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You Will Become What You Focus On

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 2 in my series, “Focus on Your Self-Evaluation.”
Part 1: A Guide to Developing Character and Wisdom

A personal story of why our FOCUS is so important

Years ago, when our kids were in school, I began attending attended classes at a community college as a returning adult. My husband was head of the music department there. The college was in its infancy and the department heads were active in recruiting and developing curriculum and programs.

It was an exciting time and I enjoyed taking different classes that stretched my mind. At some point, however, I decided I needed to focus on where I wanted all this to take me, and began taking classes that would direct me into a career.

I loved music and singing, and it seemed natural to make music my major and become a music teacher. However, I soon realized it would take an extraordinary amount of intense work and skill-building, as I had no background in music.

While I loved to sing, music wasn’t my only passion. I asked myself, “What else do I love to do and could spend hours doing?”

My answer: Working with people.

I loved science and was fascinated with how body and mind worked together. I wanted to know why we did the things we did. I could study for hours in the subject of human nature and soon realized that I wanted to be involved in the science of psychology.

It was one of the best decisions I made. It became my focus. That focus has taken me into many arenas, from teaching to counseling to facilitating groups to creating curriculum to speaking and writing.

I’m passionate about sharing the many ways we can grow and become who we were meant to be.

Because I love working with people, I wanted to extend the workshops I had developed. It seemed expedient to work under a company name. What should I call this “company” of one (me)?

One name kept coming up:  FOCUS.

It represented what I believe in: that your focus in life will determine what you do, who you are, and who you can become.

Energy is generated by what we focus on

  • If you focus on anger, resentment, and grievances, your life will continually be in chaos.
  • If you focus on learning new and better ways to communicate and interact, problem solve, manage your emotions, and become proactive instead of reactive, you will learn to direct your energy towards living a more productive and rewarding life.

Where is your focus?

What do you focus on most of the time? Is your focus helpful or unhelpful to your life overall?

As we learn more about who we are and what is important to us, we will have a greater opportunity to determine how we want to move forward. The more we can live by predetermined principles based on wisdom and understanding, the more meaningful our lives will be.

We can choose how we will respond to life; in fact, we cannot not choose.

Man's Search for MeaningIn Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote that the last thing anyone can ever take away from us is our ability to choose our responses to whatever is happening in life.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

—Viktor Frankl

As a survivor of the concentration camps during the Second World War, he could speak to that with authority.

My focus begins every day with prayer and God. I ask for wisdom, direction, humility, strength, and courage. Do not dismiss the need for a spiritual life. Focus first on Him and then on building a better life.

A Guide to Developing Character and Wisdom

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

  • During January, we focused on building confidence.
  • During February, we focused on where we want to go and ways to get there.
  • During March, we focused on how to recognize and overcome pervasive anxiety.
  • During April, we’ll focus on self-evaluating our skills, weaknesses, and strengths.

Developing Character

What is character and why is it important?

Do I need to spend time and energy to develop it?

Won’t I develop character and acquire wisdom simply by living?

Well, yes and no. We do gain wisdom by learning through our mistakes. However, gaining it in that way alone can be risky. Mistakes can be costly, with lifelong consequences. Drink and drive and you risk killing someone or yourself.

Wisdom would say, “If I am going to drink, I’d better not drive.”

Wisdom also reminds us that momentary pleasure without thinking about costs could have disastrous consequences.

The life we lead is often a result of routines we put in place as we’re growing up. It’s often a haphazard string of reactive decisions to whatever is happening in the moment. We seldom give thought to what we want, what is important and how to maximize our efforts.

Developing character and wisdom means becoming proactive versus reactive. It means evaluating our choices before we act so we can make the best possible decisions. It means taking charge of our life.

Character is the set of qualities that makes us distinct

Character identifies and defines who we are:

  • Am I trustworthy?
  • Do I follow through with what I say I am going to do?
  • Am I honest and loyal?
  • Do I make decisions based on common sense, discretion, and forethought?
  • Do I consider the consequences before acting and make tough choices rather than simply choosing an easy way?
  • Do I know what I believe and value? Do I act on those principles?

