Are you filled with tension and anxiety and don’t know why?
Maybe you know something needs to change, but don’t know what. You’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work, at least not long-term. That was me before 12 step recovery. I’ve learned to do something that has improved my life drastically, including in my relationships and work:
Keeping the focus on myself in the here and now, instead of on others, the outside world, the past or the future.
That’s because the only thing in this world I can control is myself in the current moment. Learning to keep the focus on yourself is much more complex than it may sound. You can’t just decide to do it and then do it. Here are some insights on why it matters and how to do it.
Why keeping the focus on yourself improves your life.
Keeping the focus on ourselves is extremely helpful in having a better life. That’s because the only thing in this world we can control is ourselves. If we want to have a good life — to live on purpose, then keeping the focus on ourselves is vital. I’m the only thing in the world I can control. So it makes sense that I would put my time, energy and focus on the one place in the universe where I can have an impact.
Many of us are focused on what’s outside ourselves. This could mean focusing on what other people are doing , or what we think they should be doing. It could mean putting others first and neglecting ourselves.
Focusing on other people and the world around us can be anxiety-provoking and create tension. It can also be disappointing or upsetting. We may not even realize this outer focus is the cause of our difficulties. I know I didn’t! We get upset because we can’t control things outside ourselves. Trying to control things we can’t is an endless energy drain. No matter how much effort we exert, we can’t control others or the world.
When I was outer-focused, I often “rescued” others. I also found fault with others for situations I was in, which meant I was doomed to suffer. Focusing outside myself allowed me to blame others and the world for my misery. That meant nothing changed.
When we stop doing those things and keep the focus on ourselves in the here and now, we can have an impact. That’s because we can control what we think, believe and do. Our lives change when we focus on ourselves and make changes to our thinking, beliefs and behavior. Here and now matters because the past is over the future doesn’t exist yet! If you focus on yourself in the here and now, you can’t go wrong!
As Marianne Williamson says, “We program the best tomorrow” by being present. Once I put the focus on myself in the here and now, I was able to make changes. Here are some of the ways you can learn to keep the focus on yourself.
Four ways we can keep the focus on ourselves.
Keeping the focus on yourself can mean many things. I’ll describe several of them below in detail, along with how to bring the focus back to yourself. Briefly, they are 1). Focusing on what you want and need right now (as opposed to what others want or need). 2). Minding your own business. 3). Determining what you might you be doing to make situations worse, rather than better. And 4). Practicing consistent self-care.
1. Focusing on what you want and need right now.
Let’s begin by addressing what it means to ask yourself what you want or need in a given situation. Before recovery, I was thinking more about what other people wanted or needed, or what was best for them. I was more concerned with what worked best for others and would mold myself around that. Even if it was inconvenient or uncomfortable. I sometimes even did it when it was against my values.
A very basic example of this principle might be if someone invites you out for coffee. Check in with yourself first before deciding. If you need to recharge at home, decline. If you’re feeling the need for connection, say yes. The focus is on you and what you want and need in that moment, not on what the other person might think if you refuse.
Here’s a personal example. I hosted a large event where I’d invited a relative. At first, I thought, “OMG, I’m gonna have to go out for dinner with them afterwards!” Then I shifted the focus to myself. I remembered that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, like spend time with this person.
Seeing them at the event was going to be enough for me. Once I remembered that I didn’t have to go to dinner with them because I didn’t want to, I made sure I had plans after the event. That way, if they asked me to go out to dinner I could truthfully say, “I’m not available.” They did ask, and I didn’t offer an explanation about why I was unavailable.
Focusing on myself to figure out what I wanted helped me in that situation. More accurately, figuring out what I didn’t want helped me. I didn’t want to spend time with that person. The other thing that helped was planning. I knew that if I already had plans, there’d be no way I’d cave into my people-pleasing ways of the past and say, “Ok, I’ll go with you.”
2. Minding your own business.
Determining whether something is your business or not is related to having boundaries. Knowing what is and is not your business is an example of a healthy boundary. I used to “stick my nose into other people’s business” all the time before recovery. Typically, I was trying to fix or rescue someone. What a drain on my energy! Now that I’ve learned to keep the focus on myself, I don’t offer unsolicited help or advice. If someone asks for help, then I might help or advise if it’s something I really want to do (see #1 above). Otherwise, it’s none of my business.
A minor example of this is “correcting” someone when you believe they mispronounce a word. If you’re keeping the focus on yourself, it’s none of your business if they mispronounce a word. In fact, it’s controlling to correct people’s pronunciation and grammar. I didn’t know that before recovery! I acted like it was my job to let people know if they mispronounced something or used improper grammar. If you are truly interested in saving the person from embarrassment (which is what I told myself), make sure to check with them privately to get permission to comment. Keep in mind that there are different dialects in every language, so perhaps the person speaks a different dialect in which your pronunciation is wrong!
