You want to change your life but you don’t want to do it randomly. So you consider your options and pick the best one. Simple, right?
Hmm. Somehow, it rarely goes that smoothly. We all know this – deciding how to live your life can be one of the toughest things. But why? Surely it should be clear what gives us meaning, fulfilment and purpose. What kind of mind can’t see what’s best for itself at all times?
The human mind, clearly. And the reason this is the case tells us a lot about human nature. It’s why changing your live is just liking riding a bicycle. No, not because you never forget how. The analogy is better than that.
Have you ever ridden a bike and crashed into the only obstacle around? Maybe there’s a pole surrounded by clear, open space. And you go straight for the pole. Bonk.
It’s a serious, though fascinating, glitch in human cognition. Dangerous things attract our attention – whether they’re tigers or wayward pillars. It’s obvious why noticing hazards would have selective advantages in the prehistoric world. Or even the modern world.
But this isn’t always a feature. It’s a bug when you fixate on danger and ignore the safe options. If you fixate on the pole because it’s an obstacle, you’ll go right for the pole. Anyone who’s ridden a horse will tell you the best way to steer one is to look where you want to go. And how many people have nearly caused a car accident by rubbernecking at an earlier one, only to start to drift off the road?
By all means, notice problems. But keep in mind that your attention is your pilot. Where you direct it is where you go. Pay too much attention to the pole and you’ll hit it. Look around and you’ll avoid it.
In a broader sense, this traps you. If you hate your job, you should find a better one. But it’s hard to think of alternatives when you fixate on your current situation. In fact, you might find yourself investing more time, energy and sanity in the thing you don’t like.
Your unconscious mind follows your lead. Pay attention to something and it must be important.
This is what makes it hard to be imaginative while you’re stressed. Stress comes from your reaction to something in your environment. Your attention narrows on the stressor. It absorbs your focus and you get tunnel vision.
Don’t judge me for saying something obvious, but the solution isn’t the problem. It’s something else. So when the problem occupies your attention, what do you have to go looking for solutions with?
Now, you might say that sometimes a problem triggers creative thinking. If you’re fired from your job, that might be the kick in the pants you needed to really look for a better one. Stressing yourself is an effective way to get unstuck. But how many of your great ideas occurred during a panic attack? It was the quiet points between the stress – while dreaming or walking your dog – that the perfect job popped into your mind.
The stress helped set the scene. Relaxed thinking created the idea.
While your attention was off the problem, it found the solution. That’s the technique. Use it often.
And if you want to shift your focus, relax more and become more creative, my professional recommendation is hypnosis. Nothing works better at the level of your mind where ideas come from. Take a moment to explore what it can do for retuning the spotlight of your attention: