“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it.” — Oprah Winfrey
There are three psychological concepts you must understand to start getting what you want, and to stop perpetuating what you don’t.
The first concept is attention — where you place your focus. Your focus is something you must train. Most people are very lazy with their focus, and their mind becomes like a garden filled with weeds.
Psychologists have a term, “Selective attention,” and what it means is that our mind focuses on things which seem relevant to us. When you’re in a noisy room, if you hear your name being said you’ll hear it, even though all the other noise just sounds like fuzz. When you’re on the road driving, you’ll notice specific cars — whether cars you like or the same car you’re driving.
You can and must train your mind to focus exclusively on the things you desire. The challenge for most of us is that we spend much more of our time focusing on what we’re afraid of. We focus on what we don’t want to happen. We spend lots of time conjuring up Plan Bs, Cs, and Ds, in case what we want doesn’t work out.
As a result, we are focusing on how things could go wrong, or why things aren’t going right.
This is bad mind-training, because what we focus on expands. What we focus our attention on we create more of.
Therefore, you need to focus on what you want. You need to be very specific in what you want. You must “begin with the end in mind,” as Stephen Covey put it. Getting clear on the specific outcome you want is essential for not only training your attention, but for powering-up your motivation.
Psychologists have divided our motivation to act into two categories: approach-orientation or avoid-orientation. Your “orientation” is your posture and energy toward your actions. Every action you take is driven by an outcome you’re seeking.
When you’re approach-oriented, you’re moving yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically toward what you want. You’re on the offensive. You’re moving proactively toward (“approaching”) a desired outcome.
When you’re avoid-oriented, you’re moving yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically away from something you don’t want. You’re on the defensive. And avoiding what you don’t want is incredibly important. But if that’s mostly what you’re spending your time doing — avoiding problems, avoiding failures, avoiding hard situations, avoiding loss, then you won’t be powerfully creating the the outcomes you want.
Rather than avoiding failure, you need to direct your attention and motivation — your behavior and energy — toward what you want. You have to go all-in on what you actually want. You can’t keep hedging your bets. You can’t keep being overly cautious.
Motivation requires having an outcome you want and finding a path to creating that outcome. If you direct your attention at what you want, and if you direct your behavior at finding ways to create what you want, then your confidence and motivation will increase.
But if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder or thinking about all the things that could go wrong, then you’re muddling your pathway toward your true vision. Instead, your finding pathways out of failure, which isn’t actually moving you where you want to go.
When you get extremely committed to what you truly want, and when you stop living with fear — you can then fly. You can be bold and daring and not be overly cautious about the ensuing consequences or repercussions. You believe in yourself. You know you can do it. You know you’ll figure it out. You’re on a firm foundation. You have the support you need. Each and every day, you’re making power moves in and creating amazing outcomes.
Napoleon Hill said that “Desire is the starting point of all achievement.” If you want something enough to get it, you have to really want it. If you’re not getting what you want, then maybe you don’t want it bad enough?
Maybe, just maybe, you still want what you currently have.
In the book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, the authors state, “Commitment is a statement of what ‘is’. You can know what you’re committed to by your results, not by what you say your commitments are. We are all committed. We are all producing results. The result is proof of a commitment.”
Your commitment is a reflection of your desire. If you REALLY want something, then you’ll commit to that thing. You’ll be willing to let go of other things. You’ll go all-in. You’ll go get it. You’ll find a way.
Commitment is a statement of “what is” means that what you currently have is what you’re currently committed to. Put another way, what you currently have is what you currently want. If you truly wanted something different, you’d get something different.
This can be a hard pill to swallow because internally, we may genuinely think we want something more or something else. But if we aren’t actively creating that “something else,” then can we say we truly want it? Can we say we’re truly committed? The answer is, “No.”
But you can train that desire. You can target your attention toward something you want, focus your motivation and behavior in that direction, and intensify your desire.
In order to do so, you’ll need to make your true goal a fundamental aspect of your identity. James Clear describes this in Atomic Habits, saying that when trying to build a habit, it’s much better to start with your identity.
Rather than trying to build the habit of eating healthy, you build the mindset of being a healthy person. When you start with identity, then you’re not dealing with willpower as much. Willpower is about fighting against something you don’t want. Identity is about aligning your behavior with who you already are.
Who is the person you truly want to be?
What are the circumstances or results you want to have?
How can you design your identity so that you see yourself as a person who already has or already does that?
If you want amazing health, then you need to identify as someone with the health you want. You need to be before you can do and do before you can have.
BE > DO > HAVE.
Making what you want a part of your identity means that it becomes your new story. It’s who you are. It’s what you stand for. It’s what you’re about. You’re no longer hiding it from other people. Your goals, behavior, and words fully align.
You also intensify desire simply by doing something. The more you do something, the more you’ll want it. For example, I want to get more into running. I’ve recently started doing it and the more I do it, the more I want to do it. In psychology, we call this Self-Signaling, and what it means that our behavior signals back to us the type of person we are. You identify with the behaviors you do. If you wake up early in the morning, you’ll start to identify as a morning person.
Invest your time, money, and attention into it.
Commit to it.
Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist and bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work. His blogs have been read by over 100 million people and are featured on Forbes, Fortune, CNBC, Cheddar, Big Think, and many others. He is a regular contributor to Inc. and Psychology Today and from 2015-2018, he was the #1 writer, in the world, on Medium.com. He and his wife Lauren adopted three children through the foster system in February 2018 and, one month later, Lauren became pregnant with twins, who were born in December of 2018. They live in Orlando.
Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio.