10 ideas to help you focus on what matters
“Challenge yourself to live a different and better way, if not now, then when? Life is ever ebbing away.” – Dandapani
Learning to focus on what matters is, as we all know, no easy feat. But if we don’t embrace being mortal and learn to live our best life now, then when? At the 2019 Nurse Next Door Annual Conference we had the great privilege of hearing two amazing motivational speakers – Hindu priest Dandapani and Broadway legend Sandra Joseph – both of whom presented some great ideas to help us embrace the concept of being mortal. Not because dying is inevitable, but, as they pointed out, to remember that getting the most out of every day is important to our happiness. Putting something off that we love doing until later is pointless because, as Dandapani says, later never actually comes.
We were so inspired by the words of both Dandapani and Sandra Joesph we wanted to share the ideas behind being mortal with you. So here are 10 ideas designed to challenge the way you tackle life, and make you focus on what being mortal really means.
1. Time vs Energy
Exploring the idea of being mortal is confronting. No one likes to think of themselves as “mortal”. We certainly don’t want you to walk around thinking about death. Think about it like this. If someone told you you have twenty years to live you might be upset, but you may not change your habits or routines. There’s plenty of time to achieve what you hope to achieve. What about 10 years? Still plenty of time? 2 years? So now ask yourself, what if you only had 2 days to live, what would matter? Not what would you do, but what would matter? It is not time that impacts our happiness – time simply clarifies for us what matters. It is when time shrinks that we start to focus on where we should put our energy.
2. What Matters
Of course this all begs the question – what’s important to you? What should you invest energy in? And to get to the bottom of this Sandra Joseph urges us to “take off the mask”, get to know who you really are. All too often we define ourselves by what others say, and worse, what we say to ourselves. Instead of unmasking who we really are and what really matters, we become what we think we should be. Sandra Joseph holds the record for longest-running leading lady in the longest-running Broadway show of all time yet there was a moment in her life where it seemed she may never crack Broadway at all. Then she “flipped the script”. Instead of being what she thought others expected, she took off her mask, dug deep, and figured out who she really is, and what matters most to her. The result? An opportunity to play Christine in the Phantom of the Opera that changed her life forever.
Dandapani argues that it is not the mind that allows us to focus. The mind is simply a vast space made up of different areas. Sadness, anger, fear, joy, memories and knowledge… It is awareness of our thoughts that allows us to manage our energy. Being aware of how you’re approaching a situation allows you to realise when you’re drifting towards the negative and putting your energy into the wrong things. If we are going to embrace being mortal and focus on what matters, we must have an awareness of where our thoughts are drifting. This creates the ability to ask yourself WHY that thought matters. Maybe it doesn’t? Maybe it’s a waste of energy?
4. Energy Flow
Where our awareness goes, our energy flows. Energy has NO ability to discriminate between good and bad. What does that mean? Unless we’re aware of where we focus our energy, we are at risk of spending all our energy on the bad stuff: often the things we can’t do. And if we let our awareness drift to the bad stuff, we waste time on things that DON”T matter. We waste energy on the wrong things. And if you couple this with the first point, clarifying what REALLY matters in life – whether that’s family, or friends, work or pets (and it’s different for everyone) you realise that you must consciously focus your energy in the right direction.
Which leads us to the ability to focus. If you can’t focus your thoughts, you have no awareness. Without awareness, you are at risk of wasting energy. Yet most of us are not born with the ability to focus. Telling someone to focus without teaching them how is like asking them to ride a bike for the first time. Like all muscles we need to exercise our mental muscles. We need to learn and practice the ability to focus. Start with some opportunities in the day that you can give your undivided attention – singular tasks, every day. Preparing dinner. Driving to the shops, Catching the train. How often do you do these things without focusing. Use simple daily acts to practice concentrating on that one act, every day. Slowly, you’ll build your ability to focus, increase your awareness of what’s going on, and put your energy where it matters most.
“May whatever is unfolding for you bring you ever closer to what matters most.” – Sandra Joseph
6. Energy Resources
And remember, like money, energy is finite. When we wake up in the morning we should have replenished our energy source and be ready to tackle the various moments in the day. Then we use up the energy throughout the day – it’s not endless. We run out. So why give it away? If energy were money would you give it away? Remaining aware of how you’re spending your energy ensures that you have enough for the things that matter most.
7. Be Present
We often pride ourselves on being able to multitask – to read a book and watch television; chat with a friend on the phone whilst cooking dinner – when it is, in fact, not only robbing us of the ability to be present in the moment but is officially bad for the brain. Research at Stanford University has shown that multitasking inhibits our ability to focus and lowers our IQ. More alarmingly, researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK found that people who regularly multitask had lower brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, affecting empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control. Considering brain health is important to preventing or prolonging diseases like dementia, the ability to be present deserves our attention. The brain prefers to focus on singular tasks. So with that in mind, head back to point number five and learn to do, and enjoy, one thing at a time.
And so we come to the really tricky part of the discussion. Willpower. Most of us are probably interested in the idea of being mortal and living our best life, but very few of us lack the willpower to stick to our convictions. Like any other mental muscle, willpower requires practice. In the first instance, set small goals to finish things you start. That doesn’t have to be your next novel. It might be to finish the act of eating: you prepare the meal, you cook the meal, you eat the meal, but how often do you then leave the dishes until “later”. Finish what you start – clean and put away the dishes, or at least stack the dishwasher. Make your bed when you’ve finished sleeping. Put the washing away once you’ve folded it. By seeking opportunities to see a task through from start to finish you are building your willpower to concentrate on the things that matter. To bring your focus back to the task at hand. To be aware of where your energy is being spent.
9. Fear & Worry
Day to day anxiety occurs when our awareness travels into the future, creates a negative scenario then brings it back to the present for you to worry about. This is a very real aspect of most people’s lives. It is important to understand that fear and worry are future-based. And because it’s extremely normal to worry about the future, the best tool we can have on our side is awareness and the ability to bring the fear back to the present, break it down, and address it. One fear we often encounter is a loss of independence? Bring your awareness to what is driving that fear and focus on the steps you can you take to change that outcome? Is it a fear of falling, resulting in a loss of mobility? Perhaps balance exercises will help. Or a walker to help steady you? Or a carer to assist with chores that might challenge you physically. With the awareness to identify each fear, the awareness to see where you might make changes in your daily routine, and the willpower to turn those changes into positive habits, you can address the fear head on and actively reduce stress and anxiety.
10. Incremental Steps
As with everything, practicing awareness and willpower is achieved through incremental steps. Seek out opportunities in your day, simple daily tasks you can focus on, to practice the ideas listed here. In time you will learn how to engage or disengage in the moments in your life that either positively or negatively impact your happiness.
It’s no secret that at Nurse Next Door we believe being mortal is about living your happiest life. But happiness is not something you can have without both effort and, yes, challenges. Happiness is not defined as an eternal state of bliss. It is often the smallest, simplest things that remind us what we’re grateful for, what we love, that bring us happiness. We believe every age counts and for us, what this really means, is that every “day” counts. You are not a number or an ability, you are never “too old”. Remember…
“Ain’t nothing impossible . Do it until you can declare – I’m possible!” – Steve Harvey
Learn more about how Nurse Next Door can support you in being mortal and living your best life, on your terms.
Check out our services or give us a call at 1300 600 247!