Choose Your ThoughtsSep 11, 2023
FOCUSING OUR ATTENTION
I’m sitting in my favorite spot at our local library. It’s quiet, aside from the sound of turning pages from time to time. The silence helps me think, write, and edit.
It helps me focus.
In front of me is a blue wall. I’ve learned blue is a calming, trustworthy color. You can learn about the impact of colors in my previous article.
My favorite part is the large window in front of me where there is a cluster of trees, making it hard to see the passing cars on the street just beyond the library.
I lean back in my semi-comfortable chair and focus my attention back to typing steadily on my macbook pro.
Glancing to my left, I look out a large window and see tall grasses. Maybe weeds. No, I think they are native plant things. Prairie grasses, perhaps? I mean, I am in Illinois, the Prairie State.
And there’s a metal statue of a person-like figure with crazy hair sticking out.
Okay. Focus. Computer. Typing. Blog. Article.
I shift my attention back on my computer screen. Let’s get down to business.
We have the ability to focus our attention.
I can focus on the leaf just beyond the window, bouncing gently in the wind. I can then shift my attention to my computer to write.
You can focus your attention. You can choose where to focus your attention.
Okay, this may sound simple, but if you can leverage this idea, it will transform your life.
Do you remember “The Little Engine That Could”? After all the bigger engines refused, the Little Engine decided to pull a long line of cargo cars over a tall mountain. The bigger engines didn’t think they could do it. The Little Engine, however, thought it could.
So it tried with all its might. Struggling to climb the mountain, Little Engine began repeating the famous words, “I think I can, I think I can.”
The seemingly impossible task became possible. When the Little Engine reached the top of the mountain, it said, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
You may have heard the old proverb, “As a man thinks, he is.”
The Little Engine focused its thoughts and attention on its ability to overcome. As a result, that thought became reality.
As leaders, we use self-talk, aka our own thoughts, to focus our attention so that we can succeed.
Nadya Dich, PH.D. puts it clearly: “Thoughts trigger emotions. Emotions drive behavior. To change behavior and emotions, the logic goes, we need to find and replace incorrect thoughts with correct ones.”
It all comes down to our thoughts.
If we want to feel a certain way, we have to think a certain way. If we want to feel happy, we think about something that’s happy. When we think of something sad, we then feel sad.
If we want to behave a certain way, we need to cultivate the thoughts and feelings that cause that behavior. From what we say, to what we eat, to even every breath we take, our brains tell our bodies what to do.
Our behavior and emotions are determined by our thoughts. Emotions and behavior can influence our thoughts, but our brains have the power to introduce new thoughts and change previous thought patterns.
Over time, we have developed a library in our brains of our past thoughts and actions. When new circumstances and information are introduced, our brains automatically refer back to this library. The cool part about our brains is what we’re able to do next: We can either go by the book and respond according to the history in our brain’s library, or we can choose to build a new thought and respond differently.
“One of the most exciting features of frontal lobes is how they enable us in a sense to stand outside ourselves and observe our own thinking,” explains Dr. Caroline Leaf in her book, Switch on Your Brain. “We can observe our thoughts and actions and make decisions about them.”
Therefore, if we want to feel or behave differently, we must think differently.
Albert Einstein once said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
How do we change our thinking? By focusing our attention.
“Where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows,” teaches Dr. Dan Siegel, widely respected author and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine. “Patterns you thought were fixed are actually things that with mental effort can indeed be changed.”
Going back to the story of “The Little Engine Who Could”, the big engines thought they couldn’t. That was their focus, and as a result they did not pull the cars over the mountain. The Little Engine, however, focused its attention on the belief that it was possible.
It did not focus on the tall mountain. It did not focus on the heavy line of cars it was pulling. It focused on its ability to succeed.
That type of thinking took a lot of effort. The Little Engine repeated those positive, empowering thoughts over and over again. And it worked. The result was profound.
REPLACING AND REFRAMING
Negative thoughts, or lies, cause fear and create limitations in our thinking, communication, relationships, and leadership. They limit our ability to accomplish our goals.
Positive thoughts, or helpful truths, grow confidence and develop endless possibilities in our thinking, communication, relationships, and leadership. They launch us into achieving far more than we ever thought possible.
Shift from a limiting mindset to one of possibility with these steps:
- Name the lie. What lie are you believing about yourself or your situation that is holding you back? Many times these lies cause fear that create hurdles we have to overcome to accomplish our goals.
- Identify where the lie came from. What person taught you this lie? Many times this person is wonderful and never meant to teach us a lie that would later hinder us. Yet for whatever reason, we picked up on it and it became a part of our mental library.
- Let go of the lie. Forgive the person. You don’t have to tell this person you are forgiving them, but because forgiveness is a powerful tool for the human experience it is important to use this tool and release the lie.
- Replace the lie with truth. Introduce a new thought to your mental library. What is true and helpful to think in order to gain confidence and reach your goals? Repeat this truth over and over until it sticks.
But what if the negative thought I have isn’t a lie? What if it’s true?
For example, what if I really am bad at making presentations at work? Well, is that a helpful thought? No. Dwelling on what you’re bad at makes you feel bad and not get any better.
Instead, reframe your thinking.
Think something like, I can improve by x, y, & z. I have important information to communicate and I can become a more confident, clear communicator. I can grow by taking an online course or sign up for public speaking coaching.
Another example could be that you don’t want to do something. Yes, it’s true that the task is frustrating or boring. But how can you reframe that?
Focus on something more empowering.
Perhaps that task helps your coworker or customer. Focus your attention on that person and how it benefits them. Or perhaps the task gets you one step closer to your goal. Focus on the benefits of accomplishing your goal.
You can also shift your attention to the silver lining. Reframe adversity with gratitude. Find positives in the midst of negative circumstances. Perhaps it’s the potential of a new opportunity or a chance to learn and grow as a leader. Find the blessing in disguise.
This simple, yet profound paradigm shift removes limitations and propels you into a whole world of possibilities.
And you have the ability to make that happen. You can choose to focus your attention. Whether that’s on the metal person-like statue with crazy hair outside the library window or on your computer screen. Or whether on overcoming obstacles or changing the world for better one person at a time… Your thoughts are powerful.
What will you choose to think about next?
By Caitlyn Neel - Cofounder, Speak with People
Caitlyn is a certified life coach who helps clients identify limiting mindsets and replace them with empowering truth so that they can accomplish their goals.