I had an interesting experience during a recent trip to L.A. When we arrived at our hotel, tired and ready to rest, the clerk told us complimentary snacks and drinks would be served for two hours in the center courtyard of the hotel. Free snacks and drinks!?!? You’ve got my attention. We parked the car, ditched our bags in the room, and went to the courtyard. There we found everything from a nacho bar, to popcorn, to free sodas, and beers. Free beers!
Best. Hotel. EVER.
I sat down with my loot in a fabulous mood. As our group talked, I heard the professionally dressed woman at the next table say, “Well I don’t know about yours, but our rental car is awful. Whenever you turn in bonus miles for a car, they give you the run down ones.”
My ears perked up. This woman got free food, a free glass of wine, and a free freakin’ car! Must be clean livin’. …but she was complaining. She wasn’t being rude, and she wasn’t tearing anyone down, but as I ate my free nachos, something I’ve been aware of for some time came back into my thoughts. It might not have in another setting. I mean, free nachos… gimme a break! We have a running family joke that goes like this: when you’re telling a story and begin to realize that it’s going to be a dud, just end the story by finding five dollars or getting free nachos. …and here we were eating free nachos. Best. Story. EVER.
Yet this woman wasn’t happy. I’ve come to understand an important truth: I can only focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is an illusion. Studies have shown that those who try to multitask too aggressively create a drop in quality across their entire workload. Why? The human mind can think about only one thing at a time. Now don’t kid yourself here. We can switch back and forth, but we have a single processor.
If we can only focus on one thing at a time… what will it be? I now know (wish I knew it then) that I have a choice on what I focus on, what I focus on becomes habitual, and what I focus on habitually becomes my reality. At the end of a day with equally bad and good elements, what do I tell my wife about when I come in the door? You can bet I tell her about the jerk who tailgated me. I mean who the heck drives like that? Meanwhile, I’m not focusing on the fact that the other 237 drivers I interacted with on the freeway were safe and courteous.
Negativity is a difficult habit to break. I learned at an early age to focus my attentions on the negative aspects of life.
“Don’t touch that table,” my mom would say, “it looks dirty.”
“Stay away from that tiger,” my dad would say, “it looks hungry.”
Being able to see the negative side of the world is critically important. If I can’t effectively assess dangers, I can’t make good decisions about them. This summer a high school girl in our town, driving alone on the freeway, rolled her car end over end because she was texting, a good example of someone who maybe could use a moment to consider negative outcomes a bit more.
I grew up to far on the other side. I came to a point in which worry and negativity was shutting down my life. What I worried about wasn’t helping me be better off. When a tailgater snuggles in behind me on the freeway, sure I need to increase my own following distance and watch out for problems, but beyond that, how does brooding over the lack of respect the person is showing me move me forward? Simply put, it doesn’t.
I’ve finally learned the value of actively choosing what I’m thinking about. I have a choice on what to focus on. I have control. So, when we got to LA, tired and late, what did I focus on? You bet I focused on free freakin’ nachos, and I was happy. In younger years, I might have spent time thinking about the security lines at the airport, or how difficult travel is on my 6’3” frame, or the delay at the rental car agency, but none of that would serve me. If it isn’t going to serve me, I’ve decided I want to let it go.
How do I let it go? My personal key is gratitude. Asking myself what I am sincerely grateful for pulls me out of a funk faster than anything I’ve yet found. What was that professional looking woman grateful for? I have no idea. She was so caught up in what she considered a slight that she not only was taking over her own day with it, she was taking up everyone around her with it as well!
I know this to be true: What we focus on becomes our reality, but that reality is relative to what we choose to focus on. I mean give me a break, she had free nachos in front of her and chose to spend her evening focusing on dirty rental cars? Seems like a missed opportunity to have an awesome night if you ask me.
Are you grateful for your nachos?