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Where you focus determines your reality.

Spiritual leaders have been saying this for thousands of years. Jesus said that if your eyes are full of light, then so will the rest of your life. But if your eyes are focusing on darkness, then the rest of your life will be that way too (Matthew 6:22). Similarly, an ancient Chinese proverb said it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Where’s your focus?

I worked with a brilliant leader recently who was tasked with an almost insurmountable task. “I don’t think it can be done,” he said. Then he proceeded to tell me all the data that pointed to how impossible it was to accomplish the job. After listening and asking questions for a while I challenged him with, “what would have to be in place in order to pull this assignment off?”

After a lot of silence, and a discussion about positive focus, he replied, “I think I get your meaning… I’m going to think on this over the weekend.”

I’m happy to say, after a few days, he came up with an amazing plan to accomplish what he previously thought was impossible simply because his focus changed.

In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky shares some great data about how one’s focus will indeed affect their reality. Studies have shown that a person’s worldview is 50% affected by genetics. Their worldview could be positive or negative, optimistic or “realistic.” Some among us are naturally prone to think a certain way—ok. But get this—40% of our positivity or negativity is affected by our choices. And only 10% of our outlook is affected by circumstances outside of our control.

How could Viktor Frankl survive his time in a Nazi concentration camp and come out saying “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves?” Or think of Nelson Mandela incarcerated for 27 years as a political prisoner. He came out saying, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Hard circumstances are a part of life. Many succumb to the pressure, but some come out different—why? One factor is for sure: positive focus.

I find in coaching leaders that one thing sets the good ones apart from the great ones. They both get the job done. But the great ones focus on what’s possible instead of on what can’t be done.

When I was a high school teacher, one semester I taught a world religions course. One of my students assignments was to pick a teaching of one world religion and teach it to someone of another world religion. Some students came back saying, “I can’t teach this, I don’t believe it.” My response was “the world doesn’t care what you don’t believe—they care what you do believe. Find something you believe and teach it like you mean it.” That assignment was transformational for many students because it forced them to grapple with one thing–focus. In this case, the focus on what they believed vs. what they didn’t believe.

My point here is simple—as a leader, folks will not remember you because of what you said couldn’t be done or what you didn’t believe. Rather, they will remember you by what you believed was possible and by the beliefs that guided you on the journey.

Right now, take a moment and assess what’s in front of you that seems hard. Here’s a simple question I ask my clients, that if they engage, change everything. What would it take to pull it off? This is one of the areas I focus on in my work with leaders. Once you’ve answered this question then ask yourself where you’d have to start. This is the power of positive focus.

It’s this kind of thinking that helps create an enduring legacy. What you focus on determines your reality. Where’s yours?

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