Choices guided by wisdom and character vs. what feels good in the moment can make the difference between a fulfilling life and a lifetime of repairing a broken one.

Character defines who we are to others

  • How do I interact with others?
  • Am I reliable and true to my word?
  • Do I choose friends who share the same values that I have?

Character development helps turn dreams into reality. It enables us to risk time and energy in the pursuit of achieving our goals.

Take time to develop your character

As we grow up, we learn the basics of right and wrong. But when we become adults, we need to expand our understanding of what is right and wrong so we can live it.

This understanding guides everything we do.

  • It helps us set and maintain personal boundaries.
  • It helps us to associate with others with similar values.
  • It helps us live a principled life.

But maybe even more importantly, it answers the question, “Who am I? Who am I to others and to myself?”

At any point in life, you can evaluate the qualities that define who you are and adjust your thinking when you have strayed.

The following can help put together a better picture of who you are, your values, and the qualities that make you, “you.” It can help you establish a baseline.

Spend time thinking about the following:

  • List your strengths (name at least 10).
  • List the talents you believe you have.
  • List your weaknesses. We all have them.
  • List your values and beliefs.
  • How would you describe your physical appearance and condition?
  • How would you describe your social traits (friendly, shy, aloof, talkative, etc.)
  • How would you describe your intellectual capacity (curious, poor reader, good at math, enthusiastic student, etc.)
  • What are you passionate about? If you could do anything you wanted without worrying about career, family, or money, what would you be doing?
  • What motivates you?
  • What moods or feelings best characterize you on a day-to-day basis (cheerful, optimistic, depressed, etc.)

This exercise might seem like a waste of time. Yet, it is only when we ask and answer direct questions of ourselves that we discover who we are.

It is here we define the characteristics and principles that we live by and the ones we want to live by. It is here where we can be honest and genuine, accepting and building on what we have.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Feel Fearful

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 4 in my series, “Focus on Reducing Anxiety and Fear.”
Part 1: The Cost of Obsessive Anxiety
Part 2: What is the Root Cause of Your Anxiety and Fear?
Part 3: 5 Ways to Prevent Fear from Paralyzing You

“Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is.”

—Winston Churchill

Fear can be our friend or our enemy. It can prepare us, instruct us, and keep us safe. Or it can become a huge, threatening shadow that locks us in anxiety, worry, doubt, uncertainty, and helplessness.

Don’t let your fears control you!

Unrealistic and exaggerated fears are paper dragons that have grown fat on negative thoughts and core beliefs that undermine our worth.

  • Recognize the fears that have become paper dragons.
  • Deflate them.
  • Challenge negative self-talk.
  • Reframe situations so you are not held captive by them.

Fear can be a great motivator

Sometimes there are valid reasons to fear. After all, fear is a survival mechanism that tells us to stop, be careful, and proceed with caution.

Yet, we spend too much time paying attention to the emotional response of fear and not enough time identifying what we are afraid of. We can spend hours worrying about the “what ifs” that our mind creates when held in the grip of fear.

7 questions to ask yourself when your fear and anxiety buttons are triggered

1. What valuable information is this fear giving me?

Is this a reasonable fear based on identifiable facts and circumstances? Or is this an irrational fear based on past experiences that have no bearing on what is happening now?

Challenge the fear’s validity. What is the thinking associated with it? Is it valid or old garbage from the past? How can you eliminate or reduce the threat?

2. Am I potentially in physical danger?

If your gut is telling you that you may be in a dangerous situation, stop and look around. Don’t just automatically dismiss the fear. People have been carjacked or assaulted in parking garages because they were too dismissive of that gut feeling.

3. Is this fear protecting me from doing something foolish or careless?

If you are engaging in risky behavior, pay attention to the reasonable side of your brain.

For example, don’t go off marked hiking trails because it looks like fun to go a riskier way.

Don’t spend money on risky investments because someone has told you that you might be able to make lots of money.

If you have a sense of danger, stop and think before acting.

