How to create lasting change

attention change is a process mindset Sep 14, 2022
happy woman with red heart-shaped balloon

We want things in our lives to change, but we put off taking the actions we need to make it happen.  We distract ourselves, we get confused, and we blame it on procrastination. Procrastination is one symptom of our anxious inner state.  Worry and doubt channel our energy toward the very thing we don’t want.

Francesca was stuck.  Her marriage had ended four years prior and now the alimony had run out.  She needed a job, preferably a satisfying career.  To make ends meet she began to draw down her IRA.  She was frustrated, cynical, discouraged, and disillusioned. 

Deeply concerned that her procrastination would eventually leave her penniless, she reached out to a career coach for the answer. 

She said, “I need somebody to stay on my butt.” 

But that’s not what she needed.

Here’s what she needed

When we imagine the worst, naturally our anxiety increases.  It’s how our brain works.  It’s called the negativity bias.  During our evolution as a species, it was necessary, but nowadays, not so much. 

Imaginary explanations with negative outcomes increase anxiety.  We interpret that anxiety as fear.  Fear is our internal alert system that warns us of real and present danger.

The explanations we make up for our circumstances can be so convincing that we either cower under the blanket or lash out to Do Something(!).  By taking action our anxiety is reduced and we feel better.  Now our situation doesn’t seem so bad.

Decisions rooted in fear rarely shift circumstances, but they do help us feel better.  Unfortunately, though, the problem lingers, and eventually our anxiety increases and we’re stuck.  Again.

Francesca reached out blindly hoping that someone else could tell her what action to take to “fix her life.”  She did feel better after hiring a coach, but her unpleasant circumstances would remain until she shifted her focus.

Here’s how she moved forward

After we explored her values and she shared her “secret dream,” a college education, I invited her to pay close attention to where she tends to focus.  What future is she imagining?  What feelings does it stimulate?

I shared that “E-motion” is energy-in-motion.  Where we focus our attention determines our feelings, and our feelings drive our actions.

Our actions are always based on our inner state. 

Anticipation is the energy we generate when the expected outcome is desirable.  When we focus on our Dream, on our art, on the life we want, it stimulates positive feelings of eagerness, delight, and gratitude.

Acting from an inner state of anticipation moves us forward.  Acting from an inner state of anxiety keeps us stuck.

How do we avoid increasing anxiety?  Make up a new explanation for our circumstances.  Counter anxiety with curiosity and humor.  Play a game by making up at least three alternate stories. 

Then focus on the Dream.

Francesca decided to focus on walking across the stage to receive her diploma. She decided that at age 48, her experiences were her superpower.  She made up stories about the welcoming admissions officer, about impressing her professors, about her abundant income as she progressed toward that degree.

She built anticipation instead of anxiety.  It took several years, but she now has her degree and a new career.

Lasting change starts with focus.  Our focus stimulates a feeling inside that will either delay or support our desires. The facts don’t matter, what matters is our feelings.  Inner state drives action.

When we focus on our Dream, our inner state shifts to anticipation.  From there, our actions work for us, not against us.

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