Another minor example of minding your own business is when you hear someone ask for directions. If the person they asked is giving them directions, and it’s not the way you’d direct them, let it go. It’s none of your business unless they asked you for directions. In the past, there’s no way I would have let that go! I probably would have said, “No, you should go this way.” Now I realize it’s none of my business if they didn’t ask me.
If the person gave completely wrong directions, that’s a whole different story. I would certainly say something. Now, I’d couch it in a completely different way than I would have. In the past, I probably would have said, “That’s wrong, what you need to do is this.” Now, I’d say something like, “I’m not so sure that’s correct, I think that if you go this way…” Or, I might say, “I didn’t know you could get there that way” so as to not assume I’m right and other person is wrong.
I’ve come to learn that I’m wrong much more frequently than I ever realized. I used to assume I was right and everyone else was wrong, though I didn’t always realize I thought that. Keeping the focus on myself has helped me learn things like this about myself that I was unable to see in the past.
It’s none of my business if two people are disagreeing in front of me, or if someone is failing at something. I don’t need to come to people’s rescue all the time because it’s none of my business. Unless people ask me for help, that is. Then I can choose for it to be my business. If someone is gossiping, it’s none of my business. I just don’t participate any longer, though I used to all the time. Minding my own business has been quite a relief. It’s amazing how much it drained my energy to “stick my nose” into other people’s business.
3. Determining what you might be doing to make situations worse, rather than better.
Another very important aspect of keeping the focus on me has to do with understanding “my part” in things. This is an often-used phrase in 12 step recovery. Learning “my part” in things has been, by far, my greatest gift of recovery. I think it’s the crux of the program — we learn what we’ve been doing that’s not working so we can stop.
Before recovery, I honestly didn’t know that I was doing anything to create the discord, anxiety, tension and lack of peace in my life. In fact, I didn’t even realize I had lots of discord, anxiety and tension until they were gone! I blamed everyone around me and the world at large for my problems. This was mainly subconscious, mind you. I wasn’t consciously blaming others by saying, “It’s your fault.” But I was definitely not taking responsibility for my life. I was living as if everyone else and the world were to blame for what went wrong in my life.
I’ve come to understand a whole bunch of things I was doing to create and exacerbate chaos. For example, I was a rescuer and a fixer so I attracted chaotic people. It’s no wonder, because healthy, stable people don’t need or want to be rescued or fixed! Other things I was doing include NOT pausing, NOT reaching out and NOT keeping the focus on me! That’s why these three things are my most important tools of recovery.
I also learned acceptance, came out of victim mentality, learned to focus on things I can control, and to stop gossiping. Using these tools and mental frameworks have dramatically changed the way I operate in the world. My life is infinitely better than it was before recovery. As is often said in recovery, “My worst days in recovery are way better than my best days before recovery.” Notice that the world didn’t change, I did. I keep the focus on me.
Using these new tools and mental frameworks transformed me. Which is the only thing I have control over: me. Learning my part in things really came from keeping the focus on myself. Let’s say I go into a situation and something pisses me off. I’m never going to get to peace, which is what I want, if I don’t keep the focus on me. If I’m worried about them and what they’re doing, there’s nothing I can do to change the situation. But if I keep the focus on me, I can do something there.
I learned this because of a piece of recovery literature. It says, “If I am disturbed, there is something wrong with me.” That doesn’t mean nobody did anything wrong, or there isn’t something wrong with a situation. It means that if I want to be UNdisturbed, then I’m the one who needs to address that. I’m the one who wants a solution. And the solution is to keep the focus on me! When I do that, I can ask myself, “What do I want or need in this situation to get to peace?” I simply can’t get to peace if I’m focusing on things outside myself. Those are things I can’t control.
Here’s a really simple example. I went to pick up my new eyeglasses recently. I had an hour before I needed to get to work. When I arrived at the eyeglass counter, the clerk was dealing with another customer. The clerk wasn’t listening to her very well, so they both ended up repeating themselves 3–4 times each. I got a bit annoyed because I was afraid I’d run out of time. I took some deep breaths, then read the poster on the history of eyeglasses. By the time I was done reading the poster, they finished up and it was my turn. It only took a moment to get my glasses because they fit perfectly and didn’t need adjustment.
In the past, I would have been extremely pissed off in that situation. I would have intervened and told him he wasn’t listening to her. I would have tried to rescue her and fix the situation. I would likely have gotten much more upset and pissed them off as well (and possibly other patrons too). Instead, I kept the focus on myself. I realized my breathing was shallow so I took some deep breaths. I also realized that focusing on their conversation was upsetting, so instead, I read the poster. I maintained calm the whole time and got home in plenty of time to work. What would have been a chaotic situation in the past was almost a non-event because I kept the focus on myself.
