Has anyone ever asked you if you see the glass as half-full or half-empty? Most of us can probably remember hearing this expression at one time or another. Although the real essence of the question, are you optimistic or pessimistic, is an important lesson, there is an even more important and subtle truth here. This truth is that the conscious mind can only hold one thought at a time. The previous question asserts this when it asks if you see the glass as half-full or half-empty, there isn’t an option for half-full and half-empty even though this option would be accurate. In other words, the conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time.
Look around the room you are sitting in right now. Look at your chair, the things on the desk, even the various icons on your computer. Until I pointed them out, you were probably not thinking about them at all. Think about your breathing or your posture. Unless you have a respiratory problem or you are in an uncomfortable position, it is doubtful that these were recently the subject of your thoughts as well. Yet, all of these things have been an influence in your environment since you started reading this article.
Surrounding you right now there are an infinite amount of things you could be focusing on, yet your mind can only hold one. This principle of focus is really the key to staying happy, succeeding in goals and solving problems. Because there are an infinite number of things that you could focus on but only one that you do focus on, the principle of focus is essentially a decision. A decision about what to focus on. This decision is so important that Anthony Robbins  lists it as the first decision you have to make.
How do you feel right now? Are you depressed? Content? Happy? Ecstatic? How you feel comes largely from what you have decided to focus on. If you are depressed, then chances are your focus is on negative aspects of your surroundings. Similarly, if you are happy then chances are your mind is focusing on positive aspects of your reality. Unfortunately, most people have been conditioned to believe that their focus represents an average or accurate representation of reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your focus merely represents one very minute detail of reality. A similar analogy would be looking at one blue pixel of your computer screen and assuming the screen is blue. This is exaggerated even more in reality. While a computer pixel may be surrounded by a few hundred thousand other pixels, you are surrounded by infinity.
What I am really getting at is that there is a large enough sampling of choices in your reality to create any feeling you want. At any moment you can focus on something that makes you feel inspired, enthusiastic and joyous or you can focus on something that makes you feel angry, depressed or hateful. The decision you make also affects not only your emotional state but also your ability to solve problems and take effective action. If you have a lot of things to do and you focus on how large your task is you might never get started. If you instead focus on just doing the very first task before moving on you can get it done.
Let’s meet Bob. Bob just lost his job. During this moment there are an infinite number of things Bob could focus on. Bob could begin to focus on how unfair this is. He could begin to focus on how he will have less money for his family. He might then start to focus on how he just bought a new house and how he has no idea how he can keep paying his mortgage. He may also think that this financial and career set back may put extra strain on his already stressed marriage. He thinks his wife may leave him and take the kids. She may have to get a job to support the children, maybe in a place far away. Bob will be left alone and miserable, hopelessly in debt without the children he loves.
Bob could also focus on other things. Bob could focus on how this represents a great opportunity. He may focus on this as an opportunity to start his own business and do work that really inspires him. He could focus on how this adversity could allow him to really put his priorities on his family. He knows it may be difficult, but his wife and children will support him. He can focus on how this jolt will snap him out of his complacency so that he won’t take things for granted and be more grateful to his wife and kids. Bob will strengthen his relationships through this and it will become an opportunity for him to pursue even more purposeful and passionate work.
Now some of you might be thinking, well Bob isn’t being very realistic. Unfortunately you are falling into the trap we identified earlier. Both of these are completely realistic situations. As I stated earlier, reality is infinite, it is only perception that is limited. There is also another important point here. That point is that much of what Bob is focusing on is simply his predictions for the future. In other words, Bob isn’t even focusing on just his current reality but his imagination of his future.
The truth is that our perceptions tend to form a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Bob were to focus on the first picture he may start to get irritable and behave in a way that starts to add further damage to his relationships. As a result Bob’s own focus and intentions ultimately manifests his reality in that image. Similarly by focusing on the latter image, Bob may take initiative to restore his relationships and start his business. Once again, the focus creates the reality. Focus doesn’t just change the way you feel, it changes the way you behave. When you change the way you behave you change your future.
Focusing is the essence of goal-setting. All goal setting really is the ability to focus your mind on an objective. By setting written goals you are focusing your mind on what you want and therefore harnessing your power towards that aim. Writing your goals, visualizing outcomes and affirming them are all methods to change your focus. Goal setting works so well because of this self-fulfilling prophecy aspect of focus. Focus becomes reality.
