I work in midtown NYC in the publishing field. I often walk to the PATH train at Herald Square after work, instead of taking the subway. It gives me time to call friends or family, lets me fit in some exercise, and I can save the $2.50 for a trip to a cafe in my Ironbound neighborhood of Newark.
One person I often call on these walks is my 94-year-old grandmother. She always wants to know where I am and what I see as I’m walking. She lives in rural Indiana and I imagine she would be taken aback by just how busy NYC is. This is true year-round, but it particularly strikes me in December. There’s no shortage of sights and sounds to take in–some positive, like the lights at Macy’s; others negative, like the sirens that make me plug my ears–but all of them stimulating.
How do we survive so much stimuli in a place like NYC without becoming overwhelmed, particularly for a highly sensitive person like I am? For me, the answer lies in filtering the sensory stimuli, deciding what is most important to focus on. Letting the rest go, and letting what’s interesting be heightened. This way, I can appreciate the beautiful parts of my surroundings (the iceskating rink at Bryant Park), and pay little attention to what I dislike.
What’s even better is when I can apply this filter to my own thoughts. Perspective is so powerful. What is it like to focus on life events that displease or discourage me? Conversely, what is it like to appreciate the good in all my experiences?
Two of my character defects are negative thinking and perfectionism. My character strengths (whew!) include gratitude and curiosity. I have practiced paying attention to which thoughts could allow me the most insight, and infusing that perspective with curiosity and gratitude. For example, although I am tired after work, isn’t it good to have a choice of whether I go to the gym, and how hard I work out once I’m there? What if I focused on what it would feel like to go for an easy jog? How would I feel 10 minutes into the run, and again after I’ve finished running? How would I sleep afterwards? Isn’t it good that it’s a choice to be curious about, not a rule to beat myself over the head with?
My choices have consequences. I’m grateful that I can experience the results of my choices and notice what does or doesn’t work, in a way that’s loving and observant, not judgmental. I can change my perspective, like closing my eyes when the train is packed to capacity. Or I can change my actions–like walking a half-hour and making a phone call instead of cramming myself onto the subway, on days when that’s the last thing I feel like doing.
And when I feel like I’ve made a lousy choice or am having a lousy day, I can see it instead as a chance to practice having a creative perspective.
How would it feel to tweak the thoughts and actions that we choose on a daily basis? How many possibilities would open up?
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