4. Is this fear revealing an insecurity?

Fear of failure reveals your insecurities. Don’t allow the fear of failure to control you, but face it and use it to help you grow in confidence.

5. Is this fear leading me to God?

We have an Almighty God who is in control of the universe – we are not the end-all. A healthy fear of God recognizes this and is both respectful and humbled. God loves you!

6. Is this fear making me feel isolated?

We need support from others. Allow them into your sphere.

7. Is this fear challenging me to get out of my comfort zone?

Perhaps you have been asked to speak at a business function and your palms get sweaty and your stomach turns flip-flops just thinking about it.

Yet, each time you allow yourself to be challenged, you become stronger and more efficient.

If you have a fear of speaking, join a local Toastmaster’s group where you can get the training and experience you need within a comfortable setting and with others who are learning.

Tip of the day

Fears are not good when they keep us from taking the next step out of an unwanted change, loss, or adversity.

Fears are good when they keep us safe and challenge us to grow.

5 Ways to Prevent Fear from Paralyzing You

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 3 in my series, “Focus on Reducing Anxiety and Fear.”
Part 1: The Cost of Obsessive Anxiety
Part 2: What is the Root Cause of Your Anxiety and Fear?

When our lives become dominated by anxiety and fear we will experience moments of panic.

Panic freezes us, and we are unable to move while our heart is racing. Anxiety keeps feeding the fear and panic with slogans such as:

  • “You’re doomed.”
  • “There’s nothing you can do.”
  • “It’s hopeless.”

We soon begin to apply a string of defeats, disappointments, or failures to those fears:

“I never do anything right, and I can prove it – look at my past.”

Our past automatically predicts our future. We imagine that whatever happened in the past will automatically happen again in the future.

  • “I will never be able to own my own home.”
  • “I will never have anything.”
  • “I am a failure.”

We embellish the negative, making it our ritualistic response to everything and eliminating contrasting positive information.

Sometimes we fear success as well as failure.

We may fear rejection or being taken advantage of.

  • We may fear getting hurt in relationships.
  • We may fear making a mistake that will cause us to appear foolish or lose our job or be judged unfairly.

When we address our fears honestly and sincerely, we can redirect our actions and motivations and find solutions.

As we peel away the layers of our fears, hidden beliefs that compromise our ability to take that next step are revealed. We may experience an “ah-ha” moment where parts of our life puzzle become clear, and we are able to understand and make corrections. It is during these “ah-ha” moments that we find humility and responsibility.

How to confront your fears

Fear can sneak up on us so fast we are caught in its grip before we process what started the chain reaction.

So, what can we do?

First, accept that you are feeling afraid.

We get so busy trying to overcome fear that we don’t stop and ask why are we so fearful. What created this fear? No denials!

Second, acknowledge fear.

It’s okay to be afraid! Everybody has fears. Often, we are fearful of letting anyone know we are afraid because people might think less of us or think something is wrong with us.

Your feeling of fear has nothing to do with your worth, your abilities or your intelligence. There is nothing to be ashamed of for feeling fearful.

Acknowledge what you are feeling – say it out loud to yourself. Give yourself permission to feel that way. Talk about it. Share your feelings with someone you trust.

Third, write down what you say to yourself when you feel afraid.

There is usually a string of thoughts attached to our fears, along with beliefs we think we can’t do anything about.

Fourth, think about the first thing you do when you are feeling fearful.

Do you run away, push the fear away, deny it, or ignore it?

Do these responses help or hinder you? Do they take you where you want to go or are they keeping you in a cycle of thoughts and emotions that aren’t helpful?

Fifth, decide what you want to do with your fear.

You can hang on to it and then you don’t have to do anything except ruminate about it.

Or you can address your fear and find a productive way to respond by changing the thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions that created the fear.

We have a choice.

We can allow fear to keep us from developing the confidence we need to face our problems.

Or we can acknowledge our fear and ask ourselves questions that reveal its root cause so we can begin to work through it.

What is the Root Cause of Your Anxiety and Fear?

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 2 in my series, “Focus on Reducing Anxiety and Fear.”

