One of my favorite movies isParis, je t’aime. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a collection of shorts that take place in, well, Paris. Each part features someone you probably know of who finds themselves in an awkward or desperate situation. They’re short stories. Terse and to the point, with one theme rising above the others.
One short is about a man whose desperate love for his wife reawakens on the day that he intends to break up with her. He is having an affair with a cute-young-thing, and his wife has just learned that she has terminal cancer. Husband and wife meet for lunch, and as he gins up to dump his wife, she, crying, reaches across the table and hands him a note.
Her emotion rattles him. In his mind, it’s all about him. He’s a man, after all. ‘How could I have been so stupid?’ he wonders. ‘Of course, she knows. She must have known all along. How could I hide something like this.’
He opens the paper and reads the note. It’s to his wife from her doctor. ‘Cancer.’ Instantly, his girlfriend and any loose-ends he has are unimportant. His girlfriend texts him, and he immediately responds. ‘Forget me.’ All over again, he falls immeasurably in love with her. Her annoying quirks are endearing again. He reads to her. They cook together. They breathe each other’s air. They briefly live the life they had imagined as new lovers. She dies, and he never loses his love for her. He never forgets the image of her standing in front of him wearing her favorite red coat. From that point, wherever he goes, he sees women wearing red and is always startled and brought back to thoughts of his wife.
It’s a sad commentary that tragedy is often required to bring us back to what is important.
What Do You Choose To See?
A psychologist would say that he isfully primedto focus on a woman wearing red. All the feelings and thoughts he has about his wife are wrapped up in a red button-down. Without consciously deciding to, he notices red coats. Can we use this as a tool to see what we want? To carve out a little more of the good life? Wayne Dyer wrote that he woke up every morning and stands in front of the mirror and tells himself that no one will ruin his day. He purposefully sets his focus on enjoying the world on his own terms. This is the real essence of You Woke Up Breathing.
What would you like to see?
More kindness? More optimism? Then set your mind on these things. Look for them. You’ll be surprised at how much of it is around you that you might have otherwise missed. Is this pollyannish? Maybe. But you can just as easily find misery and gloom. Is one morerealthan the other? No. This is just you choosing what you will focus your thoughts on.
I guarantee that you will find what you look for.
Priming Works In Any Direction
That we unconsciously notice what we are primed to see is a good argument for having a positive outlook. In fact, we rarely recognize that we are choosing to see things in a certain way. Even more rarely do we see any downside to our focus.
Here’s a story from my own vault that illustrates this.
I was gaga for Alice Cooper as a kid. Campy as he was, and is, I loved his music and shows and attitude. I can still remember a photo of Alice with a beer in hand. The caption read something like ‘And here’s Cooper with his ever-present beer…’ My sixteen-year-old brain said ‘Wow! How cool is that? I want people to say that about me! Here’s Mitton who is never far from a gin-and-tonic…’ It’s embarrassing to me now to think about just how stupid this is. I was priming myself to see alcohol abuse as being cool. What I didn’t recognize, with my sixteen-year-old brain and experience, was the downside of Cooper’s addiction. Nothing came of it for me, but Cooperstruggled with alcoholism for years.
Priming in Advertising
We can’t help but notice what we are primed for. Advertisers use this tool regularly. When they show happy, attractive people having a wonderful time drinking their beer on the beach, they are setting up an association between their brand of beer with happy and attractive people. Don’t you want to be happy and attractive? Well, you know how to achieve it. Buy our beer! Most of us are aware of this insidiousness but fall prey to it a hundred times a day even so.
Choose Your Battle
Much of our daily life is spent being pulled in directions that we don’t choose. Choosing what to focus on is a worthy and profitable battle. Meditate. Read and mull over selected passages. Pick a word a day to focus on. Ask yourself: how can I serve my team better at work today? How can I parent better today? Take time to battle your culture and your upbringing and your education. Be relentless in battling self-talk that is defeatist and wrong. Reorient yourself through the day to focus on what you choose. You just might start seeing the world as a different place.
If you haven’t watched it, then find yourself a copy of Paris, je t’aime. (Hereat Amazon). Twenty filmmakers are given five minutes each with each short story woven into a movie. Some are funny. Some are simply heartbreaking. It’s a marvelous movie that explores all sides of love and loss.
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