How my son being upset about a cheese string taught me an important lesson about focus.
(Photo Courtesy of Heather Cotton)
(article written years ago when my boys were young)
I will always remember a particular afternoon when I picked up my youngest son Ryan from Kindergarten. As usual, I asked him how his day was, but this time his reply was different. He became quite sad; his bottom lip started to quiver and tears began flowing. He said, “I had a really bad day.” As a parent, I was thinking that something really bad had happened here. I responded with, “Oh no! What happened?” With a very shaky voice, he said, “My teacher didn’t let me eat my cheese string!” You have to understand that cheese strings are Ryan’s favourite food on earth (well, that and Cheerios) so this was a big deal to him.
When I asked him what else he had done that day, his face lit up as he started telling me about his adventures at school, the games he played, who he played with on the play structure and the things he learned in class. In a matter of moments, he went from crying to being happy. As soon as he shifted his focus from the cheese string to the blessings, he started to feel much better and his entire perception of the day changed. No event or circumstance had changed, but all of a sudden he was having a good day.
So what is the point to my story? Ryan’s emotional response to this little snack incident made me realize something about focus. He was doing what most of us do, putting all of his focus on the one bad thing and ignoring all the good things that had gone well that day. He remembered it, milked it and felt it again as he re-told his story.
That evening, I thought about how we as adults are pros at rhyming off our cheese strings to anybody who will listen. At work, with friends, at the dinner table… “You won’t believe what he said to me. Traffic was awful. The bus was late. Jimmy never takes out the garbage. My boss is a tool.” I have even witnessed competitions of who has the most cheese strings… “Oh yeah, well my truck broke down, my girlfriend left me and my dog is sick”….or maybe that’s a country song. Anyway, you get the picture. Those things might be true, but they pale in comparison to the many blessings around us every day. What is a blessing? It can be defined as a beneficial thing for which one is grateful; something that brings a sense of well-being. Pretty simple, right?
We tend not to notice the many blessings that abound in our lives like being healthy, having a roof over our head, food to eat, a loving family, a car to get us from point A to point B, clothes so we’re not walking around in our birthday suit, having the gift of sight, limbs that all work, having running water and living in an amazing, safe country (eh!). Blessings don’t have to be grandiose things that appear in our lives like an inheritance, a new job, a new car, a new ipad or big life-changing news.
I am not suggesting that you skip to work and announce to everybody, ‘I am so grateful for my house. Last night I had food to eat. Did you see that blue sky out there? I love squirrels! I have legs that work and my heart is beating today. Woohoo!! I feel happy to be alive!’ Your colleagues might wonder what the heck you put in your coffee.
For me, the easiest way to start noticing more blessings in my life is to think of them at the end of the day as I lay in my bed. Bad thoughts can easily creep up so I ask myself questions to pivot my focus from negative ramblings to positive ones. I ask myself: What was great about today? What went well? What am I grateful for? Or, I just think of things and people I love.
This simple exercise can be life-changing. Why you ask? There is a theory that goes something like this: ENERGY FLOWS WHERE ATTENTION GOES. The more you focus on the YUCK factor in your life, the more you are sending negative energy into the universe and the more you get things that you don’t like and therefore complain about. The more you focus on the YUM factor in your life, the more you are sending positive energy into the universe and the more you get things to be grateful for. Basically, what you look for and expect, you will get!
After a few nights of focusing on the positive aspects, your perspective on life changes and you get a more positive attitude. Of course, I always like to share what I have learned with my kids. When at the dinner table or when I am tucking them in at night, if they mention a bad thing that happened during the day, I let them talk about it but then they have to name me three things that went well or that they are grateful for. It’s fun and I am amazed at what comes out sometimes. It makes for great conversations.
So thank you Ryan for flipping out over a cheese string. You taught me a great lesson on focus. May we all complain less about our cheese strings and focus on our blessings.
Much love, Josée