Lesson 3: The Power of Attention
What you focus on you get more of.
This is a hard concept to understand well. After all, we are taught in this society, that if we focus and work hard for something, we can make it happen. Our understanding of this is simply that if we want something we just work for it and if we work hard enough, it will happen. The part that very few seem to understand is that it also works in reverse. When we focus on bad stuff, we get more bad stuff. It’s as simple as that.
Whether you think you can or can't, either way you are right.
We all know people who tend to focus on the bad stuff; their glass is always half empty. I met a woman recently who was this way. When I remarked at how glad I was that the fog had burned off and the sun had come out, she responded that there was no way the day would be good when it had gotten off to that kind of nasty start. When I answered her in return that it had to get better from there, her retort was that there was just no way it possibly could be. I tried one more time, “I hope that you have only good things from here on out today.” Her response, “Well, there’s just no way; I don’t think that will happen.” I found myself anxiously trying to move away from her. I was very happy, after driving in extremely dense fog for four hours, to see the sun and know that I was safe in my destination. I’m not sure that this woman would ever feel safe. Maybe she had some devastating news to start her day, I don’t know, but I do know just being with her made me feel bad and she didn’t want it to change.
What a miserable way to live your life! Remember the Charlie Brown character, Pigpen? He was always surrounded with a cloud of dirt. So is this woman, but her ‘dirt’ is of her own making. She is choosing to focus on the negative things in her life. And what you focus on you get more of. Like attracts like, so if you choose to focus all day on the fact that you woke up late so everything will be wrong today, it will. It’s just as easy to switch your focus to include, “Well, it’s got to be better from here on out.” It’s a fifty/fifty chance either way, but if you predetermine what will happen by your attitude, there is NO chance of a good day.
This is especially true when you are working with children. I have seen time after time when a teacher or parent is focusing on what they don’t want a child to do, they get exactly that. Why? Because they’ve already laid the groundwork for that outcome. There was a little boy, preschool age, several years ago who loved coming to school. This was his first educational experience and he was excited about it. Now, sitting still and listening were not habits he had learned, at all, yet, so his teacher, who had limited experience in a setting such as this, was not comfortable with his behaviors and how to ‘control’ him. Her form of ‘positive discipline’ was to seat him beside her at all times. If she moved around the room, she held his wrist and made him follow her. At the end of the class time, she would meet the parents, sometimes waiting in the street for them, to share the issues of the day. And there always were issues. It got so bad, that the parent would greet the child with, “Well, what did you screw up today?” It’s no wonder this little guy got to the point that he hated school. He was never allowed to be successful. They were all set for him to do wrong and he did. Who wouldn’t under those circumstances? What they focused on, they got more of.
Hold a picture of yourself long and steadily enough in your mind's eye, and you will be drawn toward it.
No doubt this young man needed to learn how to be a good listener and how to remain focused in his new environment, but my great fear is that the pattern for his education was set in this first experience and that the rest of his educational life will be colored by the beginning. I know that his next two years were not much better so the chances of him finding school enjoyable and being successful are probably pretty slim. You know how teachers love to ‘share’ in the faculty lounge and the word has gotten around that this young man is a problem…therefore, he probably will be.
Why is it that we human beings seem to prefer to focus on the bad things rather than the good ones? I believe that we have been programmed by very well-meaning people who were trying to protect themselves and us. The idea that if you don’t set your sights too high then you won’t be hurt, seems to pervade our society, when just the opposite is just as true. We may well face heartbreaks and failures in anything that we try to do, especially if it is new to us, and if we let those failures stop us from trying again, then we have chosen to limit our future. It didn’t just happen to us, it happened because of us. What do you think the chances are for this young man to believe in himself; to find any self-worth there? While his parents love him immensely, they, as well as the educators, have told him repeatedly that he really isn’t capable of being successful. He is destined to “screw up.”
I would hope that this young man will happen along someone in his life who will break the pattern and tell this young man just how lovable and capable he really is. I hope that they look beyond the behaviors that, by now, I’m sure are very much habit, and see the young man who has a remarkable intelligence and sense of humor. His creativity knows no bounds and when he is challenged, he is more than capable of following the rules and enjoying learning. I know because I had the young man in summer camp-an educational, creative setting for the summer. I found him to be a challenge to my teaching skills, merely to stay ahead of him. He pushed me to my limits in keeping him challenged and occupied. The difference was, I expected him to do well…and he did. I greeted his parents with the good things he had done throughout the day. Unfortunately, this experience only lasted the summer and then he went back to school where the teacher were “ready for him.”
It’s just as easy to find good things. Sometimes, for a young man with the history that this one has, you have to look hard at first, but there are positives and the more you focus on the positives, the more you will find. The more success he had, the more success came. Parents, child, and teacher focused on the good stuff, not the bad. It was a choice we all made. It’s a choice you can make.
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.