Recently, a 70-something, highly successful, charming client came to his first session with me and talked non-stop about how his father regularly had berated him for both over-eating and under-exercising in childhood. Not surprisingly, these “problems” had become the focus of his life. Perhaps, you, too, have difficulty focusing your brain on positive things in life and would like to learn how to manage your thoughts effectively.
If so, world-famous coach Tony Robbins, has some sound advice for you to follow. (“An Interview with Tony Robbins” by Rich Simon, PhD, Psychotherapy Networker, Nov-Dec 2017, p. 47) He maintains that there are three tests of focus:
- “First, do you tend to focus more on what you can control or can’t control? If you’re always focused on what you can’t control, you’re going to be stressed.”
- “Do you focus on what you have or what’s missing? The vast majority of people focus on what’s missing. And if you’re always focused on what’s missing and what you can’t control, you’re going to be angry, or depressed, or frustrated.”
- “Last, do you tend to focus more on the past, the present, or the future? We all do all three, but if your focus is mostly on the past, which you can’t change, and on what you can’t control and what’s missing in your life, that’s going to drain the energy you have for bettering your life and those of others.”
So, fess up, where do you stand on these questions? In my experience, dysregulated eaters often do the exact opposite of what Robbins advises. First, they focus on what they can’t control—other people’s behavior, all the food that’s out there in the world waiting to tempt them, external life stressors, and changes they have no say in. They’d be better off focusing on what they can do to make their eating and lives better.
Second, they complain about all the foods they wish they could eat but which are “bad” for them. They despair about never being able to eat foods they love in the quantity they want. And this does, indeed, make them angry. Instead, they could be rejoicing about all the foods they’re able to eat and enjoy, as does my friend with a host of food allergies.
Third, they look back to broken relationships, failed diets, weight they’ve lost and regained and how unfair life has been to them (which often it truly has been). They mistake their past for their future and think their failures mean they’ll never have successes, especially with food. They’d be far wiser to focus on changing how they eat and feel about food now and minimizing what happened before.
If you want your life to improve, you’ll need to focus only on what you can control, think about what you have, and stay in the present. This change will take practice and engage parts of your brain you’re not used to using, but you’ll be thrilled at the results.