Managing Your Attention, pt 4

img courtesy chrille_c on sxc.hu
img courtesy chrille_c on sxc.hu
[This is a series of posts comprising useful stuff I learned over the years, which has proven helpful in managing my life, avoiding drama, and producing creative work. YMMV. Not available in stores. Batteries not included.]

(Cue LOST V.O. guy): Previously, on That Darn Kat:

  1. Feelings are not controllable directly by the will.
  2. All feelings have their uses, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. (And you can choose whether or not to act on them.)
  3. You must take responsibility for what you do no matter what you feel.

Okay, moving along. Being ambitious sorts of people, we’re going to stop with the numbering of things and go rapid-fire through some more truths about feelings:

  • Feelings follow behavior.
  • Feelings fade over time unless restimulated. 
  • When we lose ourselves in constructive activity, our neurotic suffering is gone.

Okay, that was a lot to chew on. Let’s break it down a little.

First, we established that you can’t turn your feelings off and on at will. Then we pointed out that feelings are reactions, or effects, that give us information about reality. They’re not the sum total of reality (this was kind of startling news for me, personally). We can choose to act or not act based in response to our feelings. Either way, we’re responsible for what we do, no matter what we feel. Then we circle back around and say,

“Hey. I can’t turn my feelings on and off like a switch. But I notice that whenever I do [insert your preferred activity here], I generally feel better/more positive/calmer/proud of myself afterward.”

So, you can’t control your feelings. But you can most definitely influence them. With. Your. ACTIONS. And since you can take positive action even when you don’t have the feels telling you to do them, you are always empowered to do something constructive with your time, even when your feelings suck. Which, ironically, can often make your feelings suck less.

And then piggybacking on that, we consider that feelings have a half-life. At forty years of age, I can say honestly I’ve experienced bitter, intense, physically painful depression, grief, betrayal, hurt, anger, and crippling fear. They all faded. Not one intense feeling I’ve ever experienced has maintained its initial level of intensity. Feelings fade, even the most painful.

They fade faster if you can refrain from reliving the experience in your brain, and poking the wound to see if it still hurts every few days, weeks or years. 

The flip side of this is that positive feelings (love, passion, enthusiasm, hope, faith, contentment), even incredibly intense positive feelings, also fade unless restimulated. See also: TWENTY-TWO FREAKING YEARS OF MARRIAGE.

So the empowering message is, you can’t control your feelings, but you have two tools to influence them. Your actions, and your attention. Starve unpleasant feelings of attention, as much as you can. Stimulate positive feelings, memories and actions.

Feed the right wolf, to paraphrase the Cherokee parable.

And we finish with the helpful tip which points out that when you’re paying attention to some engrossing and constructive activity, you’re not experiencing neurotic suffering. In other words, when you’re not thinking about how depressed or anxious you are, guess what? You’re not depressed or anxious in that moment.

Which takes us to our last big concept, which is actually our transition point.

Life is attention.

Which is the idea we’re going to discuss next.

[Intermission: I feel the need to point out that none of what I’m writing are my own ideas. I’m not that smart. Thus far, we’ve been covering the Reader’s Digest deeply abridged version of something called Constructive Living, a therapy developed by a man named David K. Reynolds. It was based on his work in Japan with terminally ill patients, and combines a couple of different traditional Japanese therapies for what the Japanese call “shinkeshitsu” neurosis, which is basically depression and anxiety in our Western terminology.

Constructive living was actually one of the later things I learned when I started my own epic journey of “growing up and getting my collective crap together so I could pursue a meaningful and creative life.” But it’s one of the most immediately useful things I learned, and one of the most accessible things I learned. So I figured I’d start there. At some point, I’ll probably hit the highlights of a lot of different tools and tactics, but I had to start somewhere. Hoping you’re finding it helpful so far. I’ll probably post a list of resources when I get to the end of the CL stuff, and then move on.]

2 Comments


  1. ·

    Thanks again for posting these. I wish I’d heard a lot of this much much sooner. Let’s say these are also timely for me today.

    Reply
    1. Kat
      ·

      I wish I’d discovered a lot of it earlier, too. But I probably wouldn’t have listened. Glad to hear you’re getting something out of them. Hope you’re not going through too rough of a time, though.

      Reply

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