What do you focus on?

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This quote attributed to the late historian Howard Zinn seems particularly significant to me these days.

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something, If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however a small way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

This isn’t to ignore challenges. It’s just choosing what to focus on. This changes your experience. It changes what you talk about, to others and to yourself. And what you talk about to yourself changes your experience.

What are you choosing to focus on?

Yes, politics is part of what’s driving my thinking about this right now, but it’s bigger than that. For instance, at this moment I am taking care of my disabled daughter because of what I must consider bureaucratic problems with the nursing agency. I can focus on how tired I am (and it’s a fact that I am exhausted). Or I can focus on the fact that her care has been running pretty much incident-free, and that we are in a nice, warm, comfortable place as opposed to this time three years ago when we were in a Red Cross shelter because of a blizzard.

It’s not that I’m ignoring problems. This is not about Pollyanna. I have been emailing and calling to try to get the problems worked out. But when I focus on the things I’m grateful for, it changes my whole experience of now, and when I change that experience, I am much better able to address the real problems.

So, again, what are you focusing on? Choose wisely to choose the best experience.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with individuals and organizations who want to forge top-notch communication skills to increase their influence and impact. He is associate professor of speech and journalism at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.