Focus

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Yesterday I found myself having a rare moment of pure peace and happiness. I sat down to start planning out and scheduling when I was going to do different cleaning and organizing chores around my house. Before forcing myself to begin this task I had been feeling rather anxious as I usually am during that point in the afternoon. Yet I realized that focusing my mind on something made all that anxiety fade into the background and dissolve for awhile.

It’s strange. Whenever I am feeling super anxious I feel incapacitated. My inner voice tells me I simply can’t do anything. I’ve just got to sit and try to relax or do something mindless to avoid how I’m feeling. I start to focus on my anxiety, which makes me more anxious, which starts a dizzying cycle, winding me up inside. That was how I felt yesterday before starting my task. I told myself I couldn’t do it. I’d have to put it off until another day. Somehow I got myself to start and realized I was having a great time.

At that moment I had a very interesting thought. I’ve often felt that my higher than average intelligence contributes to my anxiety. A brain with a lot of processing power and nothing to process will scramble around and chase it’s own tail until it drives itself crazy. A brilliant mind with no direction will soon devolve into chaos. At least that’s my theory.

My problem is that as a child I somehow came to associate any kind of “work” or “effort” with something negative. I saw how my parents hated their work. It seemed like a necessary drudgery that I wanted desperately to avoid. I resisted anything besides “leisure time.” I wanted to lay around, watch TV, frolic outside, go online, play video games, munch on snacks, and occasionally write or draw. Anything else felt forced. An egregious waste of my precious time. An impingement on my freedom.

At some point, however, I began to recognize that bizarre perspective for what it was, ridiculous nonsense. There is nothing inherently “bad” or “unpleasant” about hard work or being challenged. I was just choosing to perceive it in that way. Only recently have I realized that, like most humans and even animals, I enjoy those things quite a lot. It feels good to work hard at something and reap the well-earned rewards of that effort. It is fun to challenge yourself or to be challenged. That is how we learn new things. That is how we grow. That is how we surprise ourselves. These are the things that make life interesting.

Trying to keep my brain from working on anything, trying to spend all my time lounging around in some strange attempt to enjoy life more, has led me only to an existence fraught with anxiety. At least now I can start to shift away from my old mindset that brought me here.

It can be very hard to convince myself to start working on something when I don’t feel like it. I’m the type of procrastinator that waits around for inspiration to strike before I do anything. But I’ve learned that once I actually make up my mind to begin, that is most often when the inspiration finally comes.

Even though it may not seem appealing at first, setting your focus on a task will often lead you to that blissful flow state. That state where time no longer matters and you are fully consumed by what you are doing. There is no room for anxious thoughts in that state. The mind is too busy to be anxious. It is the idle mind that is anxiety’s playground.

I hope to come back to this post in the future when I am feeling too overwhelmed to do what I had planned to. I want it to be a reminder that the hard part is just to start. The next time I feel anxious I am going to close my eyes, take five slow, deep breaths, and then focus my mind on what I want to do.

It will be like a meditation. Each time I feel my mind going back to a state of anxiety, I will gently guide it back. I will focus on my task just as I focus on my breath during meditation. Because that is truly what makes meditation so blissful. It is not necessarily the stillness or even the breath itself. It is our diligent focus. When the mind finds focus, everything else falls away. When we are focused we are truly present in the moment. And when we are truly present, joy and peace are sure to arise naturally from within.

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