Most people think that the things that have hurt us in life are what cause us to experience emotional pain, and that in order to heal and experience real happiness we must resolve those old wounds. The reality, however, is somewhat different. We can only feel emotions, including the painful ones, in the present moment. What we feel in the present moment is determined by what we give our attention to. Nothing can hurt you unless you give your attention to it. Most people can make themselves cry in just a few minutes by simply pulling up a vivid memory of something that was at the time painful. So why would we give our attention to things that cause us pain? Some negative events can hold our attention if we perceive them to be a threat but most people who rumiate on a negative past are simply unaware that they are doing it and/or that there is any choice in the matter. Things you are unaware of are outside your control.
William James, as far back as the 1890’s, wrote extensively about the relationship between selective attention and experience, profoundly observing “my experience is what I agree to attend to. Modern day cognitive psychologists have demonstrated through research that we are active participants in our process of perception, confirming that what we think and feel is determined by what we pay attention to. Not only do we have the ability to shift our attention away from painful things and give our attention to more pleasant thoughts or memories, as we do this it inhibits our ability to think about the unpleasant painful things. This happens because attention works on an activation/inhibition model. When you give attention to negative things it literally inhibits your ability to see positive things, that’s why psychologists often say people with depression see a more depressed world. The more you start to give your attention to things that feel good, overtime, the more you will start to see a more positive world and you will find yourself noticing fewer of the negatives in life.
One way to shift your attention to the positive that we know works very well is to practice gratitude: things that you are thankful for are all wanted things in your life.
One of the most self-sabotaging things that people can give their attention to is an unwanted future. Nothing in the future has actually happened, yet many people spend a good deal of their time experiencing negative emotions like anxiety, fear, and self-doubt because they are giving their attention to things they don’t want to occur. Doing this not only robs them of their present-moment happiness but prevents them from thinking about the positive experiences they could instead be creating in their future.
Our attention is the gateway to what we experience in life. Learning to notice what you are paying attention to, and how to redirect your attention to things you want, can change not only your current experience but also the life you create for yourself going forward.
(Post published by Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D on Dec 06, 2014 in Living Forward….
The post is also published on : https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-forward/201412/improve-how-you-feel-changing-your-attention )