Reality Check: What you see is…what you look for?

Last post, my focus was, “What you see is what you get.” This time, I’m looking at the connection between what we look for and what we see.
You’ve almost certainly experienced this connection. For example, if you walk a beach searching for sea glass, you often see it. If you have no interest in sea glass, you could walk beaches for miles and never know that sea glass even exists.
What we look for makes a difference in what we see.
In a TED Talk called, “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” Shawn Achor talks about the messages we take in from the world. When we turn on the news, he observed that the majority of what he hears is negative.
What do you hear in the news? A generous helping of crime, served up with a side of corruption, natural disaster, disease and doom, perhaps?
Achor observed that when he listens to a steady diet of this “news,” he starts to think that this negative to positive ratio in the news accurately reflects reality. But it’s not necessarily so. And that exposure affects us.
Achor humorously refers to medical school syndrome, which may or may not be a real thing. (You can ask your doctor. On second thought, maybe not.) Anyway, apparently when one starts studying diseases, it’s common to think that you have the symptoms of all of them! Leprosy, menopause, you name it…
The brain focuses on what’s being studied, on what it’s exposed to. So, it’s important to monitor what we bring in to our brains.
Achor also says that we are more productive when happy than when not happy. We learn and adapt better when we’re happy. So if we can train ourselves to be happy in the present, then we have a happiness advantage.
Apparently we can train our brains to become more positive and optimistic. Here’s one of Achor’s suggestions: For 21 days in a row, write down 3 new things that we’re grateful for. Our brains will start to develop a pattern of scanning the world for the positive rather than the negative.
I thought I’d give it a try. I got a little notebook and planned for the practice at the end of each day.
Notice that Achor’s suggestion is specifically for 3 “new” things. This was harder than I expected.
I already know that the practice of gratitude is helpful. But looking for 3 new things is not the same as being grateful for the same old things every day, is it? This required that I scan the day and acknowledge, not the big fundamentals for which I am grateful—the relationships, community, and work that I’ve been given—but new things.
Some days were easy; there were obvious new things that happened for which I was grateful: The thank you note received, the eagle gliding overhead, the neighbourly chat in the grocery store. But other days found me really struggling for new things.
Then came the striking observation. I realized that I had begun consciously looking for good things to write down throughout the day. I know that sounds ridiculous.
However, the effect is that any small positive interaction has a much bigger impact than it would have had otherwise. Before, I would have enjoyed the incident, moved on, and forgotten about it. Now, I enjoy the incident and write it down. The lasting effect is noticeable.
What about reality? Those disasters and diseases are still out there. True. But Achor’s contention is that we are better off and more able to contribute from a happy place than from an angry, negative place.
When we change what we are looking for, we change everything. What do you look for?

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