How to Get What You Focus On

September 6, 2011
Terri Maxwell

How to Get What You Focus On

Even though the lesson of “You Get What You Focus On” is one of the many things I am known for, I’ve noticed that people struggle to not only to adjust focus, but also to maintain that change. How can we actually change what we focus on?

Most Succeed On Purpose followers have heard the story of “You Get What You Focus On” from Chapter 7 of my book. If not, I’ve included Chapter 7 at the end of this blog post as a reference.

This blog, however, is not about the lesson itself. This blog post is about how to apply that lesson and make it work. We all know that we get what we focus on, but how can we actually change what we focus on?

Even though the lesson of “You Get What You Focus On” is one of the many things I am known for, I’ve noticed that people struggle to not only to adjust focus, but also to maintain that change.

There are 3 techniques to equip you to actually change your focus:

  1.  EVALUATE what shows up
  2.  DEAL with the difficult, but DON'T FOCUS on It
  3.  Realign Focus to What IS Working

Technique 1: Evaluate What Shows Up

My grandfather was a quiet man. He didn’t say much, but when he did speak it was usually powerful stuff.  “You Get What You Focus On” was one of several powerful seeds of wisdom he left for me.

As long as he was there to provide reminders, I was good at managing my focus.  Life is kind of like that, you know, as long as the lessons are obvious or we’re reminded of them, then we do OK.  But in the day-to-day drama of everyday life, we forget even the most basic of truths.

That’s how it was for me.  When grandpa passed away, I was 28 and in the midst of a skyrocketing career.  His death alone was devastating, but the absence of his wisdom soon became debilitating.

Within the first year after his death, I had completely forgotten most of what he taught me.  With a career in hyper-drive, accompanied by an obsessive-compulsive personality, it became easy to lose focus on what was working and to shift it to what wasn’t.  Besides, I was a “fixer” and was rewarded profoundly in executive roles for identifying issues and fixing them.  The more I was rewarded, the more I focused on things that needed to be fixed.

Soon, an interesting pattern started to show up.  Today, I affectionately refer to it as an addiction to drama.  But back then, it wasn’t so clear. The more I looked for what was broken and needing fixing, the more things broke.

I went through several years of being addicted to drama after my grandfather’s death because I didn’t know how to change my focus.  I remembered his words “you get what you focus on,” but didn’t know how to apply them when he wasn’t there to remind me.

Then in the fall of 1996, God inserted a little help…via misfortune.  Life drama had been escalating and I was trapped in what felt like hell on Earth.  I had no way to escape and it seemed like things got worse every day.

First, a relationship failed.  Then, my career began to falter.  Then, my elder brother passed away from an Aids-related brain tumor.  And finally, less than three weeks after his death, I was in a very bad car accident, which put me in the hospital and out of commission for over three weeks.  I was unable to walk without assistance from a nurse or a friend.

There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no way to fix what needed fixing…me.

At the time, I thought I was being punished.  Since deep down I didn’t believe I was good enough, it made sense that God would punish me by these unfortunate events.  The funny part (and it’s only funny now) is that the accident was just the break I needed to realize one thing: the common denominator in all of the unfortunate events happening around me was…me.

In that moment, I learned how to change what I focused on.  I evaluated what showed up.

Look around.  What does life look like?  Life is simply a mirror of our focus.  If a bad relationships shows up, then ask yourself why?  The truth is that we’re probably focusing on bad relationships due to fears and insecurities, or perhaps we don’t expect that we should be treated well.

And if the lack of abundance has shown up in your life, look around.  What are you focused on?  Usually we’re focused on fears about money and success rather than on creating it.  The more we wonder why we aren’t receiving abundance, the more we’re focused on what we don’t want.

It’s very easy to overlook our role in the drama and put the blame “out there.”  The truth is that life is simply a mirror of our focus.  So this first technique for changing what you focus on is to evaluate what shows up!  That will let you know where to change focus.

Technique 2: Deal with the Difficult, but Don’t Focus On It

It took a few more years (ok, more like ten) to learn this technique. In spite of how I evaluated what showed up, which certainly assisted in my ability to change my focus…difficult stuff still happened.

And, when that difficult stuff showed up (illness, career issues, money issues, relationship issues) invariably, I’d lose focus on what was working and move it to those pesky little issues that had shown up.

For a long time, I rationalized that I didn’t have a choice in the situation. What was I to do, avoid the difficult stuff or focus on it? Of course, I had to focus on those issues in order to deal with them, I argued. Makes sense, right?

Despite my grandfather’s words of wisdom repeating themselves in my head (You Get What You Focus On), when life’s challenges showed up, I saw no alternative but to focus on them. Again, I rationalized that I had to focus in order to overcome them. The little Rocky Balboa – Eye of the Tiger spirit inside me enjoyed overcoming issues. After all, I was good at it.

For example, a friend gets a divorce. I need to support her, and I need to tell everyone I know that I am supporting her (insert focus). Oh, my relationship fell apart, so I have to take time out to address this matter and to talk to others about it (insert focus). Oh, I hate my boss and/or my job, so I complain about it all the time (insert focus).

To deal with stuff, I thought I had to focus on that stuff. Boy, was I wrong. Stuff happens, period. It’s how we look at that stuff which determines its value (good or bad). So learn to deal with it, but don’t focus on it.

What’s the difference? How can we deal with the bad stuff that happens in our life without focusing on it? I have two tips.

