There is something about having to pick a line that can bring out the worst in my thinking.
The other day I was driving between Canada and the US when I reached the border and had to pick a customs line.
Should I pick the middle line or the one that appears to be moving faster? Maybe I should choose the lane on the left or the one with the female border patrol officer? But wait - bigger cars take up more room in a lane - maybe I should pick the lane with a lot of big cars?
Believe me, every kind of permutation ran through my head as I debated the "correct" line to pick...as if this were a life or death situation.
Finally, I picked a line and began to fume.
Ugh. I picked the wrong line...again!
My head started to race with a barrage of futile and often ridiculous thoughts.
Picking the "wrong" line suddenly became an irrational metaphor for my entire life.
My focus remained exclusively on the powerlessness of my situation.
My body tightened and my breath shortened as the lines on either side of me continued to inch forward while I remained stuck in place.
Suddenly my eye caught a movement to the right; it was a dog on a leash rummaging through the grass. Breath flooded into my lungs like a wave and just like that my tension disappeared. I relaxed and smiled as I watched the dog happily sniffing the ground.
What just happened?
How did I suddenly let go of my tension and frustration and negative thinking?
One word: focus.
The dog catching my eye changed my focus and as a result changed my thinking.
I no longer dwelled on my position in line. My mind was focussed on the dog and my body followed suit. In other words, when my focus changed, my thoughts changed. And when my thoughts changed, my emotional state changed. And when my emotional state changed, my body changed. I gave myself the breathing room needed to reframe my perspective and finally relax.
It no longer mattered that I was stuck in the "wrong" line. I had broken the trance of negative and disempowering thinking by shifting my focus.
The moral of this little story?
When seeking relief from negative thinking patterns:
change your focus
get a dog.