Where Your Attention Goes … You Go

I’m not much of a daredevil, but a few years after college I decided to learn to ride my boyfriend’s motorcycle.

My first (and only) ride was on the private drive behind our row of townhouses. It was a perfect spot: a long, straight road with garages to the left, a wooden fence to the right, and no traffic.

I’d logged hundreds of hours on the back of his Yamaha 250.  It wasn’t a big bike by motorcycle standards. But when it became my job to hold it up, that 275-pound bike morphed into a monster Harley Davidson.

Whoa, way harder than I’d expected.

My wobbliness was scary enough. Worse, I became terrified that I’d hit the very large, very green commercial dumpster that lived against the fence.

I started wobbling down the road, my mind fully occupied by a mental chant of, “Don’t crash into the dumpster, don’t crash into the dumpster, DON’T CRASH INTO THE DUMPSTER.”

And of course that’s exactly what happened. Almost.

My eyes followed my thoughts and the bike followed my eyes right towards that hulking green monster.

Action always follows thought.

Fortunately, I didn’t crash. But if I had, it would have been for one simple reason: my attention was focused on the thing I wanted to avoid – the dumpster.

It took me a lot of years to understand the lesson from that day.

Where your attention goes, there you go too.

When you focus on where you want to go or how you want to be, your actions, behavior, and feelings will follow, propelling you towards your goal.

When you put your attention on what can go wrong or how you might fail, the exact same thing happens.  Actions, behavior, and feelings follow your thoughts, and – whoops! – you’re propelled in the wrong direction.

It’s not random and it’s not some weird, woo-woo power at work.  It’s simply that what you do and how you show up always line up with how you think and where you put your attention.

There are three steps to steering clear of the dumpster!

Choose. Whether you’re taking on a project or activity that’s catapulting you out of your comfort zone, learning how to be a less stressed-out version of yourself, or simply living your normal day-to-day life, you get to decide where to focus your thoughts and attention.

You can focus on success, or you can worry about failure.
You can focus on the positive, or you can notice every negative detail.
You can focus on abundance, or you can choose to see scarcity.
You can focus on feeling calm, or you can focus on what’s stressful.
You can focus on the straight road ahead, or you can think about the dumpster.

It’s your choice, because it’s your attention, your focus, and your thoughts.

Commit to your choice out loud or in writing, every single day.

Be very specific. Today I choose to focus on [fill in your word].

Just thinking about it doesn’t work.  It’s too easy for the thought to get lost in all the clutter that floats around in your head.  (Yes, we all do that!)

On the other hand, when you speak the words out loud or commit them to paper, you send a powerful message to yourself – and to the universe – that you’re serious.

Over time, you literally create new neural pathways in your brain.  What starts as a conscious commitment becomes an entrenched positive habit.

Practice awareness. Since you’ve got that human thing going on, your attention just might drift off towards your worries and fears.

That’s okay. What’s important is that when you notice, you gently and kindly remind yourself of where you’ve chosen to focus, and re-commit to your choice: Today I choose to focus on …

One more thing about being human: your inner critic might sneak into your head, chattering on with unkind and far-from-gentle comments along the lines of:  Hah, there you go again, focusing in the wrong place. You’re hopeless. What’s wrong with you? You’re negative, just accept it. And so on, and so forth, blah blah blah.

That’s okay too. You get to thank your critic for its input, graciously boot it out, and – you guessed it – gently and kindly re-focus your attention.

Some days will go without a hitch.  Other days you’ll be re-committing hourly.

And you know what?

Those are both good days. You’ve kept yourself pointing in the direction you want to go and being the person you want to be.

And that’s how to steer clear of the dumpster.

Worry is an imposter pretending to be useful ~ W. Timothy Gallwey


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