You see what you focus on

November 06th 2021

A simple technique to build a very resilient mental strength


“Energy flows where attention goes,” is a commonly used quote within the NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) world.  It has been used by so many people, I can’t actually track down who should be credited for it!

This simple 5 word sentence is now used by many therapists to help people understand that we create our own realities, including our stresses and feelings, based on what we give our attention to.

My husband can get quite frustrated with me as I made the decision a good few years ago not to watch the news, whereas he chooses to spend a good deal of each day on BBC News 24.  It is not that I am disinterested in current affairs, more that any focus I give it, typically leaves me in a worse state.

Let me bring this phrase to life for you...

I have done quite a few school assemblies in recent years.  I would tell the kids I was going to count to 5 and I wanted them to look around the room and see how many blue things they saw.

Immediately eyes would start darting around as I counted up through the numbers.  And then numbers would start getting thrown back at me, “Six Miss,2 “Eight,” “Ten.”

And then I would say, “And how many green things were there?”

One student would invariably say, “But you told us to look for blue things Miss.” And then I could see the ‘pennies dropping.’

If you are looking for something you will find it.  And in that focus, you are ignoring everything else that is also present.

How I use this concept to help clients

This may be a fun thing to do in a school environment, but we do it too as adults.  As part of a process I use to help people relax, we direct our attention to things that are present much of the time.

Right now, focus on how your feet feel inside your shoes, or how your clothes feel against your back.  Until you read this sentence, you were unaware of those feelings, but now you are.  And in that awareness you have new choices.  Perhaps you wiggled your toes in your shoes.  Perhaps you moved your shoulders now aware of how the clothes feel against your back.  The focus led to energy going there and creating a change and a new level of control.

How can you use this technique?

Hopefully now knowing how moving your attention somewhere creates an awareness that energy moves towards, this gives you new choices.

I choose not to watch the news.  I choose to focus on the beauty of nature when out walking my dogs.  And those choices are created by being in control of where my attention is.  And that control highly influences the experience I am having.

Consider a coin.  If the head is facing up, that is what you see.  The tail is still there, and you know it is there, but it is not part of your experience in that moment.

You can focus on the blue things.  It does not mean the green things are not there, they are just not part of the experience.

You can focus on the positive.  It does not mean the negative is not there, it is just not part of the experience!

And here is the bonus

The mind loves leadership.  So when you train your mind in how you want to direct your focus, it will start to go there automatically.

Consider the energy you used to learn to drive a car, or even to learn to walk.  Your mind picked up on the process and now you do it with little effort.  Training your mind to see the positive in things, or to feel gratitude for what we have rather than what we don’t, then also becomes the ‘default’ – something that happens automatically.

And how does this relate to anxiety?

Working with people who struggle with anxiety, we often use this technique in relation to risk – as risk is the trigger for the fear response that gives us those feelings we call anxiety.

When we focus on risk, we see it – and with that focus, the energy goes to wanting to protect you – the role of fear! Think of that as the ‘head’ of the coin.  So how about the tail?

The tail could be the risk of not doing that thing – which often is a higher risk.

I had a desire years ago to write a book.  But I didn’t do it for years as my focus was given to the thought of it flunking and my being a failure.  So I procrastinated – no completed book meant no failure!

But giving my focus to the ‘tail’ got the book published.  The risk of not writing the book led me to see how people whom I could not work with 1-2-1 could still gain information to help them through the book.  By not writing it, I was stopping people from getting help.

And with that focus, the energy led to the book being written in 6 weeks.

And of course, there is the option to not focus on the risk – as often the risk is not real in that moment but just a thought kicking around in your head!  And that is the topic of a whole different blog!

How to use this yourself

A bit like learning to drive the car, it takes a bit of practise.

There are two things you can do to build this mental strength by giving your mind leadership.

1.  Take just a minute to look around you right now.   You are probably in a familiar environment, but how much to you really focus on it?  Look at the pattern on the curtains, or the weave of the carpet.  Be in control of your focus and notice how it feels.

By doing this several times each day, you train that mental muscle to heighten your awareness.

2.  Practise ‘flipping the coin.’  If someone says something negative, can you find a positive?  If something bad happens, what good thing can you give your attention to?

Do let me know what you think about this technique in the comments box below.  What are you noticing that you focus on and give your energy to??

Caroline Cavanagh is an anxiety specialist  and hypnotherapist in Salisbury, Wiltshire.  She is an author and public speaker and would love to talk to you if you would like to know more about her work

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