I’ve had a recurring dream over the past twenty years. My vacation in Hawaii is over. I’m driving my rental car back to the airport. And suddenly I’m stricken by a terrible realization.

I’ve forgotten to go to the beach.

I wake up crying inconsolably. If you’ve seen the white sand and the turquoise water of Lanikai Beach, you understand why. There’s a reason you often spot bumper stickers in Hawaii that say,”Ho hum..another day in paradise…”

I was lucky enough to live in Hawaii for five years. Yet to this day I torment myself with the question, “Why, why did I not spend more time at the beach?!”

It’s not that I don’t know the answer

It was simple. I could not bask in the sun and salt water all day and expect to take care of business in the evening. And business in the evening was a regular part of my job as second oboist for the Honolulu Symphony. We had concerts or rehearsals most nights.

Still, I felt torn and confused saying “no” to chances to explore the islands. One afternoon when the orchestra was on a tour to Maui, the second bassoonist invited me to hike up Haleakala volcano with him. Who knew when I’d get another chance to do that? Shouldn’t I “seize the day?” But we had a pair of children’s concerts in the morning and a full classical program in the evening. Was he serious?

Yes, he was. He hiked. I closeted myself in my hotel room. I slept. I worked on my reeds.  In doing so, I instinctively honored three of my needs as a sensitive person: rest, de-stimulation, and conscientious preparation. In plain English, I knew I wanted to play my best, and I gave myself the downtime I needed to make it possible.

Different parts, different needs

But part of me didn’t like that. It still doesn’t like it. It wants to do more…yet I know something will suffer if I try to do more. This is an ongoing feature of the sensitive life: difficult decisions. When I say “difficult” I don’t mean “hard to make.” In this case, I knew very well what the right choice was. By “difficult,” I mean “hard to accept.”

Hard to accept that my best choice was to give up a unique opportunity to hike Haleakala. Hard to accept I couldn’t pack in as much as others around me. Hard to accept that this “in/out” rollercoaster was a permanent feature of my life.

The fact is, “in/out” balance is key to our well-being as sensitive people. If we are too “out” all the time, we get chronically overstimulated. We end up scattered, overwhelmed, and exhausted. But if we are too “in,” we start to feel dead, dull, or numb, like life is passing us by. Which it possibly is.

For the 30 percent of sensitive people who are extroverts, this balancing act is even more challenging.  You have the extrovert’s need for stimulation from the external world, and the sensitive person’s need to process all that stimulation in a deep way. You can end up feeling like you have one foot on the gas and the other foot on the brake.

How Focusing smoothes the way

Your sensitive brain is wired to process deeply. As you weigh and measure your “in/out” options, it generates implications, connotations, and ramifications like a McDonald’s churns out hamburgers. The sheer volume is staggering.

The good news is, there is a “right way forward” buried in all that mental din. How can you cut through to hear that  softer voice of your inner rightness? Focusing is the best way I know. As I wrote in 12 Reasons Sensitive People Love Focusing,

  • Focusing helps you make decisions, and…
  • Focusing gives you all the tools you need to find the right “in/out” balance in your life

How much should you take on? When should you push, and when is it better to rest? When you focus, your body gives you fresh answers to these fundamental questions. You know the right next step in your situation.

Best of all, this sense of rightness has a wonderful bonus benefit: it minimizes regret. After twenty years of the same dream, I can tell you that’s no small thing.