Focus on what you want
I was working with a 16 yo recently and he had been making major gains. He was a great kid and had lots of the stuff that would typically be attractive to others. Yet he found friendships difficult and often felt on the outer. He identified in our sessions that he was too easily disappointed by other’s and found himself frequently judging them. He thought he did this because even more frequently did he judge and criticise himself. Nothing was good enough.
At the end of one session he said, “That’s it. This week I’m going to work really hard on not being critical or judgmental”. I responded, “It seems like a great idea…but it rarely works to try to just stop doing something that has worked for so long”.
It is generally very difficult to stop doing something that has become part of your interpersonal style. Instead, it is much more effective to try to replace it by starting to do something else. In this young man’s case I suggested he focus on the antidotes to judgment; freedom, acceptance and playfulness.
Instead of him saying to himself just before he joined other people, “I won’t judge or be critical”, he came up with a mantra; “I choose to be a free, accepting and playful person”. He wasn’t denying his old patterns. Rather, he was choosing to focus on something else. This is an aspect of mindfulness: we don’t deny all the different thoughts and feelings we have, we accept them all. And we learn to choose where to focus our attention in spite of them. Trying to suppress an action increases our focus on that action, strengthening it. Shifting the focus to an alternative action weakens the power of the old action, and the energy is given to the new.
Here are a few mantras I have heard to increase a mindset of freedom, acceptance and playfulness.
- Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?
- I want to find the fun here
- It’s no big deal
- It’s not that serious
- All good friendships are based on freedom, not control.
- It is what it is
- I am who I am
- They are who they are
- This is not a serious problem, it is a playful challenge
There are numerous others that can help move a mindset away from judgment and towards acceptance, away from serious and towards play, and away from expectations and towards freedom. The best ones are the ones that you make up ourself and live by.