When I was training dogs, one of the most important things I would tell clients, especially clients of fearful &/or reactive dogs is that if your dog is looking at it, she is thinking about it. The moment you notice her thinking about it you need to get her focus off it somehow: play a game with the “thing”, leave the area, act like it’s no big deal & engage her in a fun game with you, etc. but whatever you do DON’T allow her to keep staring at “it”. Her focusing on “the thing” will magnify her concerns & cause “the thing ” to become “THE THIIINNNGGGG!!!!” at which point you’ll either have a dog doing her best to shrink small enough to drown in the puddle she just let fly as she does her best imitation of teleporting to the furthest coast or you’ll have a canine Tazmanian Devil impersonator doing a really good job of yanking your arm out of the socket. Either way, NOT good. The same concept applies to humans, believe it or not.
Here’s a scenario for you: Manfred & Sarah are newly dating. They’ve been dating a couple of months & had gone to dinner the night before. Sarah is a single mother of 2 children, has a major dealine at work & got drafted into helping her youngest child complete a costume at the last minute for a school function. She’s very pleasant but a little distracted at dinner & cuts the date short so she can get home & get some sleep. Normally they contact call* daily & especially after a date, but Sarah’s pretty focused on getting that project completed ahead of the deadline since she prides herself on the quality & timeliness of her work; kids & work are all she has brain space for at the moment. Manfred has no idea what’s going on (Sarah didn’t inform him & he didn’t ask) & starts wondering if Sarah’s getting bored with the relationship or perhaps has decided to see someone else. At first it’s just a little whisper. It’s just “a (little) thing”. As the morning goes on, he starts analyzing their conversations “looking for answers”; he starts getting concerned & it is now “a thing”. By mid day he’s devoted so much time & focus to “looking for answers “the thing” has now grown into “an issue”. At the end of the day the “issue” is huge & by the time he gets home he can’t get into the door fast enough because “THE THIIINNNGGG!!!!!” is ginormous & could swallow the Golden Gate Bridge on an in breath! He calls Sarah & starts accusing her of not being honest with him about wanting to end the relationship, leaving Sarah feeling defensive, angry & scratching her head. What just happened?
Our guy Manny just illustrated the effects of attention. In the words os Serge Kahili King of Urban Shaman fame “Energy flows where attention goes”. If Manfred had managed to get his thoughts elsewhere (ie. major deadlines of his own, planing for an upcoming visit from family) “the (little) thing” would have stayed exactly what it was : a little thing. Perhaps it would have even become not-a-thing. By giving his attention to “the (little) thing” it was like feeding it Amazing Super-Grow Food for Things. The more attention it got, the more it grew in importance in his mind. “Things” need attention to flourish. It’s what happens when, for instance, some people first notice the calendar date getting closer to bill time. The further they are from bill time, the less anxiety they feel. By the time bill time is a mere five days way they’re so anxious they’re almost paralyzed. Bill day comes & goes with bills either hastily done at the last minute or not done at all until late fees are due along with the original amount & they can’t stand the phone calls anymore. They spent so much time worrying about paying the bills that they almost didn’t get paid! This is what happens when we turn not-a-thing into a “thing”; it gets so huge it scares the bejeezus out of us & we end up making frantic, ill-thought-out or just downright stupid choices.
So how to keep from creating “THE THIIINNNGGG!!! – Towering Monster of Isatiable Madness”? (You have noticed “things” are insatiable haven’t you? No? They are. You’ll run out of energy to give long before they run out of capacity to receive.) Start by not giving it the time of day. Yes, really. Notice if it’s something important, jot it down & forget about it until you can rationally deal with it. Worrying about it will certainly give you the appearance of doing something about it, but in reality all you’re doing is pickling your innards in stress hormones & setting yourself up for a lovely heart attack. Set aside some time when you’re most likely to be relaxed or at least more relaxed than usual & pull out your “thing”. How many components make it up? Is there some small action you can take to make your “thing” even smaller? For example, if bill day gives you the heebies, how about writing out a few checks weeks in advance, plucking the low hanging fruit of writing checks for the major stuff & putting them in sealed, stamped envelopes so they’re all set to go out? Come bill day proper there will be whole lot less stress, you can knock out the tiny one-shot bills (which doesn’t feel half as scary as writing ten checks of varying amounts all at once) & not end up feeling like the poorest man in Babylon when you’re done. In our guy Manfred’s case, he could have made a note to himself to talk to Sarah about what’s going on in her life at a time when he was feeling more grounded & gone on with his day.
Just like other animals on the planet, whatever we devote our attention to grows in magnitude. Our attention feeds whatever we focus on. You can use the same principles for growing a “thing” to grow something you truly desire; energy flows where attention goes, remember? It doesn’t matter what you’re focusing on; where ever your attention is there your energy will be also – & there will grow larger whatever it is you’re attending to. The same tools & fertile soil can be used to grow a beautiful garden or a patch of noxious weeds; all that matters is the intent. What are you intending with your tools & fertile ground? Would you love to have a life filled with beautiful things that make your heart smile or would you rather a plot of stumpy, gruesome “THIIINNNGGGSSSS!!!!” that threaten to swallow you whole or bite off chunks of you until you bleed to death? The choices – & the attention – are yours.
* contact calling – parrots (& perhaps other birds) do what’s called contact calling: calling to their mate just to keep an idea of where they are when they can’t see each other. Among humans this takes the form of texting or emailing little smiley faces, “I love you” notes, instant messaging just to touch base, etc. throughout the day. It’s a way of letting the other person know you’re thinking about them.