Day 13: Focus on what you’re doing (rather than on what you’re not doing)

(Note:  This is another blog-gy adaptation of a chapter from a book I’ve been working on since August 2012. My friend, Lawry, who is a very smart, big-shot lawyer, tells me that I should put the following in my blog postings:  (c) Ann Koplow.  All rights reserved.  Except I have to figure out how to replace “(c)” with a copyright logo. That’s something I’m not doing right now, though.) 

No matter where I am, when it is, or what is going on, there is ALWAYS something I’m not doing.  No matter how many things I’m doing and taking care of, inevitably there are things I’m not attending to.

Unfortunately, What I’m Not Doing always seems more important than whatever I am doing and have done.  No matter how much I’ve accomplished during the day (or the week, month, my life), what I haven’t done seems … bigger.

What I’m not doing certainly gets more of my attention.  I need to constantly remind myself about what I am doing. Otherwise, I focus on — and judge myself for —  all those things I haven’t gotten around to yet.

And this all makes sense, I guess. Each day, we all need to make choices about what we pay attention to and accomplish. Once we accomplish something, we don’t need to worry about it any more. Once something is done, it tends to disappear — Poof!  out of our consciousness.

Yes, that makes sense.  Our brain wants to leave more room for what we need to do. (It’s more efficient for survival of the species, I would think.)

So we need to remind ourselves about what we’ve done.  And we need to notice how that natural focus — on What We’re Not Doing — can cause guilt, stress, and a sense of being overwhelmed.

Here’s an example of my incredible ability to be more aware of what I’m not doing than what I am doing:

For years, I’ve been wanting to write a book.  I didn’t know what the book would be, but I knew I wanted to tell and share some parts of my story.

But it took years before I figured out what I wanted the book to be, and I couldn’t start writing before then. During those years, I had a lot of negative thoughts about the fact that I wasn’t writing yet.  I tried to whip myself into shape with “shoulds,” like “You should just sit down every day and write for 15 minutes!”  And I wouldn’t.

However,  when I was ready to start writing, I did.  Yay!

I am actually writing those words you’re reading right now on a day that’s been really productive for me. It’s 12:45 on a Sunday, and I’ve been writing for hours, since 7:30 this morning.  And for the most part, that feels pretty good.  However, I’ve also been noticing  some nagging, increasingly unpleasant feelings.

The feelings are guilt.

And this is the thought I just identified:

It’s a beautiful day.  You should be out enjoying it.


These thoughts are just NOT going to stop, apparently.

Can you relate to this way of thinking? It’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)  calls  “negative filtering” (and  I’m calling another Psychological Epidemic, because I see it all the time).

If so, try this:  Focus on things you are doing, give yourself credit, and try to make those things you do —  and have done — as big and important as all those things you’re not doing (no matter what your judgmental thoughts are telling you).

And, dear reader, something you ARE doing right now is reading my blog  — which is big and important to me.

© 2013 Ann Koplow

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Day 13: Focus on what you’re doing (rather than on what you’re not doing)

  1. Debbie Terman

    I can hear “go outside and enjoy the beautiful day” inside my head, in my mother’s voice. Beautiful days inspire me to do whatever I feel like doing (or need to do), whereas I don’t feel like doing much of anything on bad weather days. Farmers, house painters, construction workers of all types, landscapers, and other professionals whose ability to work is closely tied to weather conditions do need to go outside when weather permits. But I can enjoy a beautiful day from indoors, windows open, lovely blue sky and flowers/trees to look at, while plowing through a paperwork backlog at my desk that I am suddenly motivated to tackle! (Yes, self, nice try…it doesn’t actually stop me from feeling guilty.)

  2. Great post! In Stephen Covey’s book, “First Things First” (© 2001, Simon & Schuster–btw, you can copy & paste this copyright symbol for your blog), he discusses his Time Management Matrix, an illustration of which can be found at either, or by googling “Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix.” This system will not completely allay guilt, nothing can do that. But it can provide the opportunity to have fewer things you’re not dealing with to feel guilty about. Cheers!

    • Thanks for the comment and for the copyright symbol. I will check out Covey’s book when I get a chance (and not feel guilty about it before I do).

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