Positive emotions can undo negative emotions. It pays to bring into focus such positives as satisfaction, gratitude, forgiveness, compassion, joy and zest to offset anger, depression or anxiety.

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Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 
Posted October 2002


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