Breaking Bad
April 29, 2015 by Kay Grossman

It was the wrong time to experiment. On my last training ride before flying to Israel for a 150-mile bicycling adventure, I “clicked in” to the pedals for the first time on a non-stationary bike. What I didn’t manage to do was “click out.”

The street came up to meet me in slow motion. Yet in a span of 2 seconds the trip my husband and I (and sister and brother-in-law) had been planning for a year became a no-go. I broke both bones in my lower arm, needed surgery to install a plate and screws, and used the two weeks I’d scheduled for vacation to recover instead. Life happened.

The accident occurred on a Friday morning. The surgery was scheduled for Monday. What was I to do with myself for a whole weekend with a painful, contorted arm splinted in all it’s deformed glory with my hand turned unnaturally inward at an alarming angle? Not a calming visual for the likes of me! Have I mentioned that I’m a medical wimp?

Netflix came to the rescue, providing me with the perfect diversion. I binge-watched the TV series, Breaking Bad. It seemed especially fitting. The show fully captured my attention, damping down my urge and ability to focus on my hurting, misshaped appendage.

I capitalized on an important phenomenon that comes up a lot as an attention coach: Our brains can focus on only one thing at a time. As William James, father of modern psychology, said about attention, “…it implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” By focusing on the drama and characters in the TV show, I could give little attention to my painful, broken arm. It gave me relief, episode after episode after episode. So nice.

What we focus on moment to moment truly determines our experience in life. Life happens, and in all instances we have choice about how to view it and what to focus on. I chose to manage my initial discomfort by diverting my attention to a show. I’ve approached recovery and physical therapy by focusing on the tiny bits of improvement each day rather than on what can seem like a long, difficult slog back to normal. It makes me happier, and I feel more motivated to manage through the discomfort of the therapy.

There is power in choice. And there is extra special power in choosing where to focus attention. Granted, it didn’t take much effort for me to pay attention to the grim, yet gripping tale depicted in Breaking Bad, but it sure made my bad break more toleable!

What do you usually pay attention to? Do you tend to pay attention to what’s not going as well as you’d like, to regrets, to anger toward a co-worker or family member, or to future what-ifs? Or do you give attention to what’s working well, to tiny steps of progress, to your loved ones, and to the many ways in which the world around you supports you? What do you think would happen if you focused 10% more of your attention on what’s going well? I recommend giving it

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