Don’t talk about bad stuff to anyone who isn’t involved

How many times has someone told you his or her problems even though you couldn’t help and had nothing to do with it? How many times have you told people your problems even though they couldn’t help and had nothing to do with it? How many times do we complain about the weather (relevant in the hottest summer in Texas!)? Too many, right? Me too.

When we talk about issues, especially to people who can’t help or others who are not involved, we give those issues focus. And when we give issues focus, guess what we’re focused on, and guess what we get? More issues.

This will be an extreme example, but it’s important to the lesson. My mom’s health is rapidly declining. I am worried and know that her days are numbered. I haven’t told anyone other than my very close friends. I haven’t told people, not because I don’t care, and not because I don’t want people to know.

I don’t talk about it because most people really can’t do anything about it. Unless I specifically need their support, or it’s relevant to something we’re working on, I just don’t talk about it.

For some, that may seem odd. But know that because I’ve learned how to get what I focus on, that I have also learned not to talk about anything to anyone unless they can specifically do something about it.

In most cases, what we talk about are all the little things that are wrong with our lives. The IRS did this, the government did that, my husband did this and my boss did that.

We retell these issues to anyone who will listen. What we don’t realize is that every time we retell a story, we’re changing our focus to that negative story.

STOP TALKING ABOUT ISSUES! Stop telling stories about them. Deal with them, but stop talking about them.

Stop making drama an excuse for bad choices

I used to have an issue with being on time. (Ok, my Controller would still say that is true, but that’s a blog post for another day!) I had good reasons for being late: A customer called a fire drill and pulled me away from my schedule. My car broke down or I had a flat tire. An employee was having marital issue and needed consoling. You get the picture. All very good reasons.

The truth is that those are also really good excuses. The truth is that I overscheduled myself (because of my need to be busy) so much that I didn’t leave time in my day for the normal “fire drills” that just naturally came up. The truth is that this didn’t happen occasionally, it was a pattern of behavior. And, the hardest part to accept was that I was choosing to repeat this pattern.

When a pattern repeats itself in our lives — it’s actually a choice, and believe it or not, we do have complete control to make new choices. However, we allow ourselves to use daily drama as an excuse for a poor choice, which means we’re actually re-focusing on the drama. And when we focus on the drama, and use it as an excuse, we’re actually creating more drama because “we get what we focus on.” That’s right. By using drama as an excuse, and retelling the drama, we are unconsciously creating more drama.

Stop focusing on the drama and accept responsibility for poor choices.

Technique 3: Realign Your Focus to What IS Working

The last technique is one I learned over the course of this past year. It turns out to be the easiest to implement. In order to ensure I am focused on the good I want to create, I must consciously change my focus from what isn’t working to what it is I want to create.

When things start to go off track in life, we pull attention away and start to worry. The truth is, however, that anytime we focus on what isn’t working, it immediately moves the focus back to that stuff. Instead, put the focus on what you want to create.

There are two tips that I use to accomplish this:

Make a list of what is working

When things appear to go wrong in life, and they will, I stop and make a list of what is working. This simple act takes the focus off of what isn’t working, and puts it where it belongs…on what is working.

This is incredibly powerful. By powerful, I mean that not only does the stuff that isn’t working all of a sudden seem inconsequential, but the shift in focus also causes life to improve immediately.

I’ve been doing this for the one year now, and I’ve seen more abundance and joy in my life in the last year than ever before. I attribute it to this technique!

It’s so powerful in fact that I’ve started to do this proactively, which is leads us to the second tip:

Practice realigning your focus each day

Almost every day now, I make a journal entry and list the things that are working. So before anything bad appears to happen, my mind is already equipped with a list of the things that are working.

Cool, huh? And I’ve noticed something very interesting. When those “bad” things pop up, they don’t seem so bad because once I make a list of items that are working, it’s like my focus is now recalibrated in a more positive direction.

As I travel around the country speaking, I become increasingly aware of how popular the phrase “You Get What You Focus On” is becoming. I meet people who’ve heard me speak, and they always recite that phrase.

It’s more than a phrase to me, though. It’s a map for a perfect, purposeful and abundance-filled life. It’s more than a story, and it’s more than wisdom.

It’s the missing ingredient for an extraordinary life.

I want you to have that kind of life. I want you to have the kind of life that is abundantly rich and magically blessed. It’s possible if you change your focus, and changing your focus requires learning and applying new techniques. I hope the tools shared today will assist as you focus on a better life.

To summarize, the three 3 techniques to change your focus are:

  1.  Evaluate What Shows Up
  2.  Deal with The Difficult, but Don’t Focus on It
  3.  Realign Focus to What Is Working
Isn’t it time to focus on what you want to create?

With the soulfulness of Wayne Dyer and the entrepreneurial spirit of Richard Branson, Terri is a world-class business growth expert, social impact investor, and serial entrepreneur whose purpose is to inspire potential. With her own money, Terri built a portfolio of purposeful companies, Share On Purpose, Inc., and now invests in and creates mission-driven start-ups.

In a career that spans more than 25 years, Terri has launched, owned, sold, rebranded or turned around more than 40 companies. She is known for her game-changing business models and personal transformation frameworks.

Everything she built came directly from a wellspring of perseverance and soulful resiliency, which she openly shares through her first purposeful brand, Succeed On Purpose.

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