Now at this point you may be thinking that this sounds great but it really can’t be that practical. I mean, if it is possible to change your focus to things that empower you and create a brighter future while simultaneously making you feel positive emotions, why doesn’t everyone just do that? The answer is because we aren’t in complete control of our process of focus. Biology and environmental factors have greatly shaped what we tend to focus on. If a lion was running directly at you, nature has told you to focus on the potential for impending death not the pretty butterfly flapping its wings in the distance. Some people have also developed habits that tell them to focus on how they are in a hopeless and desperate situation when they encounter a problem. These conditioned patterns, both genetic and environmental have guided much of our focusing process without our conscious guidance for our entire lives.
So how do you take control of focus? You know I wouldn’t have led you up to this point without offering some methods to override past conditioning and take control of this incredibly important factor in your life. In my research and experimentation I have found three incredibly effective techniques for being able to change your focus. By using these techniques you can begin to focus your mind on the things that empower you and make you feel great.
This first tool comes from Anthony Robbins. Anthony Robbins says that questions are the control key to focus. By using questions you can immediately direct your focus onto something else. I have found this tool incredibly effective for changing my own focus, but I must remind you that it is a habit. Unless you get used to using questions automatically when you encounter negative situations, you may not immediately think of a question to control your focus. Still, there are a handful of questions I like to use all the time to change my focus.
“What is great about this?”
This is a question Anthony brings up frequently in his tapes that I also use frequently. As long as you are persistent you can find something great about any situation. A lost job may represent a chance to get a fresh perspective on your working life. A failed goal may give you the pain necessary to really grow. A dying relative may affirm your need to really live life to the fullest before you too fade away.
“How can I solve this?”
When you encounter a problem, once the problem has been defined, immediately focus on this question. By focusing on this question you are directing yourself to the positive element of the challenge, not the negative one. By asking, “Why is this happening to me?” you won’t create solutions.
“Why is my life great?”
Assuming you ask this question without sarcasm, this can also direct your focus to all the things you really value in life. By focusing on these aspects you won’t get bogged down in the little insignificant problems.
I’m not going to talk more about questions, but if you are looking for more information you may want to check out some of Anthony Robbins work on the subject.
As I said previously, we all have conditioned habits that tell us what to focus on. By utilizing this process we can interrupt our focus by simply altering our environment. If you are focusing on a really depressing problem, you could try an activity or environment that causes you to shift your focus. Although this method won’t work for the truly overwhelming problems, shifting your environment can be a good way just to make minor corrections of your focus when encountering little bumps in the road.
Exercising, spending time with family or doing something creative can all be methods to change your focus. Most people have already created methods that use this technique subconsciously. When some people get depressed they start to eat unhealthy foods. This is purely out of a need to change your focus. If take control of this process and find alternative, constructive methods to change your focus you can often break negative habits as well. There are plenty of positive ways you can change your focus with.
One method Steve Pavlina  has brought up recently is simply the method of consciously practicing to change your focus. Mental discipline in this area is possible, but it requires practice. By practicing the ability to change your focus to positive things you can more easily escape negative states. Taking time to work on the ability to shift your focus will allow you to do it more rapidly in the future.
Steve mentions one method to practice this mental discipline is to take an object, such as a banana and keep a timer to see how long you can focus only on bananas. As soon as a non-banana thought enters the mind, stop the timer. By practicing this technique you can increase your ability to hold a positive thought even when your negative conditioning tells you to focus on negative distractions.
Awareness is powerful. By simply being aware of the principle of focus you can improve your ability to find and hold positive, empowering thoughts and weed out negative, disempowering ones. As you are now aware of this principle, you will use it more, and as you use it more you will get better at it. If you are currently focusing on negative elements, begin to practice your ability to switch your focus right now.
We are all surrounded by infinity. There is an infinite amount of choices for what to focus on. Because our personal experience is perception not reality, we can create any experience we want by changing our focus. Changing our experiences also has a way of modifying our behaviors and ultimately, our direction in life. Don’t get stuck in negative states of misery, procrastination or anger. Use focus to shift yourself to states of motivation, productivity or your goals. Use focus and you can realize that getting the most out of your life is largely deciding what to perceive.