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How What We Focus On Affects Our Hope (And Why That’s Important)

January 22, 2020

If we allow the headlines to pull us in, they will. There’s always something that wants our attention.

As a mom with an infant during the race to the 2016 US election, I was sucked in. It must have been the sleep deprivation plus the real worry about the world my children would be living in that had me reading every headline, clicking the links, and getting into discussions to argue my version of what was right.

I was focused on the drama. And, I felt so incredibly doomed.

I didn’t see any solution to fix this broken system that I knew so much about, but still, I was convinced understanding the problem was important.

The problem though was that I became paralyzed by the problems. The issues felt so incredibly colossal that any action I took felt trivial and inconsequential.

I didn’t do anything besides continuing to click, type, and feel fearful about our doomed future.

We have a choice about what we focus upon

For some reason, I believed it was my responsibility to understand the issues. If I didn’t know what was going on, I essentially was burying my head in the sand. At least, that’s what I told myself.

My husband had another opinion. 

He understood the effect of paying attention to the day-to-day minutiae had upon his mental health and his ability to take action in his present life.

When he returned home from a long day of work, I wanted to share the latest, but he had no interest. At the time, I thought he was burying his head in the proverbial sand, but in reality, he was practicing mental health self-preservation.

I see this so very clearly now, but at the time, I wanted to scream, “Why don’t you care!”.

What it comes down to is the fact that we have a choice about what we focus upon.

What we focus upon influences our perceptions and beliefs about the world

The lens I viewed the world through at that time had me seeing all that was wrong and broken. Being so fixated on all that didn’t work did not allow me to see anything that was working.

The phenomenon of confirmation bias encourages us to see that which confirms what we already believe. Once you’re in the loop of believing things are so very screwed up, it’s difficult to get out of the loop. 

Thankfully, I did. 

I can look back and see this pattern because it’s no longer how I operate. Instead of focusing on all that is wrong, I pay very little attention to all the headlines screaming at us why we are doomed.

I realize many aspects of our world need improvement, but I understand how little impact I can have upon that change by living in a state of paralysis.

I attribute this shift, which took place along with a greater spiritual awakening, with the passing of my mom. A greater knowing and understanding of the impermanence of life and finite nature of the time we have to leave our mark on this world became much more glaring and unignorable. 

I could no longer give my focus to that which drained my energy. It’s probably not that grand of a revelation, but focusing on the negative dragged me down. 

That being said, how many of us focus upon the negative despite logically knowing the consequences?

Perceptions and belief influence how hopeful we are

As mentioned previously, I felt paralyzed as a result of being aware of all the happenings that I gave my attention to. 

Things felt so wrong in the world that making any improvement felt like a task far greater than I had the energy to give. Doing anything about the problems felt futile.

However, as my focus shifted, so did how much hope I held for the future. As the amount of attention given to the problems of the world went down, conversely, my hope went up.

How hopeful we are can empower us to believe we can make an impact

Not only did I feel less stress and anxiety about the future by becoming more hopeful, but I also developed a greater belief in my ability to make a difference. 

When you see hope, you’re more willing to give your energy and effort to contribute to the collective task of making this world a better place. With hope, our efforts no longer feel futile. It will not all be for naught. We feel must at least try.

Believing we can make a difference and acting encourages us to continue focusing on the positive

Just like focusing upon the negative can become a vicious cycle, as I alluded to above, focusing on the positive and the downstream effects can feedback to the original action of focusing on the good.

When you begin to act and see the benefit that can come from taking action, more positive can enter your awareness. You begin surrounding yourself with those that also possess hope. The effects can magnify.

Where it may have been difficult at first to shift your focus, once you’re in the positive feedback loop, it’s much easier to remain focused upon the good.

There have been moments in the past two years where I may have been down and clicked on something that may have contributed to some despair. However, my pump has been primed to see the good in the world. It’s much easier now to return to the loop of seeing a world of good when that’s where you reside the majority of your moments.

Change our focus to change our world

As I mentioned above, our world needs help. We cannot do our part without the hope that our part matters.

If you don’t feel hopeful, consider changing your focus. We all matter in creating the world we want to exist in. 

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