Part 1: The Cost of Obsessive Anxiety

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

—Norman Vincent Peale

Fear – like all emotions – gives us information. It can warn us, keep us safe and alert us to danger. It can help prevent disasters. It can empower us to take appropriate action to avoid a calamity or to correct behaviors.

Years ago, I was attacked in my home by an intruder. I was fortunate and came away unhurt. But it was a moment of real fear when confronted with a danger that was overpowering and very real.

“What if” Fears

However, we create fears that can be just as overpowering and overwhelming and can feel just as real, even if they aren’t. I call them the “what if” fears.

  • What if I lose my job?
  • What if my partner leaves me?
  • What if I can’t pay my mortgage?
  • What if I get really sick and can’t care for my child?
  • What if I don’t get this job?
  • What if they don’t like me?
  • What if I’m not good enough?
  • What if . . .?

Our list of “what if’s” can go on forever.

Negative Internal Dialogue

I’m sure you recognize some form of self-talk that resembles this. When times get really tough this kind of internal dialogue can become pervasive and dominate your thinking. While there may be indications that you might lose your job or you might not get a job, or people might not like you, there is just as much probability that you will keep your job or you will get that job, and people will like you.

However, when we fixate on what might happen in a negative way, we are on our way to creating that outcome. We begin to act according to how we think and put in motion the beginning of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What ifs can become so real that we defend their existence against their opposite, which is thinking positively about what we are capable of doing.

We can’t resolve all problems, but we can choose practical ways to respond.

Creating Fear Dragons

When we become consumed by the panic of what might happen even when someone suggests something positive, we will go to great lengths to prove why they are wrong and we are right. When we do this, we create a “fear dragon” that constantly needs feeding.

Creating and Taming Fear Dragons | FocusWithMarlene.com

The problem with fear dragons is that we treat them as though they are real. They’re not. If we can create them, we can tame them and turn them into something positive that works for us.

If you recognize a fear dragon, here is what you can do:

Challenge every negative thought with a positive opposite. When we focus on the negative, we draw ourselves toward an outcome we do not want. Focus on the positive things you can do to bring about what you want to have happen.

For example: If you’re concerned about your job, worrying about whether you will lose it will keep you stressed, less focused, and less capable. Instead, think of ways to improve your work, your outlook, and your responses.

Focus on what you can do, not what you have no control over.

Remember, fear gives us valuable information we need to act. It tells us when we are in danger.  When our brain perceives danger, it immediately and automatically triggers the survival response, gearing up the body to either flee or fight. So, we need to pay attention to danger signals.

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comRead more about factors that create stress in my book, Make Stress Work for You: 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it Into a Positive Force.

If you sense danger, stop and assess what is happening.

  • If you have a habit of thinking about everything that could go wrong, write them down. On paper, they seem less intimidating.
  • Then, list all the ways you might counteract or neutralize them in some positive way.

Fear is helpful to us when we stop, examine, analyze, or investigate. Fear is an important emotion that requires our attention. What will you do with it?

The Cost of Obsessive Anxiety

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

During January, we focused on building confidence.

During February, we focused on where we want to go and ways to get there.

In March, we’ll focus on how to recognize and overcome pervasive anxiety.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

—J.K. Rowling

Constant anxiety not only keeps you from finding the answers you need but will eventually adversely affect your health.

When anxiety becomes relentless, we become obsessive worriers.

My mother was a worrier. My oldest sister was a worrier. I remember her telling me she couldn’t help it; she was just born that way. While we may have a tendency toward reacting certain ways, we are not a reluctant prisoner to those tendencies.

We all worry. Our worries may be financial, health or age-related. They may be restrictive, compulsive, and overwhelming. Some of our fears and anxieties have grown into huge giants that continue to exert their power over us.

We are often unaware of our worries. They just lurk on the edge of our awareness until something brings them into focus.

We can worry about many things at the same time. It is estimated that up to 95% of our worries and the stress it creates are the result of worrying about trivial rather than important things.

Why we worry

We often worry because we don’t take the time to clarify what we are anxious about. (In my book, Make Stress Work for You, I explain how to make stress work for you instead of against you.)

