Choose Your Focus
Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Is it cloudy or partly sunny? Do you have a 50/50 chance of winning or a 50/50 chance of losing? Questions like these are often asked to determine if, or help someone realize if, a person is an optimist or pessimist, and they are a good way to do so. Unfortunately, learning traits about oneself can sometimes be more of a detriment than a help; more on that in a bit. For now, take a moment with the picture below and determine, from your perspective, if it is rainy or sunny.
If I asked her, my friend Lindsay would say the answer to this is "yes!", right Lindsay? We had a college professor who regularly answered yes/no questions with 'yes' and this is a perfect example of why that is correct. Sometimes yes/no questions require a both/and response. I took this picture for that very reason.
On Saturday while driving to get dinner, I encountered the situation above. Dark, looming, rain-filled clouds ahead of me and clear, sunshine-filled skies behind me. The weather these last two weeks in West Michigan has more resembled the Pacific Northwest, not the Midwest. Even for the fall season, there's been A LOT of rain. Knowing that we're heading into the season when the other stuff falls from the sky, the rain is taking its toll on me; I think that is why this divided scene was so striking. Which will you choose to see, rain or sun?
Too often we default to labels to explain perspective or behavior, rather than using those labels as guides to learn about, and, when needed/desired, change certain behaviors or traits. More on that to come in a future Mental Health Mondays with Kate. For now, suffice it to say that labels are meant to inform, not define.
Here's what that means. If someone is told often enough they are a pessimist, they internalize that message and it becomes the default lens through which situations are interpreted. As it is experienced with repetition, the person then gathers 'evidence' to support the narrative that they are in fact a pessimist. Eventually, they don't even give it a conscious thought, they simply see the negative side of every situation and do so because they now believe themselves to be a pessimist. By that point, they don't even bother trying to change since it is now viewed as an inherent characteristic.
Instead, what if this person understood pessimist to be nothing but a label that gives information? In that scenario, the person understands that though, for a variety of reasons, their bent is towards pessimism, that bent is changeable. They do not need to live with that filter with no hope of changing it. It takes work, but the change can happen.
Choose your focus. When labels inform rather than define, we recognize we retain the power to choose where we will put our focus and definition. I can choose to adopt what this label tells me OR I can choose to fight against it and work towards lasting change.
In this week's Mental Health Mondays with Kate (S1E12) I introduced the concept of the Internal Record Player and the fact that we can make changes to that record resulting in increased self-worth and self-esteem. Choice, hard work, and intentionality combine together to shift focus from the negative to the positive. Though that shift cannot erase any negative situations or outcomes, it does change the mental stance from which you enter a situation and that is crucial.
If I had continued my drive focusing on the rain and looming clouds, I ran the risk of my brain spiraling to seeing only negative and putting my mood in a darker place. Instead, I focused on the sun. Did it stop the rain? No. But that shift reminded me the rain won't last forever. It kept my mood light for the rest of the night and allowed me to stay open to good things happening.
I'm so glad I made that choice. If I hadn't, I might have missed this:
Talk a about a mood booster! This is unedited, folks. The colors were so bright and pure--a touch of heaven and the promises to come.
We are heading into a busy season. Choose where your focus will be. Allow labels to inform you about yourself and then decide if you like what you learn. If you don't, choose to change it. It's never too late.
If you're not already a subscriber, go to my website and subscribe. November's Mental Health Mondays with Kate will continue with this topic of choosing thoughts, and the November issue of Kaleidoscope (available only to subscribers) will be delivered to inboxes on Nov. 1. It includes two BIG announcements you won't want to miss.