Shifting Your Focus

Here’s something I’m sure you can all relate to: sometimes I freak out.

Sometimes I worry about myself: how I’m dressed, where I’m going in life, my grades, my comportment. I throw pity parties, on occasion, and whine about how hard my life is (read: not at all) to anyone who will listen. I get into “moods” and at times conduct myself in the manner so succintly outlined on the First World Problems Twitter page.

And while it might sound stupid or dramatic or ridiculous, I really have been struggling lately with living too much inside my own head, thinking too much about my own worries and fears.  I’m sure you can all agree that once you’re in a mood, the funk is dark and twisty and it can be fairly hard to bounce back. Developing coping techniques to deal with such moods is not an easy task, even for the most confident among us.

On the other hand, though: I have to remember to count my blessings. And I have so many of them to count. Which is why my favourite new coping technique is about shifting my focus to others.

Here’s the idea: start thinking about anyone but yourself.  Anyone. Put them at the center of your thought target and fire away! What resonates most with me personally is the idea of making someone’s day, and helping people in my life as much as possible. Maybe you’d prefer joining in with a protest that moves you, contributing to a charity you believe in, volunteering for a local organization that does great work, or sending letters to the people that you love. Maybe you just want to start collecting smiles, or hugs that you helped create.


You could start by opening up your ears, mind, and heart to opportunities to help. Chances are, you’ll run into several unique situations daily where your skills, attitude, services or presence would be very much appreciated. As an example: today I helped my friend post a Craigslist ad for her apartment, because she had been struggling with resizing her pictures. I knew I could fix her problem, so I jumped in and cleared away her worry.

Offer to lighten someone’s load today, to make their day easier.  Cross a menial task off someone’s to do list.  Do the dishes, ask if anyone needs anything at the store, offer to baby-, dog- or plant-sit, edit somebody’s resume/article/application free of charge, Tweet about your friend’s new business venture, design a poster for an event, hang a picture, cook someone dinner, make the bed, fix a small appliance, hold doors. Be as useful and generous as possible with yourself and your time. Listen. Offer tissues, advice, support. Give out hugs, smiles and thumbs-ups. Donate your old clothes, books, and toys. Donate your time to the organizations that resonate with you. Donate your money to people who need it.

Proofs of Love

 Make someone’s day in an unexpected way. Give back massages. Write love letters, or just letters, or just love. Send people snail-mail or e-mail or postcards or Facebook messages or texts. Call your Grandparents. Tell people how much they matter to you! Keep in touch.

Bake things, and give them away. Buy special little presents (as much as you can afford) that will make the people around you feel special and loved. Recently, a friend and I pitched in to buy our girl a beautiful scented candle, just because. And you should have seen her smile. It was worth every single penny. Even just a $3 bag of your boyfriend’s favourite candy will probably make his day sweeter. So surprise people with tickets, or dinner reservations, or even just unexpected plans for the night. Get your best friend a single rose at the corner store when she’s having a bad day. Lend out your favourite books and movies – spread the love!

Show up to things that are important to the people that you love. Make an effort to remember birthdays. Pick your friends up from work, or just bring them lunch. When you find a great new candy, condiment, or magazine that you love, get a second one for someone who will really appreciate it.

While you can’t buy happiness, I believe you can boost it through special possessions or experiences. When people receive a gift, a luxury they might not buy themselves, it makes them feel special, loved, and important. And your loved ones are, aren’t they?

Big Picture

Have experiences that remind you just how lucky you are. Step back and reflect as much as possible.

Get out of your own head! Think about other people, and their happiness, and their problems.

I recognize that to some (the cynical) among you, this may seem like a bit of a “selfish” notion. I’m encouraging you to do nice things for others to feel better about yourself, right? Well yes and no. First of all, it can be acknowledged that nothing we do is truly altruistic. Sad but true, us humans always have ulterior motives of one kind or another. At the same time, a large part of our motivation may stem from the desire to care for our kin – to protect them, and make them happy.

The point is, no matter what your true motives, it’s still a lovely thing to make someone’s day. And it doesn’t make it any less lovely if it makes you happy at the same time. What’s wrong with that!? It’s a win-win situation, I say. Getting all clogged up inside your head, worrying only about yourself and your fears is a much less desirable alternative to widening your mind, love and caring to other people.

What do you think of the idea of shifting your focus to others and their well-being? Do your own personal worries trump those of others? Do you think it’s impractical to think about other people so much? Is it wrong to feel good about making others feel good? What are some ways you could make someone’s day so much better?

As always, I’m overjoyed to hear your responses.

Yours in paradigm-shifts,

[p.s. An example of how I’m using this practically in my life: I wrote the names of my loved ones on index cards, and brainstormed ideas of how I can help/love them – in ways that are unique to them. I also brainstormed a bunch of general examples, such as:

  • Make mix CDs
  • Answer e-mails
  • Make & mail care packages
  • Cook for others
  • Plan events/dates for friends
  • Smile more!
  • Pay for things spontaneously
  • Keep in touch

I’m keeping all of this Mission: Altruism information in an envelope and referring/adding to it as much as possible. So far, it’s been a wonderful experience.]

2 thoughts on “Shifting Your Focus”

  1. I love these ideas! I had an experience of how much people appreciate little kindnesses just this afternoon. I was driving on a road that just had two lanes with heavy traffic, and one side of the road was completely backed up because somebody was waiting to turn. I stopped to let them turn, and I got thank-you waves from that driver and the next four or five who had been stuck behind him.

    Every little thing counts, and it’s great when people help each other out :)

    1. Oh awesome Gabrielle! I love that story: so simple, but you definitely made a big difference in someone’s day. :) And doesn’t it feel good too? It’s awesome to help other people. :)

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