In some of my workshops, I run a short activity which provides the audience members with an immediate and practical example of how and where we focus our attention and energy – and the potential consequences. It’s a pretty simple process used by plenty of facilitators.
How it works:
I ask my audience to spend sixty seconds looking around the room and to take note of everything that’s red. Any shade of red will do. Crimson. Fire-engine red. Burgundy. Maroon (are they the same?). If I’m feeling generous, I’ll even allow hot pink. I then tell them to commit as many red things to memory as possible. I tell them not to over-think the process, not to try to figure out the point of the exercise (and thereby miss out on the benefit), not to talk to anyone else, not to write anything down and to use whatever memory or recall method they feel will give them the best result. That is, optimal retention.
For sixty seconds there is total silence. An intense silence – if that’s possible. I can almost hear the cogs turning and the competitive juices flowing as each person scans the room frantically trying to absorb and remember as much (relevant) information as possible. Talk about focus – sometimes it’s as though they’re looking into the face of a loved one for the last time.
At the end of the allocated time I ask the group to keep their eyes closed. I then ask them a whole bunch of irrelevant and (seemingly) pointless questions for about two minutes. At this stage, the quantity and quality of their responses (to my questions) is pretty underwhelming as (1) their eyes are still closed and (2) they are desperately trying to retain the required information (the red stuff in the room) and to dispense with my stupid and annoying questions without being too distracted from their mental list.
But You Said….
Just when they’re about to storm the stage and punch me in the head, I ask them if they’re ready to share their memorised list with me. I place myself in front of a whiteboard with a marker in hand and say, “okay, keep your eyes closed and give me a list of everything in this room that’s… brown.”
At this point, I can literally sense the frustration in the room.
“But you said red?”
“I know, but now I want the brown list – keep your eyes closed.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Life’s like that.”
Over the course of a few minutes, with all eyes still closed, the group begins to shift its focus and to review the room (in their mind’s eye) in a different way. Typically, most people will recall less than a quarter of the brown things in the room while being able to recall almost one hundred percent of the red.
“But you all studied the room before you closed your eyes”, I tell them.
“Yeah, but we were looking for red, not brown.”
A New Perspective
After a few frustrating minutes, I allow them to open their eyes and to instantly see what they hadn’t before: all things brown. It’s amazing what becomes apparent when we look at the same thing (room, relationship, career, business, opportunity, person, health) with a totally different focus. What was once invisible, becomes immediately apparent. Obvious even. When we shift our attention, we can find gold. We find ourselves with a different level of consciousness and a new appreciation for, and awareness of, what has always been there. In some ways, it’s like we’re opening our eyes for the first time.
This brief activity (looking for red) is a simple, yet effective, one – we find what we’re searching for. When we have a narrow focus (which we often do), we don’t see the entirety of what’s there. The potential. The gifts. The joy. The fun. The good. The opportunity. When we look for bad, we’ll find it. When we expect rejection, we’ll find that too. If we’re constantly searching for problems, we’ll never see the solutions.
Our focus becomes our reality and we wind up creating the very thing (situation, outcome) that we desperately want to avoid.
Sometimes we’re so obsessed with, and fearful of, the bad, we miss out on the considerable good in our world. Sometimes we’re so preoccupied with finding the red things in the room that we don’t notice (enjoy, celebrate, appreciate) any of the other amazing colours. Today I’m encouraging you to consciously take a look at your world through the eyes of optimism, gratitude and greater awareness.
Consciously find the good. It’s there.
So now it’s your turn to share a thought, idea, story or experience relating to this post… and yes, even you Newbies. Have you ever shifted your focus to shift your reality? Tell us about it.