Are you a worrier?

Worriers are people who constantly focus on whatever is going wrong instead of recognizing problems and working to resolve them.

Nancy Loving Tubesing and Sandy Stewart Christian, editors of Structured Exercises in Stress Management, suggest the following exercise to determine whether our worries have any importance.

Write down all the things you are worrying about right now. How long have you been worrying about them?

On another piece of paper, make four columns.

  1. In column 1, list all the worries that are under your control.
  2. In column 2, list all the worries that are not under your control.
  3. In column 3, list all the worries that are important but are not in your control.
  4. In column 4, list all the worries that are important and are in your control.

Look at your lists and ask yourself:

  • What worries can I eliminate by taking action of some kind?
  • What benefits do I get from worrying?
  • Do I really want to hang onto my worries?
  • Which ones do I want to start working on by creating a plan of action?
  • Which ones do I need to let go of and hand over to God?

Worrying is good only if it motivates us to take action. Otherwise, it is a useless waste of energy.

When we feel in control of our lives, even an extremely anxiety-provoking situation may be seen as challenging rather than impossible or hopeless.

When we feel powerless, even the most trivial worry and concern becomes a giant.

It is important to examine the anxieties we have that don’t go away. Sometimes it is hard to define them – they just hang on. Often, these anxieties are accompanied with us thinking, “What if this happens of that happens? What will I do?”

If you struggle with continuous anxiety, do the exercise above. Once you clarify your worries, you can think of different ways to deal with them instead of wringing your hands and worrying about them.

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearn more about factors that create stress in my book, Make Stress Work for You: 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it Into a Positive Force. When you purchase the ebook, you’ll also receive these bonus gifts:

  1. An audio recording of each chapter
  2. Companion Study Guide and Personal Application Workbook
  3. Thought-Belief Distortionsa guide to identify and change unsound and illogical thinking to thoughtful and discerning thinking.
  4. Problem-Solving Stepsquick tips on how to define a problem and generate, evaluate, and implement solutions.
  5. Letting Go – Taking Control, a tipsheet that describes the benefits you receive by letting go, focusing on the here and now, and believing that you can take charge of your life.
  6. Challenging Irrational Thinkingan exercise to help create awareness of your core beliefs and replace thought and belief distortions with more rational responses.

Become the Person You Were Meant to Be

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 4 in my series, “Focus on Where You Want to Go.”

Part 1: What Do I Want to Do With The Rest of My Life?
Part 2: How to Replace Negative Self-Talk With Affirmations
Part 3: Take an Inventory of Your Routines and Habits 

As we move from one stage of development to another, we seldom take time to reflect and examine what we do and why we do it.

Yet, to become the person you were meant to be requires a thorough understanding of who you are.

Who am I?

As you begin to answer that question, you might find it difficult to come up with answers because you are used to identifying yourself by your role in life or by the job or work you do. This is natural.

But if you want to go a step further, you must ask more probing questions. This month on my blog and podcast, you have begun to explore questions such as:

  • What do I really like to do?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What are my strengths?

You may be reticent about listing them. But until you have thoroughly evaluated who you are, you won’t accomplish what you want to do. To get that genuine evaluation, you need to be honest and forthright.

Be honest about how you spend your time, how that could be improved, and what truly is important to you.

As you acknowledge your accomplishments and your strengths, celebrate who you are.

This is an exercise just for you.

It is an opportunity to be honest with yourself, uncover some truths you may not like, and challenge behaviors that conflict with what you value and believe.

For example, when you evaluate your strengths, they may include:

  • Survivor
  • Tenacious
  • Determined
  • Compassionate
  • Loyal
  • Able to ask for help

Your weaknesses may include:

  • Find it difficult to be a good friend
  • Feel vulnerable about revealing too much of myself
  • Too quick to judge
  • Have a temper
  • Don’t listen
  • Suspicious

As you examine the things that are important to you, you become aware that you might be living a life that is contradictory to what you believe and value. This can create an enormous amount of stress and unrest.

