Focused on the Wrong Thing
Does your partner have cancer? Then, without even knowing you and I can guess that you are focused on the wrong thing. How do I know? Because if you are feeling anxious, sad, angry, hopeless, frustrated, overwhelmed or any other negative emotion frequently right now, it means you are focused on thoughts that are disempowering and therefore putting you in a negative emotional state. Spending a lot of time in negative emotion will hamper you in your life. When you are feeling those emotions often, they will impact your ability to think clearly, be present, be creative, and bounce back from hardships and setbacks.
It sucks, I know!
You are not alone. Nearly all my clients start out focused on the wrong thing. They don’t realize it of course. They are not doing it on purpose. It’s just that most human brains will automatically focus on the negative, the problems and challenges in our life, and having a partner with cancer brings all kinds of problems and challenges!
Our Brain Has a Filter
Here is what you need to understand about our marvelous brain. Our brain is an incredible tool, and so are our senses. Our eyes are processing objects around us, our ears are hearing the plane overhead and the dog scratching at the door in the other room. Our nose is detecting the smell of coffee and perhaps the smell wafting out of our teenager’s room. Our mouth is picking up the taste of the coffee as we drink it. But that is just a small part of the thousands of pieces of data we are exposed to at any moment. If we took it all in, our brain would be overloaded! We are exposed to so much data in the world all the time that our brain uses a filter so it can focus on only what’s important. Otherwise, it would simply get overwhelmed.
Why does this matter? If you don’t think something is important, you won’t even notice it because your brain will filter it out. Pretty cool actually!
Just like a coffee filter keeps the grounds from getting in our coffee, the brain has a filter to keep out unimportant information from getting in. The key is to know what your brain thinks is unimportant!
Let’s get back to why this matters to you as a caregiver for your partner. What you think about and focus on will direct your brain to what is important. For a lot of us, many of our thoughts take the form of questions. Just recently, I was coaching a man, let’s call him Connor, whose wife had metastatic breast cancer and the question he kept asking himself was “how am I going to manage?” With three kids and a full time job and his wife needing to rest from chemo treatments, this seemed like a perfectly good question. The problem was, he felt a crushing sense of overwhelm every time he asked it. Another client, after having a friend pass away from cancer and dealing with her husband’s cancer diagnosis kept asking, “what’s the point of it all?” Again, seemed like a reasonable question to ask when faced with disease and loss. The problem again was she got very depressed every time she asked it.
Questions Focus Our Brain
For the people I mentioned above, the questions they were asking themselves were serving as a filter for their brain. Their brain diligently filtered out other information and only allowed in what it was focused on – which was why Connor’s only answer to how he was going to manage was to try do it all. It’s no wonder he felt overwhelmed!
When we ask a negative question, we will get a negative answer. The brain will use that question to filter the information it takes in from the world. In the book Limitless, by Jim Kwik, he talks about how most people have one or two dominant questions that shape who they are and their experience of life.
Some examples are:
How can I make more money?
How can I get people to like and accept me?
Why am I so unhappy?
Why can’t I lose weight?
How can I make others smile?
I bet that just from reading those dominant questions, you can make some guesses about the personalities of the people asking them! That’s because the questions you ask will shape your experience of the world. Crazy, right? I see how this is true in my own life and the lives of my clients.
Asking the Wrong Question
When your partner get’s cancer, it acts like a magnifying glass to problems, worries, or beliefs you already had in your life. This then shapes the questions that you start asking yourself. The problem is that without awareness, most people will ask questions that don’t serve them. These aren’t exactly “wrong” questions, rather they just focus their brain on finding all the negative evidence and filtering out all the positive evidence. This is not useful at all!
How to Focus on the Right Thing
The good news is that once you are aware of the power of questions, and you can identify what question you are now asking yourself, you can then choose a better question! It’s really not a matter of right or wrong, but rather if the question serves you or not. Questions that cause feelings of anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, worry, and overwhelm will not serve you for this time in your life. They will add to your stress and from there, you will find it more difficult to be present, loving, caring, creative and resilient. Questions that create feelings of calm, curiosity, focus, presence, gratitude, love and determination will make it easier for you to find answers, bounce back, get creative and be your best and strongest right now.
Not All or Nothing
It’s important to bring up that life will always have both positive emotions and negative emotions. The goal is never to eliminate the negative so we can have only positive. It’s simply not realistic, nor even desirable. However, the goal is to spend less time focused on the disempowering negative questions and more time focused on questions that serve you in your life. Questions that empower you. Questions that strengthen you. Managing your mind to keep it focused on empowering questions is more powerful than it seems. It will literally shape your experience and how you view yourself and your situation. What’s more, what you focus on is something YOU control! You may not have control over your partner’s health, but you can control how you show up each day. That is where your power is!
To learn more about the power of question and some better question to ask yourself, check out Asking Good Questions.
If you are intrigued by this and want to learn more, let’s talk! I work one on one with my clients to identify their dominant question and see what result it creates in their life. Then I teach them tools to manage their overwhelm, anxiety and uncertainty so they can take back control of their life and be at their best during this challenging time!