This is the fourth in the series on Happiness and how soft skills can ‘up’ your happiness level.
Today we’re considering the trickiest of the five barriers that block soft skills, and seeing how breaking through it releases our most powerful ‘happiness-inducing’ abilities.
The barrier in question is Downward Focus. This barrier is often hidden, always devious, and sometimes downright dangerous.
It can play its devilish tricks without us even being aware of it, reducing our confidence and self-motivation, diminishing our ability to promote ourselves and our work, and dampening our spirits and enjoyment of life.
There’s no chance to be happy while Downward Focus is hanging around!
- consider how to dissolve this dastardly barrier
- look at the impact this will have on our happiness
- learn a simple happiness-habit
What Is Downward Focus?
It’s a given that we’ll go through times in our life when an underlying issue clouds everything else. When we’re dealing with bereavement, illness, divorce, or any catastrophe or upheaval, then Downward Focus will be dominating all our behaviour.
And that’s it’s rightful place.
Because at such times those issues need to be given our attention, and even though the shadow will cover everything else for a while, this blanket focus will enable us to navigate our way through turbulent times, and come out safely – and often wiser – the other side.
But Downward Focus becomes a barrier when our attention is drawn by the ‘shadow’, the dark side, the hidden, or the unacknowledged part of ourselves or others, at times when it’s not of benefit to us.
It becomes a barrier when it’s of no help, when it consumes us without supporting us, when we’re unaware that it’s dominating us, when it has a detrimental impact on our life and ruins our happiness.
“Everyone carries a shadow,
And the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life,
the blacker and denser it is.”
Catch Me If You Can
The hardest aspect of this barrier is recognising it. Sometimes it’s obvious; more often it’s covert.
For example, you might understand that frequent, aggressive anger is undesirable, but would you realise that being too nice, being a ‘people-pleaser’ can be just as damaging? One is an ‘in your face’ expression of an underlying problem, while the other is more subtle in its display. But both have profoundly destabilising consequences.
Downward Focus can show up in many unexpected ways, such as:
- irrational stress (”I feel sick, but my friends think I’m so lucky to have landed this job”)
- inexplicable procrastination (”I really want to do that…well, maybe tomorrow”)
- being uncomfortable around someone (”It must be me because everyone else thinks he’s absolutely wonderful”)
While it’s difficult to identify our own Downward Focus, it’s even more difficult to identify it in others.
As an extreme example, it is known that 4% of the population are sociopaths – these are not the crazed killers who are featured in movies, but people who look perfectly normal, yet have no conscience.
Sociopaths are calculating, manipulative, and usually charming. They play on people’s hopes and fears, and take advantage of others’ good nature.
They create havoc in a way that leaves no trace, because they don’t allow anyone to see behind their mask.
In fact, these individuals are Downward Focus in action!
We also need to be aware of Downward Focus in organisations, where malpractice or corruption can be hidden behind a shiny corporate or charitable façade.
In too many companies, Downward Focus causes a breeding ground for workplace bullying and employee stress, particularly if it’s at the management or leadership level.
If you’re working in such an organisation, you may not be able to pin the problem down to any one individual, but you’ll be aware that something is amiss with the overall culture.
“Company transformations must begin
With shifts that take place inside human beings.”
Judith E. Glaser
Smoke and Mirrors
It’s the ‘smoke and mirrors’ nature of Downward Focus that makes it challenging to identify and deal with. But while it takes many forms, its impact has certain similarities – and these are how we catch Downward Focus out!
The most easily discernible impact is confusion.
If Downward Focus is lurking, we’ll get a lingering question mark in our mind, a tense gut feeling, an unease, a sense that what we’re seeing is not aligned to what we’re getting.
We’re not encouraged to listen to our intuition, or taught how to respect our gut reactions. But if we don’t want to fall prey to Downward Focus we need to develop these skills and, above all else, learn to trust ourselves.
“The only real valuable thing is intuition.”
Breaking The Barrier
Dissolving the barrier of Downward Focus is difficult.
We tend to want everything to be easy, cheap, fast, and really simple nowadays, so ‘difficult’ is not a great selling point is it!
But it’s the truth.
However, it’s only difficult because breaking this barrier really shakes things up! And we tend to find the status quo more appealing than shake-ups – even if the status quo is killing us!
“Loyalty to a petrified opinion
never yet broke a chain
or freed a human soul”
To avoid change we’ll duck down, deny, look the other way, hide our eyes, hum loudly to ourselves! But breaking through the barrier of Downward Focus demands that we grow-up…and shine a light on the darkest places.
Once we’ve recognised Downward Focus is at play in our life, and we decide to take action, we’ll have to make big decisions.
This could mean:
- changing our behaviour and upsetting others who’d prefer we stayed as we are
- leaving a situation, such as a marriage, a friendship, or a culture
- questioning a superior, and risking our position, our chance for promotion, even our job
- being rejected by a family, a group, or a lifestyle
“The truth will set you free
But first it will piss you off”
Removing Downward Focus is scary. It will shake things up and make us leave familiar things behind. But we gain far more than we lose.
And the reward if we have the courage to break through this tough barrier?
Standing up to this barrier requires, and therefore builds, confidence, self-motivation, and assertiveness.
We get closer to who we are, and become free to concentrate on our truth, our potential, and our direction, rather than being distracted and twisted out of shape by the forceful, negative drag of Downward Focus.
Happiness Habit: Trust Yourself
As mentioned, the key to breaking through the barrier of Downward Focus is trust – and especially trusting yourself.
So to develop this week’s happiness habit:
- Pay more attention to your intuitive responses
- Be aware of your gut reactions to people and situations in your life
- When you have an uncomfortable feeling, don’t try to make it better or cover it up – dig deeper into it…it has valuable information for you
- If you don’t already meditate, treat yourself to 10 minutes a day
- Learn about sociopaths. I recommend reading ‘The Sociopath Next Door‘ by Martha Stout. Forewarned is forearmed.
- At the end of the week ask, “Is Downward Focus present in my life anywhere?” If it is, what will you do about it?
“Happiness is not something ready-made.
It comes from your own actions.”
Next week we’ll be looking at a more benign barrier, Right Focus. Dissolve this, and you’ll find that time management and other structures in your life all fall neatly into place.
If you’d like to share any of your trust-building experiences I’d love to hear about them.
And if you’d like some additional reading to help you on your barrier-breaking way, pick up a copy of How To BreakThru the 5 Barriers To Happiness.
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