Robert Dawson Ph.D.

In Spite of Yourself

The Art Of Focus

Worse than being talked about negatively, is not being talked about at all.

Posted Dec 06, 2019

This post begins with a summary of the first two blog posts in the series "In Spite of Yourself." It ends with a third post called "The Art of Focus."

Summary of Blog 1: In Spite of Yourself, Feelings First or Second?

Personal and family safety, continuously assessed at an intuitive level, comes first. Following this assessment, instinct creates feelings to shape our behaviour - our thoughts as well as our actions.

Feelings determine what we think and what we do to survive. 

Every emotion you have is necessary for survival, and that includes feelings that we don't want to have like anxiety, depression, unhappiness, anger, envy, and jealousy

There are ways to influence the feelings produced by instinct (drugs - medication, alcohol, nicotine, party drugs - to disrupt your brain) or to lessen the distress of instinct (activity to distract you). 

Selling you on ways to change your feelings is a lucrative and a "repeat business" because instinct will ensure the return of emotions that you need for survival. So whether the "business" is the accumulation of money, power, possessions or popularity; the use of drugs; the distraction of work and relationships, you will always need more. All of these methods produce a temporary change, but the change never lasts. 

Feelings, both positive and negative, are necessary for your survival.

When feelings are negative, we have to stop trying to change or replace them. We have to accept the inevitability of feelings, both negative and positive. We have to get better at achievement in spite of the interference and distraction of emotions.

Summary of Blog 2 : I Can't Help Myself - Bad Habits

Human instinct has evolved to favour pessimism as a better survival strategy than optimism. Although we can see this negative bias in others, it is much harder to see it in ourself. 

Why? Because this bias is automatic and unconscious.

Humans have an innate fear of feeling bad and need the help of others to provide protection and good feelings. When we feel bad, we feel unsafe. To feel safe, we have to feel good. To feel good, we need to get from others a combination of attention, approval and sense of importance. 

Without realizing, we are always manipulating recognition, approval and importance in the eyes of our parents, family, friends, co-workers, our peers, our community.

Really, what does it matter if not everyone likes or approves of you? Well, logically, it doesn't! And it shouldn't. 

But it does, it just does. How much it does varies from person to person based on their genetic inheritance and life experience. But it does matter for everyone.

It also matters as far as your instinct is concerned because historically the attention that you get from others is a factor affecting your survival. Without realizing it, instinctive survival drives us to pursue the goal of seeking attention directly through our actions, or indirectly through the activities of our children, family, team, friends, beliefs, values, religion.

Here is an acronym to remember our needs: RAI




Sufficient RAI = Safety = Contentment = Positive Mood = Satisfaction = Happiness.

Insufficient RAI = Threat = Discontentment = Depression = Dissatisfaction = Unhappiness.

Look around you at the actions of others (and next at yourself), and you will see the search for RAI steering and driving the behaviour of everyone, in every situation.

Understand this, and you are ready to have an impact on your feelings and the feelings of people around you; whether working, playing, relaxing, cycling, avoiding, spending, partnering, parenting, retiring.

Food for thought on maximizing RAI in various life activities:

All RAI is not equal, RAI that you get from others has more impact on your feelings than the RAI you provide yourself.

Your instinct's assessment of others' motives sways the impact of the RAI that you get from others.

Delivering RAI, rather than pursuing RAI, is more likely to result in return RAI that lasts longer and is more impactful than the RAI you provide yourself. 

As unlikely as it seems, spending $100 on others is more likely to make you feel better and for longer than spending $100 on yourself.

However, your feelings, whether positive or negative, are continually changing. Your emotions will change sooner or later whether you spend $100 or keep the $100 in the bank.

The Art of Focus (Blog 3 in the 'In Spite of Yourself' series)

You don't get to choose your feelings consciously – your instinct automatically selects emotions to maximize your survival in the current circumstances.

As circumstances are continuously changing, so are your feelings. If you don't want to feel the way you are currently feeling, you have two options:

  • Wait, do nothing - if circumstances change while you wait, so will your feelings. If things don't change while you wait, your emotions won't change, but they will fluctuate in intensity. The intensity of feelings continuously varies over time - either getting stronger or weaker.


  • Do something. Any activity requires your attention and this requirement will weaken your current focus on your feeling. While the action may be mental (e.g. crosswords) or physical (e.g. exercising, singing, helping), it has to be something that requires some of your attention and that you are able to start and continue in spite of the way you are initially feeling.

Weakening the self-focus demanded by a feeling by shifting to other-focus is the most potent method to reduce the strength of an emotion. 

The Art of happiness is the art of focusing on your actions instead of your feelings.

a) Saying "I am over it!" where the 'it' refers to a feeling, will focus your effort on continuously measuring your mood; "Do I feel better or worse than yesterday?"

b) Saying "I am over it!" where the 'it' refers to present life events, will focus your effort on actions and their impact on your circumstances.

You guide action and create change in your life circumstances by using RAI. (Recognition, Approval, Importance)

Through actions of recognition, approval and importance (valuing others), your actions impact on the level of safety felt by people around you. This impact affects how they, in turn, treat you. Focus on influencing how people respond to you and your instinct's assessment of your safety will change. 

If this sub-conscious appraisal moves towards 'increased safety', your feelings will improve as will your satisfaction and happiness.

Subsequent blogs in this series will give examples of how to understand and use RAI in a variety of contexts (including relating, working, managing, parenting, sporting, retiring) to;

  • influence how others respond to you
  • influence your instinct's appraisal of your safety
  • to increase your purpose, satisfaction and happiness with your life

The concepts of this approach are covered in these first three blogs. 

No more theory. From here on, there are just examples of the awesomeness of RAI.