Sunday, October 23, 2011

The power of attention (or Hondas, Hondas Everywhere)

Ever notice how, when you buy something, all of a sudden you see that same thing all over the place? Those new shoes? Even the nuns on the subway are wearing them. That recent bestseller? You can’t get out of the coffee shop without seeing six fellow readers. I call this phenomenon “Hondas, Hondas Everywhere” because I first noticed it after buying my first car – a Honda – at age 16. All of a sudden, every car in every parking lot was a Honda. Every commercial was for Hondas. I could even swear Honda debuted a breakfast cereal that year. (Ok, no, not really.)

But that’s the power of attention. What you focus on can take over your whole awareness. And this is great, if what you’re focusing on is positive, uplifting, exciting, or even just neutral. But my experience has been that it tends to be only charged things that swoop in and take over our focus. Things we want, but don’t have. Things that piss us off. Things that stir up something restless inside of us.

I met a guy once who only saw happy couples. Everywhere he turned there was another couple, making out, buying milk together, holding hands, laughing. How dare they?! Hogging up the grocery aisles, giggling in the park, there was no safe haven from the onslaught of perpetually smiling twosomes! And these couples infuriated him, because he wanted to be one of them and wasn’t.

Couples, Couples Everywhere!

It can be the same thing with our bodies. It’s easy to see the flaws, focus in on them, and overlook what’s great about the way we look. One poochy bit, and all of a sudden we think we’re the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. One waggly bit, and the voices in our heads send us running for a muumuu. I, myself, spent almost 25 years between bikinis because I was worried about how my tummy was going to look.

Bellies, Bellies Everywhere!

So what do you do if you’re stuck in this spiral of negative focus? Try focusing on something else. Focus on nature, on smiling, on being in the moment. Feel the sun on your cheek. Hear the rustling of the leaves or the faraway rumble of the subway. The more our minds are focusing on what’s really happening in front of us (instead of the constant yammering of our inner voices) the less we’re likely to be trapped by the neverending train of chatter.

Truth is, there were the same number of Hondas before as there were after.

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