Managing Your Attention, part 1

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For a very long time, I’ve been meaning to write some posts about some things I learned in the last ten years that have helped me to avoid drama, function reliably despite my sometimes intense emotions, and just generally manage my life like a grown up.

There is, naturally, a lot of personal history that goes along with how I came by these useful tools and tricks. I think the reason I haven’t shared the tips and tricks is because I didn’t want to get into the personal history. And I pretty much still don’t.

So we’re just going to skip that part for now. For now, we’re just going to stick with the possibly helpful information.

It’s kind of a lot of stuff. Another reason I’ve put off writing about this stuff is that it took me months/years to learn it. So figuring how to break it down into useful, logical sections of roughly a blog post’s length was kind of daunting.

So I’m not going to try to figure that part out in advance. I’m just going to start, and keep going, and see where it leads?

Let’s start with item #1. Item #1 is a useful truth. It might seem counterintuitive to some, or painfully obvious to others, depending on your personality and worldview. Here is item #1:

1. Feelings are not controllable directly by the will.

Let’s consider this a moment. Feelings are a real thing. They’re a part of you. They come out of your brain. But you can’t just turn them off and on (unless you’re Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which you are probably not. If you are, that’s kind of awesome because it means a fictional character from the future reads my blog. Sweet. But I digress…)

For a long time, I believed that I should be able to stop feeling X, Y or Z. When I was experiencing a negative emotion, the people around me thought it was helpful to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way. As if some light was going to dawn over my head and suddenly I would find the “Off” switch for that emotion, and just stop feeling it.

So once I realized that you can’t turn feelings on and off, I was off the hook for the giant load of guilt I carried for having emotions that were inconvenient to myself and others, and which others insisted I “shouldn’t” feel.

This created a little breathing room and freed up a little energy that I’d previously been using trying to figure out how to stop feeling things. That item left my To-Do list.

Which was good, because of what was coming next.

More tomorrow.

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