We are all very good at making ourselves feel bad. We come by the habit honestly. Think back to learning to spell in grammar school. Our tests come back from the teacher with the errors marked with red checks. A quick review of our formative years probably shows much more attention was paid to our failures, and those times when we fell short of expectations, than to those times that we succeeded, or even excelled. Often, only the top achievers—the best athletes and the brightest scholars are recognized. This leaves the vast majority of us becoming more effective at gaining vital recognition by falling short, than by rising above. The media producers know that bad news draws more attention (and advertisers) than good, so our daily ration of news from radio, TV, computer, and papers is notoriously skewed toward the bad.
In order to play our part in this cultural game of we tend to become very good at sniffing out failures. After all, if we are going to be noticed for our failures, it’s only fair that learn to notice the failures of ourselves (they might miss one!) and of others. Our senses become finely tuned to locating and focusing on the moments in life that are less than glorious. We become very good at making ourselves, and others, feel bad.
I am a hypnotherapist, and my specialty is helping smokers become non-smokers. It is always astounding to me how the minds of some people work. A typical smoker that visits me has been smoking for 10 or more years, about 30 cigarettes a day. That is, over their smoking career, approximately 100,000 cigarettes. To say the least, a well practiced habit. I work with them for a little over an hour, and they leave with major changes in that habit. The smoking habit may not be completely gone after the first visit, but it is always greatly reduced. Since I cover my work with a lifetime guarantee, I usually get to see the client again if the first session isn’t completely successful in rendering the client a non-smoker. Almost inevitably, when a client has to come back, he or she will have done very well for several days (the average is 5). Then, thinking this has been too easy, the client start looking for urges or desires for tobacco. Looking for evidence of failure. When they find one, they will use that desire for tobacco as proof that they are still ‘smokers’, and they will start smoking again.
When you think about how many cigarettes they didn’t have that they normally would have had during that 5 days (5×30=150), that is 150 chances to say to themselves “Wow! More proof that I am a non-smoker!” Instead, the evidence they seek is for failure. That is, after all, what we are all trained to look for. So, that first cigarette they smoke far outweighs the 150 that they didn’t smoke. This seems a bit odd.
The second visit to my office nearly always consists of retraining the client to appreciate the cigarettes they don’t smoke as more significant to their new life as a non-smoker than that first one that they did smoke. I do incorporate that information in the first session, but for some nascent non-smokers the experience of falling for that one cigarette is necessary. It seems to clearly illustrate why they need to retrain their interpretation of experiences, from proof of failure, to proof of success. I rarely ever have to see a client more than twice.
If we were better at paying attention to our successes in life, or even just our ambling undramatically through our day, instead of focusing so resolutely on our failures, I would rarely ever have to see a client twice for smoking. Life would also, in general, be a lot more fun.
Better yet, why not become good at noticing all of those moments that we fail to ‘fail’. Even the most dramatic of us is very likely to experience far more moments of life where we have been unsuccessful at failing. Of course, there are those glorious moments that we fall far short of failing, and succeed miserably.
What would it take to change our focus? Can you imagine what life would be like if we had a magic wand that changed our focus from the errors in our lives to the moments that we get right (almost always the vast majority of our moments). What if instead of recalling, in detail, the unpaid bills, unresolved issues, and unfulfilled experiences of lack; we recall the unsung moments of joy, smiles, or just the nearly invisible moments we sailed through unaware. It’s a safe bet, if you are reading this, that your heart is beating, your lungs are pumping, and all of the amazing things your body does to stay alive are going on. That’s certainly worth a bit of grateful recognition. Not to mention the amazingly complex process of reading and comprehension that you are currently experiencing. Wow!
How about getting up this morning? Regardless of how humble your first waking moments might have been, you did somehow make it to wherever you are now reading this. Take a bow.
Why don’t we pretend we do have a magic wand? Whenever you wave that wand you become more aware of good stuff in your life than bad stuff. Make up your mind that you’d rather smell the flowers in life than the fertilizer, and wave that imaginary magic wand. Dedicate yourself to noticing when you fail to fail.
I predict that, with a bit of practice, what you will find is that you can change the kind of experience that your attention is tuned to, like changing channels on your TV, and thus change your ongoing experience of your world. Sure, challenging stuff will still happen, guaranteed! But, those challenging moments don’t have to define your life. Learn to fail to fail, and you will smile more often.