Dr Peggy Marshall

Putting Your Attention on Your Intentions

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

-Alexander Graham Bell


This month we are going to focus on Intention and Attention.  In my work with people who are trying to make changes in their lives by putting their heart’s desires and goals into action, the aspect of what they are focusing on becomes paramount.  I believe that everyone who has a strong desire to accomplish a goal has the best of intentions to succeed.  They may even have the best of plans to create success for themselves.  However sometimes we experience gaps between what we say we want and behaviors that don’t match the desired goals.


Many of us have heard that what we place our attention on grows.  The Human Performance Institute program in Orlando encourages us to develop rituals to build a foundation for focusing our attention on what matters most.  What is a ritual?  It is an action that places attention on what we most want to achieve and/or what matters most to us and supports our intentions.  For example, we know that exercise is critical to developing physical stamina so that we can meet the demands of our busy lives.  A ritual that supports investing in an exercise program would be to have your clothing in the car if you plan on exercising after work.  Or if you are trying to change your self-talk, you could create a ritual around self-talk that would require you to measure at the end of the day whether your self-talk was more positive or negative.


Shawn Achor in “The Happiness Advantage” also guides the process of focused attention by adopting a 20 second rule which requires us to place what we want on the path of least resistance.  Essentially, you make it easier to accomplish goals by identifying what steps we need to take to succeed and making it easier to adopt new behaviors that lead to success.  For example, if you want to eat a more healthy diet, keep healthy foods visible so that you are reminded to follow-through with your intention.  You can also make is harder to do the things that impede your success such as not watching TV during a time that you are trying to interact more with family or focusing on an important activity for your growth.  What’s impactful about using the 20 second rule is that you actually use less energy for change providing your self with the potential for a quick build of habits.


Speaking of habits, the major obstacle to staying consistent with newly developed rituals or the twenty second rule is that you are tying to change the habits you already have.  Ninety-five percent of what we do is habitual-it takes less energy and focus to do what we have always done.  That leaves 5% of behavior that is available for consciously changing our behaviors.  Using this 5% of energy requires willpower-something we have a limited supply of.  We can build willpower over time in much the same way we build muscle as our brains actually change to deliver on the new habits.  However, this does require vigilance to succeed.


What are some of the tools to help you stay focused and create this vigilance?  Writing down the action steps either in a log or journal can help you maintain focus.  If you choose this option, you will want to keep your journal or action plan readily available so that you can document progress and success.  Another tool is to create a key word or mantra that can be repeated throughout the day.  Words like “healthy, congruent, positive, family, etc.” or other simple phrases can be used.  Finding someone who can be supportive of your new rituals and behaviors also can help reinforce them.  Choose these support people wisely as you will need to be in at least weekly contact with them.  Finally, make sure you build in rewards and celebrate quick wins and ultimate success!


To Your Success!

Dr. Peggy