There are plenty of small, inconsequential realizations in life. Like the fact that the FedEx logo contains a subtle arrow in-between the orange “E” and “x.” It’s small and unimportant. But the first time someone mentions it, you wonder why you never noticed it before.
In contrast with the inconsequential, there are some realizations that come along and change our life forever.
They are not minor, they are significant. They don’t just change how we view a particular logo, they change how we view ourselves, they alter our worldview, and even how we choose to act within it.
For me, one of the most profound realizations I have made over recent years is the understanding that if I’m looking for a reason to be x, I’ll probably be able to find it.
I have found this realization to be true in almost every circumstance. As a result, it contains almost limitless opportunity to change my attitude toward the world around me.
To understand the significance of this realization, I’ll explain a bit more what I mean. Let me offer a specific example:
I have found that if someone is looking for a reason to be upset, they will almost certainly find it. Life isn’t always fair and if a person wants to be upset about a circumstance, a relationship, or a current event, they will almost always find a reason to support their desire. If you want to be upset with your spouse, there are probably a plethora of things you can find that would rationalize that emotion.
However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, if that same person started looking for reasons to be happy, they would almost certainly find those as well. There is always something to be grateful for in life. And if they began looking for reasons to be thankful over a current circumstance, relationship, or current affair, they are almost always able to find it. The same spouse that could provide opportunity to be upset is probably simultaneously offering opportunity to be happy.
This reality extends to almost every possible response toward life:
- If you’re looking for reasons to be scared, you’ll find them.
- If you’re looking for reasons to be mad, you’ll find them.
- If you’re looking for reasons to be encouraged, you’ll find them.
- If you’re looking for reasons to be grateful, you’ll find them.
- If you’re looking for reasons to be confident, you’ll find them.
- If you’re looking for reasons to be pessimistic about the future, you’ll find them.
- If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about the future, you’ll find them.
If you are looking for a reason to be x, you will probably find it.
There is a scientific term for this reality. It’s called Selective Attention or Attentional Control. Selective attention is the act of focusing on something in particular while simultaneously ignoring irrelevant information that is also occurring. At any given moment, our brains are bombarded with sensory information: the car horn, the bird chirping, the newspaper rustling, the whirl of the espresso machine, and the words coming out of our friend’s mouth who is sitting across the table from us at the local coffee shop.
At almost every moment of the day, because our minds can’t possibly process all the information being fed to us by our senses, we subconsciously focus our attention on certain important elements of our environment while other things blend into the background or pass us by completely unnoticed. In the coffee shop example above, we choose to focus our attention on our conversation with a friend and allow the other noises to blend into the background—selective attention. We do it every day.
But this truth about selective attention extends beyond noise and sight. It also helps to explain the life-changing realization that we can almost always find reasons to support the attitude we want to keep.
The world around us is infinitely complex. Because of that, if you’re looking for a reason to be x, you can almost certainly find one—and even two or three or four if you keep looking hard enough.
The most significant opportunity this truth provides is the understanding that our response to life is almost always a decision we make and is less a reaction than we often think.
If you wake up tomorrow and decide you are going to be bitter and hate life, you will almost certainly find reasons to hate your life.
But on the other hand, if you wake up tomorrow and decide you are going to be joyful and grateful for the life you live and the day you have been given, you will almost certainly find countless reasons to reinforce your decision.
This is the magic of selective attention.
It is important to note that just because you made a decision to be happy doesn’t mean the bad parts and the unfairness go away. They still exist. It simply means you have decided to selectively place your attention on the things needed to reinforce your decision.
It is almost impossible to overestimate how significant this realization is. It has the power to transform our lives and how we view them at any given time. Our attitude is not a response to our present circumstances. It is a decision that we make—every single day.
This truth is life-changing. Where do you most need it?
Do you want to change how you view your spouse, your job, your family, your financial situation, or the outlook on your life? Choose today to look for reasons to be happy. Because if you’re looking for reasons to be happy, you will be sure to find them. There’s not a doubt in my mind.