4. Practicing consistent self-care.
If I were to boil down 12-step recovery into one thing, I’d say it has to do with self-care. We have to learn to take care of ourselves as if we are beloved. And we are beloved. Most notably by our Higher Power (if reading the phrase “Higher Power” nauseates you, read what I’ve written here about what Higher Power means).
Self-care is not selfish. I’m not sure where that myth originated, but it’s got to stop. Self-care is actually selfless. When you take care of yourself first, you’re full of energy and abundance. That means you have more to give. When you don’t practice self-care, you’re often depleted and resentful.
Taking good care of ourselves is a monumental task for many of us, especially if we were taught to abandon ourselves growing up. When I take good care of myself, I’m not waiting for other people to take care of me. I didn’t realize I was doing that before recovery. I’ve always been an independent woman. But recovery showed me that deep down, I was waiting for someone, something, to rescue me. I sometimes think that my previous attempts at rescuing others were subconscious efforts to reach back into the past and rescue myself.
Focusing on me means I take care of myself by…
Taking care of my physical needs for nutrition, exercise and sleep.
* I used to forego these frequently because I was so focused on putting other people and their needs first.
Attending to my spiritual needs in whatever way gives me energy and makes me feel connected to the universe.
* I used to be “too busy” (with things for others) to take the time to pray and meditate.
Being social with others who give me energy rather than those who drain my energy.
* I used to feel obligated to spend time with people just because they were in my life, even if I didn’t particularly like spending time with them or if they drained me.
Having regular leisure time during which I pursue things that bring me joy.
* I always had two jobs, or a full-time job while going to school, or volunteered a ton and didn’t allow myself time to relax. I was focused on what I thought I was “supposed to do” (i.e., what others thought, not what I wanted).
Spending my time and energy on things that I choose to do, rather than things I feel like I “should” do.
* If I feel like coloring or making crafts, I do it! The dishes can wait.
Keeping the focus on me also means I take care of myself by…
- Not rescuing others.
- Not putting myself in harm’s way by going into dangerous or unsafe situations.
- Not making myself vulnerable to toxic and abusive people and environments.
- Not engaging in addictive, compulsive or obsessive behaviors.
When I continually do these things, I learn I can rely on myself. This is the opposite of self-abandonment. Eventually, I became able to count on myself to be consistent in my self-care.
A very basic example of how I keep the focus on me and my self-care is this: Let’s say I have a whole list of things to do and one of them is self-care. I’ve learned that I need to do that first. This is relatively new for me. Remember what they say on airplane flights. “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on somebody that’s near you or that you’re caring for.” If you pass out from lack of oxygen because you focused on the other person, you can’t help them! But if you put the focus on yourself and get that oxygen mask on, you’re easily able to assist them.
When we keep the focus on ourselves and take good care of ourselves, we’re better able to take care of others. That’s because we show up for the others in our lives as energized, healthy, sane people with good boundaries. We show up and give service out of abundance, rather than to fill some hole inside us. We help others because it’s what we truly choose to do, not something we feel obligated to do. When we take care of ourselves regularly, others can count on us to be consistent. We show up as the same person time and time again, so they know who they’re getting.
How to shift the focus onto yourself.
Asking questions like the following is helpful in learning how to shift the focus to yourself.
· What do I want or need right now?
· Do I need to set or adjust a boundary here?
· Is this any of my business?
· Did they ask for my help?
· What could I have done differently?
· Is there something I did to contribute to the situation that made it worse? What could I do better next time?
· Am I taking good care of myself? How could I take better care of myself?
This is info, not ammo.
Ask yourself these questions so you can continue moving forward in your efforts to keep the focus on yourself. Mind you, these questions are not meant to give you reasons to beat yourself up. The answers to these questions are meant as info not ammo. That is, it’s information for you to learn about yourself so you can grow. It’s not ammunition so you can beat yourself up!
You have to take action on what you learn from answering those questions.
Once you’ve answered one or more of these questions for yourself, it’s important to take your answers seriously and to act on them. It won’t do you any good to dismiss your answers. Behavior change takes time and patience, for certain, but change also requires action. Commit to taking at least one small action once you’ve identified an area where you can better keep the focus on yourself. And then another. And then another.
Keeping the focus on yourself is a much more peaceful and fruitful way to live. Personally, I want to help people heal and create lasting behavior change in their lives like I have. I can only do that if take care of myself first.
As a reminder, keeping the focus on yourself means a variety of things. These include focusing on what you want and/or need in a particular situation; minding your own business; determining what you may have been doing to make situations worse; and practicing consistent self-care.
If you can think of other ways it’s important to keep the focus on yourself, drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!
If you like this article, you might struggle with boundaries. If so, you might want to check out this page on my website that has a bunch of free resources for those who need help with setting boundaries.