In the last couple of days, Marcus, my 7 year old, has been learning to ride a bike without stabilisers. He was very reluctant to do this for a very long time, despite his father buying him a new bike for Christmas. Last week, Josh, my eldest son, and I took Marcus to our local park to try to help him learn, but quickly realised that the bike was far too big for him. Luckily, I found a second hand bike that was a perfect fit for him in a charity shop at a BARGAIN price, and 2 days ago, we trooped off to the park to try again.
Initially, it was very frustrating for me, and scary for him, because he kept pedalling backwards, and falling off. When I asked him why he was pedalling backwards, he told me it was because he was scared of falling off. Through the conversation that followed, he worked out that his actions, done because he was scared of falling, were actually creating the circumstances in which he was guaranteeing that he would fall off!
Once he realised this, his actions changed.
He still pedalled backwards a bit, but he was putting far more effort into pedalling forwards, and within 10 minutes, amid much excited cheering and support from me, he was able to ride some distance before wobbling and falling off. Now, 2 days later, he can just ride his bike.
We get what we focus on
Marcus learned something really important in this.
If you focus on what you don’t want, that is most likely what you will get.
Out thoughts are incredibly powerful, they shape our entire reality. Marcus could see nothing but the risk of falling, so he kept falling. Once he focused on staying on the bike, he was able to ride it.
When I was drinking and strung out all the time, I thought that my life was hard, that stress and hardship was always waiting for me, and that everything that happened was designed to frustrate or infuriate me.
I only ever read bad news in the papers, sought out people who would complain about the things I complained about, would cling onto negative feelings and a sense of injustice, and had a massive victim complex. I would seek out any excuse to open a bottle of wine, and ‘I’m so stressed’ was always a perfect opportunity.
Learning practices such as gratitude and pratipaksha bhavanam transformed this mindset, along with the understanding that I am indeed responsible for creating the world in which I find myself living. Focusing on what makes me happy, and actively seeking out more of that, instead of focusing on the things that are less than perfect in life makes it so much easier to be happy regardless of external circumstances.
This doesn’t mean that I am always happy, or that I deny my unpleasant emotions, but I don’t let them dictate my responses to everything in my life. I used to. A bad morning on a Monday could result in a terrible week, as I would carry that negativity with me everywhere I went. But that only hurt me, and the people I love, and achieved nothing.
Three ways to change your focus
Reflecting on the things that are good in your life is a fantastic way to begin to train your brain away from the things you don’t want and towards the things you do want. Gratitude lifts the spirits and is known to lead to better health and resilience to stress
Pay attention to the things you think. As Marcus discovered, thinking something bad is going to happen often leads us to behaviour that makes it more likely, and even if it isn’t, we get our nervous systems stressed about something that hasn’t happened, and might not happen, so we suffer for it anyway.
The yogic concept of Pratipaksha Bhavanam teaches us to replace the negative with the positive. If you find yourself thinking something negative, such as ‘I might fall if I pedal my bike forwards’, turn that to a more positive thought, such as ‘I can ride my bike, I just need to pedal forwards’. Pratipaksha Bhavanam can be applied to actions as well as thoughts, for example, if I get a craving for coffee, I remind myself how much better I feel without it, and then I don’t want it.
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