What do you notice? The power of choosing your focus

by Joanna Pieters | Follow her on Facebook here

I’ve recently been doing an experiment with my brain.

That wasn’t my plan, but this is a story about the unexpected.

For a while, I’ve been feeling that something was missing.

I’ve been working with some wonderful clients to help them make huge strides in their work and life. I had new ideas and projects going on. All should have been going well, but personally I was feeling stuck.

I realised I was lacking something in my own life.

Creativity. Culture. Joy, if you like

Somehow, daily life had gradually pushed out things that made me happy: music, art, culture, books, and simply appreciating beauty around me.

I wasn’t any longer making time for those things, and for a long time I hardly noticed. But the gap in my life was becoming more and more obvious.

As a way of staying on top of things, I started making some small shifts.

  • Meeting people for coffee at one of London’s many art galleries, rather than a more ‘business-like’ venue, and arriving in time to spend a few minutes looking around.
  • Catching up with a friend for an exhibition, rather than just going for dinner.
  • Looking out for interesting buildings and architecture, nature and beauty, especially in places I knew well.
  • Deliberately choosing the music I listen to, rather than turning on the radio.
  • Booking to go to a couple of events that weren’t totally convenient, but which I knew I wanted to be at.

All those things have been uplifting and fun in their own right. But here’s what I didn’t expect.

Curious other things have started to happen

I’ve been approached by fabulous new clients in dynamic, commercial creative businesses, wanting training and coaching for themselves and their teams.

Friends have been inviting me to live events, from football to opera (and I’ve been saying yes).

A whole new opportunity has opened up (which I’ll tell you more about later), working with high achievers in creativity and innovation.

I’ve found myself easily organising friends to come over to play music at my house – something I haven’t done for several years.

And I found myself the owner of a beautiful grand piano, after ten years of telling myself that I ‘should’ get a better one than my old upright but never making any progress with it.

What gets focused on gets your attention

Our brains are overwhelmed by information. And yet…

If you look for green cars in the street today, you’ll notice them.

If you’ve recently lost someone you love, you’ll see reminders of them everywhere.

If someone says your name in a conversation on the other side of the room, you’ll hear it.

You brain notices what you tell it is important

Within our brain, a small but crucial area called the Reticular Activation System acts as the brain’s gatekeeper for information. It decides what information we allow in, and what is blocked: an essential part of making sense of our world.

Some of its filters are deep and unconscious. But you can also tell your brain what you want it to notice.

In a classic psychology experiment by Professor Richard Wiseman, participants were recruited from people who consider themselves ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’. All were given a newspaper and asked to count the photos.

The ‘lucky’ ones spotted the advert that said they would win £250 by mentioning it to the researcher. The ‘unlucky’ ones didn’t. The ‘lucky’ ones took just seconds to count the pictures, because they noticed the advert that told them there were 43. The ‘unlucky ones’ took much longer, because they didn’t spot the short-cut.

It seems that the participants who considered themselves ‘lucky’ had programmed their brains to spot opportunities that would help them achieve their goals, faster and more easily.

But there’s more. Professor Wiseman’s later work helped to retrain the ‘unlucky’ thinkers to see things differently. By changing how their brains responded to the world, 4 out of 5 of them became ‘luckier’ and happier.

Attention isn’t an accident

My decision to introduce more creativity and beauty into my life didn’t start as a deliberate experiment, but it’s reminded me of how much control I have over what happens to me.

By telling my brain that culture and creativity were important to me, it started to spot other opportunities for me to take. I’ve no doubt that also shaped the conversations I was having and the energy I was creating. That, in turn, influenced how people responded to me, leading to things I could never have anticipated.

Sometimes we hardly notice the changes we need

I wrote here about making small and impactful changes: taking 20 minutes to do a practical task with powerful results.

But sometimes we need to take a bigger look, and ask if there’s something missing that used to be there: beauty, exercise, love, joy, spontaneity, action, luck, motivation.

Even then, however, we can simply start small. We can make small shifts that begin to take us in the direction that’s calling us.

What have you lost sight of in your life that used to be there?

When you reconnect with something that used to be important to you, your brain is easily be able to tap into that old programming. You simply need to remind it of what it needs to do.

What would you like your brain to focus on that would change how you see the world?

Write it down, and notice how it feels.

Then look for a few small shifts. Look for small things you can build into your normal life but which change your focus just slightly.

Try them. Be patient. Keep going. And see what happens.

Change what you focus on, and notice the results

Let me know in the comments below what you choose to focus on, and how you go about it. Remember – start small and believe it’s possible.

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