On Facebook yesterday, LaDonna Coy posed an interesting question:
Noodling--what would happen if we were actually able to figure out what we want in life (instead of what we don't want) and then focus on it? What would that make possible?
I've been doing a lot of reading in and work with appreciative inquiry lately and this is one of its key principles, called the Poetic Principle. In a nutshell, it says that what we choose to focus on in a person or situation becomes our reality. The more attention we give to what we've noticed, the more it becomes what we experience.
Here's a thought experiment to test this out. If I tell you to STOP thinking of a purple elephant, you can't. In fact, the more I tell you to stop thinking of a purple elephant, the more firmly embedded that purple elephant will become in your mind. The only way I can get you to stop focusing on the purple elephant is if I give you something else to think about--like a pink hippo.
What happens to most of us is that we spend a lot of time thinking about the things we DON'T want in our lives. In fact, I've asked people, "What do you want in this situation," and more often than not will hear, "Well I can tell you what I don't want!" But the more attention we pay to what we don't want, the more likely we are to find it. So, as LaDonna suggests, we have to ask ourselves, how would things shift if we were able to focus on what we DO want, rather on what we don't want?
One way to do this is to look at a situation or person and ask ourselves, "What do I want MORE of here?" Often when we are in negative situations--we have a problem with a client or a colleague, a spouse or a child--we will start thinking of all the things we want less of. If only she were LESS stubborn or he were LESS confrontational. Then, of course, all we see in that other person is how stubborn or confrontational they are. All we see is the purple elephant.
By shifting our attention to what we want MORE of, we can start to shift our perceptions in a more positive direction. We can also start to shift outcomes. It's another version of "you get what you measure."
As part of our discussion, I shared with LaDonna one of my favorite Robert Kennedy quotes:
“The gross national product (of a country) does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
– Robert Kennedy, March 18, 1968
For me, this captures beautifully how we need to shift our attention. What DO we want more of, in our personal and professional lives? In our communities, schools, churches and workplaces? I think we could accomplish so much more if we defined what is important, healthy and meaningful and shot for those things, rather than focusing on all the things we don't want.
So--here's our question of the day. What do you want MORE of? I'd love to hear from you in comments on this!