Not long ago I read Deep Work by Cal Newport. I had been a fan of him anecdotally (at least liked the soundbites I read from him via other sources) and decided to read things straight from his mouth. Or at least his pen.

Anyway, in addition to deep work and tactical ways to find focus in a noisy world, Newport spent time early in his book on how what we focus on shapes our attitudes and demeanor towards life period.

The example he uses is when science writer Winifred Gallagher was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of spending her mental energy on the fact that she had a potentially fatal disease (and the terrible treatments that followed), she committed her focus to the good in her life "movies, walks and a 6:30 martini." While her life should have been miserable during this season, she remembers it as quite pleasant.

She took this experience and applied science to it. From her experience and research she found that "skillfull management of attention is the sine quo non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience."

Newport goes on with more explanation:

We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how you feel...Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to...As Gallagher summarizes ‘Who you are, what you think, fell and do, what you love - is the sum of what you focus on.’”
— Cal Newport, Deep Work

Okay Great, What's the Point?

I think this has great application to pretty much anyone who uses oxygen to breathe.

We all have spots in life that are less than wonderful. There may be jobs we are in that are incredibly stressful. Projects may not be going well or you don't feel like anything is going your way. In fact, lots of things could be going your way.

We could get down on what is happening to us. Easy enough and nobody would blame us for it. We could also focus on what we can do - be proactive and not always reactive with life.

Projects may not be going well but you may be building great relationships with coworkers. You could be a good help to other peers in stressful times (a support system) or even make a point ot be the one highlight of someone's day to meet with. It could even be lunch breaks with colleagues. Focusing on some of what most of us would consider intangibles makes the stressful a little more bearable.

I'm Learning This Now From an Infant

I'm even learning this now on paternity leave. Having a newborn isn't always awesome. Having a newborn and a toddler on top of that gets on the edge of stressful. We have nights when both of them are crying and there's not much we can do about it. Both kids are high demand in their own unique ways. There's really no down time at all.

If there is, it's a prime opportunity for a nap.

It's easy to get focused on the fatigue. How tired you are. How much it sucks having this tiny, colicky creature screaming at you in the middle of the night several hours straight, only to face another potentially discontent toddler in the morning. It wears on you some days.

Megan and I have shifted our focus. It's exhausting but we also know from our first that we don't want to wish away these early days too quickly. I'm looking at time when I'm rocking Ford to sleep or times when he only sleeps on my chest as bonding time. I'm looking at the extra time with Campbell as more 1:1 father/daughter bonding time I get with her as our newborn demands more of Megan's time right now.

My six week paternity leave (thanks again North Highland!) has given Megan and I even more time to be around each other. We've taken the opportunity to go on lunch and coffee dates a couple of times a week while the baby is settled down.

We are also loving teaching Campbell how to love on her little brother and watching her mature quickly taking on the role of big sister.

There's a Lot of Potential Good in the Rough Parts

There's a lot of stress in life, whether raising kids, dealing with a stressful job or even something dark and scary as a health diagnosis. There's a lot of dark we can focus on - easily. I've found that enjoying the great moments and looking forward to those (right now, it's quiet coffees with Megan and naps), it makes life actually quite pleasant. What could be a legitimately exhausting paternity leave has actually been a really pleasant and enjoyable time.

What about you? Do you think there's value in focusing more on life's little moments of enjoyment?