Control your attention …

When I start coaching engagements, new clients almost always have a short list of problems to fix. It’s a normal response. We’re wired [both biological and psychological] to sort for the negative.

And every time our mind attends to the negative, we do something else: we strengthen the brain’s tendency to sort for the negative!

Researchers call it neuroplasticity: the brain’s capacity to change and adapt its structure and function to what it’s encountering in the environment. In short, the  connections between mind and brain are powerful. As neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD says, the mind changes the brain changes the mind. “Attention is like a spotlight … shining on things within our awareness. But it’s also like a vacuum cleaner, sucking whatever it rests upon into the brain, for better or worse.”

So when we routinely focus on the stuff that frustrates us–what’s going wrong, what’s not getting done, what needs to be fixed–we actually build stronger neural connections around those thoughts and feelings.

When we put our attention on the stuff that excites and delights us–what’s going well, the many little steps of progress on a big project, the milestones we reach in creating something important–then we build neural connections around those thoughts…and the feelings that go with them: excitement, enthusiasm, joy, contentment, wonder, gratitude.

By controlling what we pay attention to, we can actually change our brain in ways that serve us well. So the next time you find yourself up to your eyeballs in problems and reaching for a hammer, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What about this situation/project/moment is going well?” Don’t give up; dig until you find something positive.

If you’re in a leadership position, controlling attention is even more important. Looking for what’s going well is motivating. It’s energizing. It cues people to possibilities. Problem solving triggers negative feelings, and negative feelings narrow our focus, literally. Concentrating on what’s going well triggers positive feelings, and they broaden our thinking. The result? Much more creativity and innovation.

Now that I have your attention, how can you build on this?


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