Many years ago I heard someone say “whatever you give the majority of your attention to will be your greatest contribution”. It made me sit up and take notice at the time, I had been busy setting goals and creating vision boards, but this made me realise I was inadvertently creating an entirely different life than the one I wanted.
My greatest contribution wasn’t going to be that great at all based on the trajectory of where my attention was focused in those days. A life of corporate and personal frustration would have been a good prediction. While my journey since then has been well documented over many articles, it’s something that has come up for me again recently, and I expect it will continue to throughout life as I continue to grow and change.
As I shared in Break Out of Your Comfort Zone I have been in a place of exploration these last few years, not having a specific vision or big goal for the future, only knowing how I want to feel in each moment. Yet… since I wrote those words I have wondered.
Much of my attention has necessarily been on the children these last few years, figuring out where this skill of parenting fits with all I am learning about the meaning of life. But since I have been exploring for a while now, sifting through experiences that point to what I do and don’t want, I thought I’d run a little test and see where my focus actually is.
That might sound silly, but we are never entirely aware of each and every thought. Given the average person has an estimated 60-70,000 thoughts every day, we would probably go insane trying to monitor them all, certainly it would render us pretty useless at any other activity while we were doing it.
Of course, the fact we are never aware of all our thoughts doesn’t stop them creating our reality, which is why using our feelings as a barometer works well. Dreams too, forget the content, taking a high level pulse on whether your dreams feel good or bad gives you an accurate indication of whether your thoughts are serving you.
Also, even when we do dig in and figure out some of our negative thought-patterns (also called self-limiting beliefs), it’s not like they suddenly disappear. I think of them as a car heading along a road at a good speed, a sudden stop is possible, but usually at great personal expense. Instead we have to slow the car down before we can go in another direction. In thought terms, we slow down self defeating thoughts by deliberately planting and cultivating new ones.
The trick though is to only to focus on ones you actually believe. There’s no point in you setting yourself a goal to becoming the world’s greatest pianist if you simply can’t believe it’s possible. Instead find something that is headed in the right direction that you can believe.
Perhaps in this example you’d start off thinking about how great you feel when playing the piano, and how Aunt Betty loves to hear you play – make it a goal to play for a group of her friends. A series of small steps that you can believe is better than a giant leap that feels unachievable.
So my little test was to just sit and write in my journal for a while about what this time of exploration has taught me about what I want and don’t want. I’ll confess it was a lot easier to start with what I didn’t want, and then articulate what I did want.
It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, but I find that until I get it down in writing – the most focused form of thinking – my head continues to spend too much time ruminating on what it doesn’t want. It was this vague awareness of some negative stuff rattling around that made me want to purge what was in there and gain clarity on what I do want so I can focus my attention more intentionally.
Mine are things like not wanting the school machine to dictate our lives. I want a more relaxed flow, I want our children to have what they need to unfold more in their own style, while maintaining some space and autonomy for me. I don’t want a life of deadlines and objectives written by another to satisfy, I want to call the shots and work from my own inspiration, to my own timeline.
While these may seem quite broad, they are specific enough for me to start focusing on. I don’t need to keep dwelling on and revisiting the examples and things I don’t want, they will just keep what I do want at bay. I also realise that for some, the things I want might seem impossible or selfish. That’s okay, they’re not your goals, you need to set ones that work for you.
Different ways of focusing your attention work for different people. I’ve mentioned here that writing is the most focused form of thought, so it’s a good way to start. Visualization can evoke powerful emotion, so if you can regularly visualize achieving what you want it will create faster momentum and bring it into your life quicker. There are many tools out there to help you, just a quick Google search on “visualization techniques for achieving goals” brings up hundreds of examples and articles.
The important thing is to just start by taking a bit of a litmus test on whether where your attention is currently focused and ask yourself whether it is helping you to lead your best life.
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