Last night Bex and I were settling down for the evening when a courier arrived with a delivery – obviously working hard to keep up with the festive demand. We had a few items pending so didn’t think much of it until I saw the writing on the side of the box: Hodder. My heart started racing and I ripped the box open to find 12 copies of my new book – the first time I’d seen the book in its final form. It was quite an overwhelming moment.
Books have always been a special,almost magical, thing to me. I spent a great deal of my childhood escaping into their pages for one reason or another. I remember meeting an author of children’s books on a school trip when I was about nine, and it felt like being in the presence of some kind of mystical royalty. When I was even younger – maybe five – we were often given paper and scissors to makes things with as an afternoon activity, and I’d cut the paper into pieces and then stitch them together into a book, into which I’d begin to write a story. My whole childhood was littered with books I began to write but then lost steam with, but looking back, becoming a writer now seems almost inevitable (although I still feel very self-conscious if I call myself an author).
Lovebirds is my fourth book, and I find the whole process of writing a strange addiction. By the time I’ve finished each one I’ve been glad to see the back of it, and yet within days I’ve usually started on the next. It can be laborious, tedious and intensely frustrating, and yet there is something about the way a book emerges from the words you write that I love.
So today I placed a copy of Lovebirds beside my computer and set back to work on my next book. It’s called Grow, and it’s about growing resilient children, and being in control of your own life. In a way it’s a distillation of everything I’ve learned from my time in the field of personal development. I’m about 10,000 words in and just starting to get warm. I thought that having Lovebirds with me would inspire me, and yet I found the opposite happened. I kept distracting myself, and felt strangely flat and reluctant to commit. It took me a while to realise why.
Something I say a lot in therapy is ‘you feed what you focus on’. By that I mean that our brain is choosing what to pay attention to every moment of the day out of the huge range of options around us. Over time most people will become habituated into certain preferences of attention – for example, optimists will focus more naturally on positive things, pessimists on negative. One will spot the pound on the pavement, the other will miss it because they’re looking out for cracks. So the more we focus on a particular thing, the more we’ll find ourselves doing so. Over time we live in a world we expect to live in, rather than the one we actually do. We’re feeding what we’re focusing on, and it grows as a consequence, while other things whither.
In my case I realised that the finished book could be used to feed me focusing on one of two things about the new one: the thrill of seeing the completed work, to motivate me in my writing, or the mountain I have to climb from 10,000 words to the finished product, which is a bit of a deflating prospect. Lovebirds is 120,000 words, so there’s a lot of empty paper to fill before I get to the pay-off. And that’s what my mind had been focusing on – the struggle ahead, rather than the feelings at the end. The more I fed my focus on the struggle, the bigger it became, and the less motivated I felt. So I closed my eyes and spent some time visualising the past moments when I’ve first seen my books completed. Each one is like a birth moment, intense and overwhelming with a host of positive emotions I find hard to articulate. I bathed in those for a while, and then I started to write…
So my question to you is, in your life, what are you focusing on – the things that are a struggle – like going to the gym, another day of a diet, another difficult day of work or the things that annoy you about your partner? Or are you focusing on the feeling of achievement you get after the gym, or when you step on the scales and see you’ve lost weight, or whatever is the moment of satisfaction you get from your job, or those moments of love and appreciation between you and your partner? How you balance your focus between these choices will define the day you have, and ultimately the life you live.
If we feed what we focus on, then it makes sense to take charge of that focus – a lot of what people take from Cognitive Hypnotherapy is the realisation that they’re not stuck being who they don’t enjoy, feeling out of control of their choices, or a slave to emotions that just seem to happen to them. Just learning to spend some time each day deliberately paying attention to what you have that you want more of, to the good feelings in the day that motivate you, and the states of mind that produce the best version of you can cause major changes in the amount of fun you have being you.
Not all of us will write books, but the one thing we can all be the author of is our own story – and this is one way to take a grip of the pen and choose how the plot is going to work out for you today.