Toil for heaven, alone.

A short reflection on the importance of focus and attention in problem solving

Mirrors are instructive

I am writing this at the request of my wife. It was the conclusion of a disagreement we were having. The conclusion was the following: focusing on the negative strengthens negativity while focusing on how we can do better overcomes it.

I know anyone reading this intro will likely be curious which one of us was focusing on the negative, or what the nature of the problem was to begin with, but that’s not important: that would be focusing on the negative, and would feed negativity, rather than focusing on how we can do better.

Here is what I mean: Identify the bad in your world only enough to move past it. The more time you spend on the negative, the more it grows (and, paradoxically, becomes more true).

What road are you paving?

Are you paving over the road to hell or heaven? In simpler terms, “are you trying to make things worse, or better?” But the elevated language is stronger. It forces our aim outside the boundaries set up by our laziness, ego, and limited creativity.

In so many conversations, whether between couples, or political adversaries on the Bill Maher show, it’s very easy to tell who is attempting to build the infrastructure in hell or heaven.

Now, in any situation where there is a problem, it must be addressed. Ignoring the bad is not noble. But the importance of addressing the bad with clarity has given occupation to a thousand examiners. Enter the queue of the million reasons you are wrong. The analysis of each and every crack, blemish, and bump. The historians track your fall like you are the Roman Empire. The politicians speak to your problems like you are the swing voter. The economists project for you a bleak future (unless you are in the finance industry, of course). The psychologists tell you it’s a matter for your mind to solve. The philosophers tell you your mind isn’t real. And a few in history, sometimes politicians, sometimes academics, sometimes the darkest part of your heart, will tell you the worst thing of all: it’s all their fault.

Come to think of it, there are so many problems with us and the world, why should we ever stop?

Let us make a shrine and buzzfeed list of all the problems. Let us do this forever. We will never be unoccupied. We will always be right. People will applaud us.

Those who say we’re in hell are usually right. And we also see the world less as it is, and more as we are.

If you are willing to toil, toil, toil for hell, you will achieve its advancement.

Toil for heaven

How long do you want to talk about everything wrong, versus how you (we all) can do better? “How I can do better” is not ignorance to the problem, it is simply the drawing of the line: my focus on the good place I can go begins where my focus on the bad place I’ve been ends.

Ask yourself this question when you are in a dispute, dilemma, or challenge (of the self, or between you and others). How long should you address all the problems?

10 minutes? 1 hour? The rest of the day? What about the week, month, year? Technically, you’d be right every step of the way – there is a problem…

But you do, very much, have a choice at every single moment: shall I stress, battle, and toil for hell, or heaven?

Remember: the more detailed, comprehensive, and fit your understanding of all the problems in your life, the more you are, paradoxically, building the infrastructure that sustains them. Identify the bad in your world only enough to move past it. To continually look back is to bring it with you.

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