Focus Pocus

My wife and I used to have a lot of good mountain biking near where we lived. One of the trails that we regularly rode had a narrow traverse along a steep side hill. Both she, and some other people we knew, remarked that they found that section quite scary and had trouble staying on the trail. Others, including myself, seem to zoom along the trail with little trouble. As we discussed these differences, the reason for them became obvious.

Those who found the trail easy, tended to look straight ahead along the trail, while the ones who had trouble spent time looking at the area they wanted to avoid. That side hill worried them, so they kept their eye on it. Unfortunately, their focus tended to draw them towards the edge that they were trying to avoid, rather than the trail that they were trying to ride. When we figured it out, by making a conscious effort to look ahead and focus in their direction of travel, those who had trouble with the side hill did a lot better.

I have seen this same phenomenon in other activities such as skiing and kayaking. It seems to be, that when you focus on what you are trying to avoid, it becomes magnetic and draws you in that direction. The better course of action is to concentrate on where you want to go, and focus your attention there.

I firmly believe that this question of focus is at work in all phases of our lives. Two days ago I was talking to one of the mothers of a young couple who I knew before they moved away five or six years ago. They had a really strong business sense and were very focused on their goals when I knew them. The mom told me that in the last few years since moving, the couple had started a family, and had amassed a few million dollars of net worth. Thinking back to my own mid twenties, I could not have even conceived of that kind of undertaking. The "what ifs” would have held me back. I would have let the "downside” divert my attention.

There is a new concept, "the law of attraction” and though not really new, it does encapsulate some of the above ideas into a more unified theory. It is an understanding that we tend to attract into our lives that which we focus on, and I don’t doubt for a minute that it is real.

The challenge for all of us is that it is more complicated than learning to ride a bicycle on a side hill. There have been many teachers over the years that have tried to share this kernel of knowledge with us. It has come in the form of "the power of positive thinking”, all the way to having a "millionaire mind”. These concepts have had a profound effect on some people while for others they represent only one or two pieces of the puzzle. It’s not surprising, for each of us after all, is a complicated construct of influences from our conception to our present moment.

At very least, we should accept that how we think and act influences the things we attract, and we can change the way we think if we so wish.

The book "the seven habits of highly effective people” by Steven Covey has an excellent demonstration of changing our perception. He describes a drawing of a beautiful young woman in a hat and then presents it. He then asks if you can see the outline of the homely old woman. It’s one of those trick drawings. If you fuzz your vision, and accept that there may be another way of looking at it, after a while, voila – there she is to your surprise. It requires an act of letting go of preconceptions, and shifting your focus in order to see her. An act not unlike seeing the trail you wish to travel on your bicycle instead of the side hill.

Accepting that there is indeed a law of attraction, it must have a number of conditions. The following two quotes may serve to illustrate a couple of them.

"Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows” H.D. Thoreau

"How you do anything is how you do everything” [unattributed zen author]