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The Change Designs Blog is a collection of insights, personal stories and real life experiences from people working in organizations. In this blog you will find real life stories depicting magical experiences and struggles, where the truth is richer, stranger and more practical than any theory or model. If you've ever wanted to read the diary of a leader, strategist, change agent, consultant, facilitator or a coach, or you are grappling with problems at work, then you will enjoy reading this practical blog.

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When life gets tough, change your focus.

Ruth Tearle - Monday, February 09, 2015

Sometimes life is tough. External forces over which we have no control, seem to dominate our lives. We get fixated on them. 

We can't focus on anything else. Whether it is the fact that we have been retrenched, left for someone else, passed over for promotion,  or betrayed by someone we trusted. When the wind is in our face not only is the going tough. But we exacerbate the situation by fixating on our problems. We simply can’t see anything else but the cause of our problems.


I have been reading Robert Pirsig's book "Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle maintenance" in which he explains how our view of the world, determines what we experience.
He says "We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us, and call that handful of sand, the world."

We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us, and call that handful of sand, the world."

Robert Pirsig.

Our experience is limited to what we focus on. When we fixate on a betrayal, a problem, or something that we believe is causing us frustration or anger, we simply can’t see the endless beauty or opportunities that are surrounding us.

When we fixate on what we believe is causing us frustration, we can't see the beauty surrounding us.
I used to sail dinghies. In my distant past, I experienced a few traumatic capsizes. Now, decades later, if the wind is blowing and I am near water, an angry knot appears in my stomach. Whether I am on a windsurfer, yacht or kayak, I have an often unreasonable fear that I won't be able to get back to shore.

Our holiday this year was a kayaking holiday at a lagoon. While my paddling partner planned around the tides, I watched the wind. I wanted, expected and demanded a windless paddle. I imagined us floating tranquilly on the surface of a mirror, clouds reflected in the water.

Instead for 10 days the impossible happened. Not only was there wind, but the wind was always in our face!

The knot in my stomach directed my senses. All I could see was the wind on the water. All I could hear was the wind. All I could think about was how unfair it was. How could the wind be in our face when we paddled in one direction, and still be blowing against us when we turned around? I felt betrayed by the wind – as though it was a  vindictive person and not part of nature. The wind app on our phone had predicted a windless day. How could the wind blow when it wasn't supposed to be there at all!

I became so focused on the wind that I couldn't see or hear the rest of the scene we were paddling in. The crystal clean lagoon. The seagulls flying overhead. The fish jumping out the water as we paddled closer. The seal sailing in the breeze. The waves crashing in a distance at the mouth of the lagoon. The sun glinting off the water. All I could feel, see and experience was the wind. 

To escape the wind, I tried to paddle faster and harder. I exhausted myself trying to escape my monster.

But no matter how hard I tried, the wind stayed with me. I could feel it in my face. It lifted the paddle out of my hand. It resisted all our efforts to move forward. I hated the wind. It was responsible for ruining my paddle. I found myself muttering about the wind.

"Stop focusing on the wind," my paddling partner said.

"But it keeps switching, and it is always in our face!"

"That may be true, but stop fixating on it. You are in the middle of incredible beauty. Notice the other things around you."

I tried. But each time I looked at the seagulls or seals, the wind would gust - in my face. It was as though it were laughing at me. The wind – and nothing else dominated my experience.

I was in the middle of paradise and hating it.

Until… I learned the art of dealing with the wind monster. And then, it was all so simple.

Don't fixate on your fear or problems. Don't give them life.

The secret is: Don’t focus your attention on your monster. Don’t give it life.  Remember it is only one of the many elements in the scene you are participating in. Act as if it doesn’t exist.

Don’t try harder. Don't try to beat it. Don't waste precious energy on being worried or stressed. Paddle as you would on a windless day. Wind or no wind – slow and calm strokes gets you to your destination.

When you become aware of the other beautiful things around you - then that beauty becomes your experience.

I learned an important lesson that day. The less you focus on whatever your monster is, the less important it becomes in your life. 

And when you change your focus, then the thing your fear the most,  becomes nothing more than one of many trillions of grains of sand, that make up your life experience.

And, as you focus more and more on the sun, the sea, and the seagulls, you eventually see the beauty of your monster too. When the wind is at your back, pushing you to your destination, it becomes a friend rather than a demon.

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