It’s a new year and I drew a diagram.
This diagram shows the spectra of what I can pay attention to and focus upon. Along one axis, I can range between focusing on my feelings, or focusing on other peoples’ feelings. On the other, I can observe and learn from my actions and their consequences, or I can notice what others do and what results.
This diagram probably means something different to everyone who reads it, but here’s what it means to me:
- The healthiest people I know tend to care about what they do and how other people feel.
- The most troubled people I’ve known have focused on how they feel and what other people do.
- The other two quadrants are less pathological; more about them later.
I drew circles in the top-right and bottom-left because I believe there are positions of dynamic equilibrium in these locations. People who live top-right don’t fix their attention unwaveringly on other/self; rather, they move fluidly between external and internal observation and reasoning. This virtuous cycle is a dynamic dance of loving, generous relationships.
I used to live bottom-left, which is a vicious cycle, not a virtuous one. I saw myself as a helpless victim, against whom the universe and world constantly plotted. I spent my time and energy noticing how I felt, ignoring my behaviors, and blaming my feelings on what other people had “done to” me. I modulated these behaviors only enough to poke my head out of my hole and confirm my suspicions that I was just a casualty of “the system” and the deck was all stacked against me.
The other two quadrants don’t tend to be positions of equilibrium long-term. Whether a person ends up top-right or bottom-left is a product of many different possible circumstances, in my experience (N=1).
There are more regions on this map than I’ve shown. For example, there are people who live top-left in healthy ways. And most people aren’t possible to represent as a point on the map. They occupy some area, usually rather fluidly.
I’m continually inspired by the people around me who live more in the top right quadrant. To the extent that I move upwards and rightwards this New Year, I know I will be the better for it.
I experience fewer moments of that old bottom-left behavior every New Year than I did the year before. This is usually because of the choices I make–much less so than random events or other peoples’ actions.
Above all, I can choose where I direct my attention. This is tangible evidence of what I really value.