Sometimes old scripts demand you act in ways that don’t seem genuine and honest with the person you are. Some of the questions may bring up painful memories of the past that have shaped you but have left you feeling worse about yourself.

This has been an ongoing exercise of discovery. You have examined what you have accomplished, what you want to accomplish, and what has been keeping you from becoming the person you want to be. You now know a little more about who you are and what you are capable of.

Write yourself a letter.

When you have had time to review last week’s inventory, write a letter to yourself.

Tell yourself what dreams you are still serious about and why.

Write a few sentences that define who you are and all you can be.

Brainstorm ideas about how you might complete some of your goals and what you need to begin the process.

Make a commitment to yourself.

Congratulate yourself.

Take an Inventory of Your Routines and Habits

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 3 in my series, “Focus on Where You Want to Go.”

Part 1: What Do I Want to Do With The Rest of My Life?
Part 2: How to Replace Negative Self-Talk With Affirmations

During this series, you have been discovering more about yourself so you can make the changes you want and need. You can expand your thoughts about what you want to do with your life by taking an in-depth inventory.

Here we go:

For one week, write down the time of day and what you do during that time. Include times when you do frivolous things, such as playing games on your phone.

At the end of the week, do a review.

  1. What were your routines and habits? Are there habits that need replacing?
  2. How and when did you use your time most productively?
  3. What did you accomplish?
  4. What did you avoid doing?
  5. What did you do that you wish you hadn’t?

Is your to-do list overflowing?

“To do” things gradually accumulate and before we realize it, we are struggling to fit everything in.

Perhaps you agreed to teach a Sunday School class or volunteered at your child’s school, or couldn’t refuse to take on the responsibility for organizing this year’s office party. While these and many other things are important, reality demands that these be checked against an otherwise full calendar.

What can be eliminated from your calendar?

How can you replace unproductive habits?

  • Does it involve better time management, delegation, or cooperation from others?
  • Does it include designated recreation or downtime?

If you remain overloaded, something will suffer – you, your family, and/or your health.

Go back over the inventory you made and examine all the things you routinely do each week. Include work, family time, obligations, and extracurricular activities.

⭐ Put a star beside all those things that are necessary:  work, meals, chores, exercise, etc.

❓ Put a question mark beside all those things that may be seasonal or jobs that involve short periods of time. How important are these to you and your family? Which ones can be eliminated?

Sometimes we need to take a sharp scalpel approach to eliminate things that have value but are not absolutely necessary.

What’s left on your list?

Strikethrough all the things you can eliminate. Remember to inform others if your decision involves them.

It is okay to say “no,” not only when originally asked but later, when you continue doing something that isn’t right for you. Your responsibility is to you and your loved ones.

If any of the items on your list are work-related, consider sitting down with your employer or co-workers and discussing ways to modify or lighten your load. If that isn’t an option, reflect on ways you can become more efficient in your work habits.

Review your list one last time.

Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to make my life more productive?

  • Can I organize my time better?
  • Have I put daily routines in place that eliminate last-minute decisions and stress?
  • What can I delegate to others?
  • What chores can be shared?
  • Have I scheduled specific downtimes that I honor as highly as my work schedule?

When we are stressed and overworked, we are no good to anyone – even ourselves. Taking charge of our lives begins by putting the brakes on a life of constant upheaval and chaos and thoughtfully determining what we want and need.

How to Replace Negative Self-Talk With Affirmations

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 2 in my series, “Focus on Where You Want to Go.”

Part 1: What Do I Want to Do With The Rest of My Life?

“You always fail.”

“You are too stupid to learn.”

“You will make a mess of anything you do.”

Negative messages repeated over and over make it difficult for us to believe in ourselves. We soon personalize them and repeat them in our self-talk:

I keep failing.

I can’t really trust myself.

I have to be careful, or others will find out just how inept I am.

I can’t risk being rejected again.

If others don’t believe in me, how can I believe in me?

When we look at ourselves through a negative lens every day, our thinking and beliefs become skewed, biased, and irrational. We cannot problem-solve because we believe there are no solutions.

