The spiral of positivity — decide on your focus

In the second of his short articles around attitude in customer service Steven Harris explores the importance of positive focus when reacting to events or actions.

What you focus on is what you get. So if you focus on the negative that’s what you will get. If on the other hand you focus on the positive that’s what you get also.

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If I said to you now “Do not think of elephants!” how many of you, even if it was just for a second saw an elephant? Or if I said the dog is not chasing the cat, how many of you saw a dog chasing the cat? The mind does not hear the negative and just hears the command – think of elephants or the dog is chasing the cat.

If I said to you let’s have a bad day, I bet if I fast-forwarded the day to the end of the day I would hear someone saying “told you, bad day.” But if I said let’s have a great day. What are the chances of having a better day? Yes that’s right, a better chance.

How many times have you decided you need a new big ticket item, it may be a car or a holiday, and then every time the radio is on there is an advert for that very item? Or if it’s a car then every time you walk down the street you see the very model, in the very colour that you want. Why does that happen? It happens because you are focusing on and therefore receptive to these particular things. These things are always around us, but when we decide we need them or decide to focus on them, we notice them more often.

People say to me this is great and we feel really motivated but how do you keep that feeling going. My answer is always the same and that is to monitor your thoughts and monitor your language – that’s the thoughts and language you use with yourself and the language you use with other people. Let me give you an example.

Choose your response

Many of us go through life blaming others and blaming circumstances for how we behave and how we feel. This is quite common and it allows us not to have to take responsibility for what happens to us.

I was a witness to an exercise run with a group of fifteen senior managers in Sofia, Bulgaria, a few years ago. The facilitator asked the group to stand in the corner of the room and throw a crunched-up piece of paper into a waste paper basket that he had placed at the other end of the room. The only rule was that they all had to throw it at the same time.

There was a brief moment of excitement as the facilitator counted down from five to one and at that point everyone attempted to throw their piece of paper into the basket. The result was not great. In fact only one piece of paper out of fifteen landed on target. Everyone was then asked to sit down and the facilitator quickly prepared a flip chart with two columns, the one on the left was headed external and the one on the right internal.

He then asked the group, with the exception of the person who succeeded, to explain why they had not been successful in throwing their piece of paper into the waste paper basket. As the group declared their reasons he charted them up as follows:

External                                                                                         Internal

  • The paper was too light                                              I did not aim correctly
  • The bin was too far away                              
  • The other people put me off
  • The air conditioning knocked me off course
  • The bin was too small
  • The facilitator did not give me time to practise
  • The paper was too thin
  • The light was shining in my eyes

He then asked them if they realised what was happening and after a few minutes the group admitted that they were blaming other things and other people for their failure. In other words, they were blaming external factors for the result that they had got. Only one comment listed under the internal column represented the individual taking personal responsibility.

The truth of the matter however is this – although we are not always responsible for what happens to us, we are definitely responsible for how we respond to what happens to us and how we respond determines how we feel.

Let me share with you an example to prove the point above. Let’s say I came up to you (bearing in mind I have never met you before) and say that you are the biggest idiot I have ever met in my life. You then have several choices how you respond. You could respond by thinking how did he figure it out so quickly? Then how are you going to feel? Pretty bad I would suspect. You may even go inside yourself and find evidence to support how you feel. However, you could also respond in a different way, saying to yourself that you have never met me before and you know for a fact that you are in no way an idiot. If you responded in that way you will probably at worst feel neutral. You certainly wouldn’t feel bad. We are therefore in control of how we respond and therefore how we feel.

If we look at the theory behind what we are discussing above it may look something like this equation:  E + R = O; where E = the events in your life, R = your response to those events and O = the outcome that you experience. To summarise, the events in your life plus your response to those events will determine the outcome that you experience.

Unlike animals, humans have a slight gap after the E (event) and before the R (response). This slight gap gives us the ability to choose our response and being able to choose our response enables us to determine the outcome that we experience.

Let us now consider some real life events and the different responses that are available to us all.

In the event of a flight delay our responses are either:

  • Event – flight delayed + Response – anger for missing valuable time of holiday =

Outcome – disappointment, frustration and anger, or

  • Event – flight delayed + Response – decide to enjoy time with partner = Outcome – feel relaxed and calm.

A job application response might be as follows:

  • Event – unsuccessful job interview + Response – you start to doubt your ability = Outcome – Your confidence takes a hit, or
  • Event – unsuccessful job interview + Response – request feedback so you can learn where you went wrong = Outcome – increase chance of future success.

Now the above examples have happened to many of us in our lifetime. However people respond differently to the same event and as a result experience a very different outcome.

At a deeper level it is interesting how when we grieve after the loss of a relative or close friend, some people move on emotionally more rapidly than others. This has to be down to when the individual chooses a different response and chooses to move on with their life.

Now if we agree with this theory, and it takes responsibility to do so, we can never blame people again for making us feel anything. It’s not what people do or say but it’s how we respond to what they do or say that determines how we feel.

“No one can make me feel inferior without my consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt

This quote by Eleanor Roosevelt reconfirms this point perfectly. It’s how I respond that determines how I feel.

In the next article Steven Harris explores thought and language.

Steven Harris is founder and managing partner of Energize Learning and can be contacted at  and these articles are based on his book Fired Up and Ready to Go!

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