Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available on Flickr.
“You are what you focus on” is the title of a chapter from the “Accidental genius” book by Mark Levy. There are two important points I will be making here, so please pay attention.
Your focus has defined who you are today. Your focus is now defining whom you are going to become. Clearly, your personality, skills and achievements reflect the areas of life to which you have dedicated your attention. This means effort, work, time or enthusiasm. Certainly, things hardly ever happen overnight. Time and effort are required.
Becoming healthy, developing a skill, working for purpose or having a fulfilling relation is not an event but a process. Maintenance is required too. Whatever resources and gifts you have got, these are yours to put in use.
An easy way to investigate how to put your skills to use is to do it with writing. Writing is a funnel through which thoughts are de-cluttered and organized.Writing is an easy anchor to attach weight to thoughts so that they are born in this space for a possible manifestation. Once thoughts are out of the head and visible on the paper, they can be easily explored.
Clear writing leads to clear thinking.
Conscious mind and subconscious mind
Before we talk more about focus, let us discriminate between the conscious and subconscious minds. Ultimately, there is one mind, but it helps to see it through its different roles. The conscious mind (related to self-consciousness as well) lives in the moment of now and is limited to, what some estimate, 4-10 bits of information per second. It practically means that in any given moment you can focus on a few things only. The subconscious mind, a connected network of cells with specialized tasks and functions, is capable of computing somewhere between 10 and 40 millions of bits per second.
In analogy, the conscious mind is the CEO of a huge company, say of 100 000 employers. The subconscious mind consists of all the workers and organizational levels. There is no way the CEO can be made aware of all details of the business, product development, customer issues, complaints, missed targets and so on. She can’t also be involved in all low-level decisions or tactics. These are being made through systems and managers. Only essential information is filtered out and presented to the CEO for planning, developing strategies and execution. The CEO defines the filter, the kind of information she is interested to receive for evaluation and action.
Selective attention test: how fast can you count?
If you have already encountered one of such tests in your life, just show it to someone else and find out how they perform. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the video below.
Can you accurately count the number of times that the white team passes the ball?
Pay careful attention and find out whether your conscious mind can keep up with the counting.
Ready? Steady? Go!
If this is the first time you see it, you might be surprised with the result, especially if you missed the obvious. On the other hand, it is trivial when you know where to direct your focus, isn’t it?
This test demonstrates that attention is selective. You will only pay attention to what you have decided to focus on. Your subconscious mind will filter out “unimportant” information that your senses report to you so that the conscious mind, the CEO, can do the task. There is no way that your conscious mind can ever keep up with your senses.
The learning point is this. Focus is discriminative. When you choose to focus on one thing, you have to neglect all others.
Attention alternation test
This test comes from the “Accidental genius” book.
Whenever you are, just look around for 5-10 seconds to spot all red things in your neighborhood. Close your eyes and mentally create a list of all red objects you recall.
How many are there?
Open your eyes and look around again to confirm whether you spotted them all.
Now, let’s make a slight variation. Suppose I offer you 1000 pounds (dollars/EUR) for a list of 100 red objects in your surroundings. Suppose you really need this money. Now, chances are that you will not only list all the obvious red objects, but you will also become creative in rediscovering them behind the veil. For instance, you may mention red lips, red letters on a tag of your jumper, red blood coming from your finger jabbed by a paper clip, a red flashing diode on your mobile or a red-colored strip over the clouds from the sunset. Have you made to 100, yet?
If you have done this exercise you can discover how “hidden” the objects may be even if they sit in your plain view. The difference between these two small tests lies in the precision of your focus (“How many red objects are there?” vs “Find me 100 red objects”) as well as your motivation/willingness to perform the task.
The learning point is this. The quality of your focus (precision plus motivation) influences the quality of your answers.
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If you are looking to get unstuck, improve an aspect of your life or find a solution, an important idea or a resource may be hidden in your plain view without your active and dedicated effort. In other words, as with internet searches, the context, the right question, defines what you will find.
The tests above clearly demonstrate the importance of the right focus. What you focus on will determine how you lead your life. If you choose to pay attention to grumpy people, annoying situations, self pity and miseries, surely you will encounter them in your life. Your lenses of focus define what you see. If, on other hand, you choose to concentrate on happy moments, kindness or smiles, you will experience them in your life.You are the one with the power to alternate your attention.
Both sides, sadness and joy, ups and downs, difficulty and solution, have always been there. Why? Because the pendulum of life swings between the polarities. It is what you choose to see, hear and experience will color your life happy or not.
This is all great, but …
Where does freewriting come into the picture?
Freewriting has a special role. Under time limit and through continuous writing, you can reach your vast inner space beneath your daily chatter-box or critic. This is the space where creative solutions happily live in.
A good and precise question is your point of focus. Your practice of freewriting is a way to dig deep and discover what matters to you. When made actionable, the discoveries will lead you to success.
If your life vision is buried under the tasks of the daily routines, use freewriting to elaborate on this. Set the timer for 20minutes. Ask the question:
“What is necessary for me to have a fantastic life?”.
Write continuously, without editing, to answer this question. Include all the criteria, and the three aspects of “being”, “doing” and “having”.
Choose one item from this exploration list. Take an action in the next few hours.