Why Focusing Fuels Gratitude
Is this you?
You’re ready to shake off the dust of the past 12 months and move into a fresh, clean new year with no mistakes and no regrets. You’re drawn to the idea of a fresh start. The notion of renewing your dedication to your goals is a very attractive one. When you close your eyes, you can see your future self, handling everything life throws at you and making it look easy. “From now on, your troubles will be miles away,” as the holiday songs promise. A new beginning, right around the corner.
Each time the calendar resets, though, none of this comes as easily as you’d envisioned in those dwindling days of the previous year.
But maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe it’s your schedule’s fault. How long is your daily to-do list, for example? It’s long, isn’t it? Maybe each kid has to be driven to various activities six days a week, or maybe you find yourself overcommitting and now work and your personal life are competing for your attention. And at the end of each day, no matter how busy you were, you’re left with this nagging feeling that you didn’t do enough. What is up with this?!
And then there’s this (is this you?):
It’s hard to bring 100% of your focus to the task at hand. As you’re doing one thing, your mind always wanders off to something else. You feel unsatisfied at the end of the day because it felt like a blur of uninterrupted chaos, where you somehow didn’t get everything done. Tasks feel joyless, even the things that are supposed to be for your benefit, like carving out time to exercise, read a book or get a haircut.
Maybe the secret to unlocking that future version of yourself described above is to learn how to focus. Maybe it’s impossible to focus all of your energy into each individual task right now because you’re simply doing too much. You’re coming home frustrated and frazzled, because even though you’ve technically done a lot, you haven’t done anything particularly well.
When you’re not focused, you’re not “in the moment.” And there’s joy to be had in the moment. Imagine if you could figure out how to get completely lost in the adrenalin high from a spin class, or be totally present when your spouse is talking to you from across the table, or get genuinely swept up by your child’s excitement over an accomplishment. How would your life feel different?
We make choices every day about how we’re going to spend our time. Twice a week, I cook for my family. Depending on what I’m making, it can take hours to prepare. I choose to do that, and it brings me great satisfaction and great joy. But if I have to rush home because I haven’t devoted the right amount of time needed to do it, or I agreed to take on something else while I’m preparing for the evening, I’m dividing my attention. I’ve made it so much harder to be grateful for the time with my family. But when I commit to focusing 100% of my energy and attention on what I’m doing, it’s the best I feel all week.
Whenever we’re about to start an exercise class, I always ask the group to think about what brought them through the door, and what they want to get out of the workout today. I say, “Think about that, and let that be your driving force for the next hour.” When you start thinking about your list of things to do, or that you’re bored, or that you wish the person next to you wasn’t slinging sweat on you, go back to why you’re here. It’s not like you’re wasting your time; you’ve chosen to be here. This class may be 10% of your day, but if you devote 100% of your effort into that 10%, you are in the moment. You’re alleviating anxiety. You’re feeling what you’re doing, and that in and of itself is a satisfying thing.
Devoting 100% your focus and energy into each activity that you do builds happiness. It builds gratitude. It builds awareness and passion and self-discovery. It builds that future self that otherwise always seems just out of reach. A future self that might do less, but feel more.