We develop tunnel vision that sees things in only one way. We diminish anything positive and embellish all things negative. We screen out possibilities and alternative options. This soon becomes a vicious cycle, repeating itself, growing with intensity, and eventually becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How do we stop it?

Here is a strategy that replaces the cycle of “I can’t” with, “I will make mistakes but that is how I learn. I trust myself to learn.”

How to implement this strategy

Imagine you are holding a remote in your hand. When you hear yourself repeating negative thoughts over and over again, push the STOP button.

Then do a quick analysis of what triggered those negative thoughts. Is it something I need to attend to, take care of, or get more information to properly process?

You hold the remote control of how you choose to respond to life. Tell yourself you are in control – that you can discern real danger from imagined danger.

Because you are capable, you can consider every situation logically and calmly.

To help reduce constant negativity, challenge and alter negative emotional responses and change your ongoing self-talk.

Include affirmations

Affirmations are a way to replace old messages that hurt instead of help. They are positive statements that are stated in the present tense, as though they already exist. They are personal, simple, and realistic.

Repeat affirmations throughout the day. Write them down on sticky notes and place them around the house: bathroom, refrigerator, computer.

Carry them with you in your purse, place them on the car dashboard, etc.

Here are some examples of positive affirmations. Choose five to start.

  • I like myself unconditionally.
  • I am in charge of my life.
  • I am flexible and adjust well to change.
  • My mind is calm, and my breathing is relaxed and effortless.
  • I remain calm under pressure and stress.
  • I am responsible for all my responses to all people and events in life.
  • I can make wise choices.
  • I am prepared to meet all challenges.
  • I am happy and healthy.
  • My thoughts are positive and optimistic.

Next week, we will work further on taking an inventory of what we do and how it fits with what we want to do.

What Do I Want to Do With The Rest of My Life?

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

During January, we focused on building confidence. This month, we’ll explore where we want to go and ways to get there. Today, we’ll do a quick evaluation of what we want.

 “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”


We live with so many “have-tos.” We have to get up in the morning and go to work. We have to take care of families. We have to keep track of our finances, so we don’t go so far into debt.

At the end of the day, we’re exhausted. Any wishful thinking about what we may want to do with the rest of our lives has vanished.

We can’t have everything, but it is critical to know what is most important.

  • If you woke up tomorrow morning and could do whatever you wanted, what would that be?
  • How would you feel? Does the thought of doing that thing motivate and excite you?
  • Is there a way you could accomplish that thing?

Now is the time.

Find some quiet space and consider what is important to you. Here are six questions you can ask to start the process.

  1. What is your passion? What could you spend all day doing without getting tired?
  2. What excites you? Can you see yourself working endlessly in this area?
  3. What gives you pleasure, energy, joy, contentment, and satisfaction?
  4. What would you like to accomplish before you die?
  5. If you could do anything you wanted to and didn’t have to worry about money, what would you be doing?
  6. What secret desire or dream have you never allowed yourself to explore?

Get a notebook and call it your life planning notebook. Start jotting down all the things you see yourself doing. Include all your hopes, dreams, and ideas, even if you think they are impossible to achieve.

Be expansive; don’t pre-judge them at this stage – just make a list as long as you can. Over the next several days, go back and add to the list.

Now go over your list and discard those that are old, unimportant fantasies and wishes.

It has been said we can do anything we want to do, but we can’t do everything.


We will need to pick and choose or prioritize. But regardless of your age, or monetary or physical restrictions, if it is important enough, you will find a way to make it happen.

  • List your strengths as well as your weaknesses.
  • List your past accomplishments. What helped you succeed?
  • Then look at the times you failed. What kept you from meeting your goal?

These become the starting point of reflection and serious contemplation of what you can do with the rest of your life.

Review your list once more and pray about it.

If God is an integral part of your life, you will know that He not only has a plan for you, but He will use your talents and abilities in the best way that will be a source of intense joy and satisfaction.

All aspirations require hard work and overcoming obstacles. They also require knowing yourself, accepting your strengths and weaknesses, and determination to be the best you can be.

Taking a risk can be scary. But it can also be the most important and exciting thing you have ever done.