Focus on the Goal

Years ago, when I first became a writer I befriended a gentleman, James Dunne, who worked for Ferrari. I was writing a novel set in Monte Carlo and wanted to know all I could about the Formula One and the cars, people, etc. I also attended the first NASCAR races in DFW and became friends with members of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s pit crew to get an inside perspective on car racing. It was a tremendous experience. The book is in a drawer, but the lessons were forever. I took away a maxim that has affected how I approach life and people, and today I will share with you guys.

Race car drivers not only have to go top speed (duh) but the largest part of winning is staying in the race. Drivers stay in the race if they can avoid colliding with other cars and keep from hitting the wall. Rocket science here, right? Bear with me. When race car drivers train, they are taught to keep their eyes where they want to go. Why? Because where the eyes go, the car follows. Thus, they are instructed that, to avoid hitting the wall, never look at the wall. Or more accurately, To avoid hitting the wall, focus on the finish line.

Race car drivers always keep their eyes on the straightaway and on the finish line. This was a life-changing lesson for me. Where the mind goes the man follows. Race car drivers aren’t foolish. They know the wall is there. Yet, they understand that staring at it is not going to do anything positive for getting them closer to the checkered flags.

In life, I do all I can to ignore the walls and keep my eyes on the prize. This has a lot to do with positive thinking, which beats being negative any day of the week. My thought life is vitally important to my attitude, and my attitude is the most vital component of how I treat myself and others. How do I avoid walls? I watch 2 things—my focus and my mouth.

Watching My Focus

For years I volunteered teaching children in a Christian after school program. We generally inherited most of the problem kids because no one else wanted them around. These kids hit and kicked and had no concept of self control. I noticed that when we corrected them or chastised them for a certain behavior, we soon could expect more of it…a LOT more. So we volunteers decided to change our approach with these little “scoundrels.”

Even though it made me want to pull out my hair, I began ignoring most of their acting out. Yet, when they settled down and were quiet, I offered heaping praise. When they played nicely with other kids, I made a big production of what great kiddos they were. It wasn’t long until most of these kids were happy, smiling, and well-behaved. They craved attention. All I did was lavish attention for better behavior.

The strange thing was that a few of them didn’t change. Some of the kids still acted up. They didn’t change, but I did. I could still care for them and enjoy them because I focused on the good they had to offer.

Other people always have “walls” and I make a deliberate act to ignore them. It doesn’t do me or other people any good to focus on weakness or where they fall short, because we all fall short. I find that if I focus on how someone is always late or disorganized or negative, pretty soon it colors how I treat that person. Yet, I notice that if I can look for the good, then eventually I get to the point where I don’t even see the bad. It isn’t that their “wall” isn’t there; it just isn’t my sole focus.

The same goes for how I treat myself. I know if I pay undue attention to my flaws, I soon can expect those flaws to get bigger, which leads to my next point…

Watching My Mouth

Did you know that the subconscious brain cannot tell the difference between truth and lie? Even if you give it wrong information, the subconscious brain will accept it as true. Psychiatrists call this conditioning. Christians say that, out of your mouth you speak life and death; choose life. Both schools imply we have a choice.

If I say, “Today is going to be so horrible.” Guess what? Often it is. Why? I spoke it and deemed it so. Thus, instead of noticing the good things that happen, my eyes will be fixed on “walls” all day long because I have instructed them to do so. I will look for every little thing that doesn’t go my way to affirm the belief I have stuck in my head… “Today is going to be horrible.”

“Oh I just know I am going to be late for that meeting.” Hmmm. Suddenly I cannot find my keys, my bag, my purse, my butt.

Another point. Did you know that the human brain also has this weird way of chopping off conditionals, and it only begins to listen at the first active verb? This is why negative goals can submarine our best efforts.

I say: Don’t forget your folder.

Brain hears: Forget your folder.

I say: Don’t overeat tonight at dinner.

Brain hears: Overeat at dinner.

I say: Under no certain circumstances will you bait to that woman at the board meeting.

Brain hears: Bait to that woman at the board meeting.

I say: Now make sure you don’t lose that business card.

Brain hears: Lose that business card.

If you tell a writer, “The pitch session isn’t the end of the world. Don’t panic.” I guarantee you she hears, “Pitch session. End of the world. Panic.”

How we talk to ourselves is critical. I have found that phrasing things in the positive makes a remarkable difference. When I come in the door, I say, “Now remember your keys are here.” When I am going to a restaurant that I know can make me eat until I pop, I say “I am going to only eat until I am full.” When I wake up in the morning I say, “I am going to have a great day.” When I am staring down the barrel of having to face a horrible, negative person, I tell myself, “I am going to be calm and maintain my peace.” Is this some kind of magic charm? No. But I do find this approach mitigates the negative. I might find that my temper flares at that person who feels the need to sabotage a committee meeting, but it isn’t as bad as if I had told myself, “If such-and-such says one word, I am going to give her what-for.”

This approach also works with others.

I find that when I tell my husband, “Remember to pick up your slacks from the cleaners” that my odds are better that he will come home with his cleaning.

When I tell my young nephews, “I just know you two are going to make me look good when everyone sees how well you behave.” Most of the time, they do.

One of my favorite quotes is from Dale Carnegie. He said, “The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?”

We have a choice with our attitude, and we have a choice what rules govern how we see others and ourselves. If the most skilled racecar drivers in the world know to focus on the goal line, and top athletes know to focus on winning, and successful entrepreneurs know to focus on possibility, and successful couples know to focus on love, then we can take a lesson from that. If we want what they have, adopting their habits and attitude is a darn good start.

What are some ways you guys stay positive? All of us have to deal with hurt, angry, spiteful people, so how do you remain calm? We all face trials and hardship. How do you guys keep focused on the goal? Be brave and share so we might grow.

Thanks for stopping by, and remember to read this blog again on Monday ;).

Happy writing!

Until next time…

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  1. #1 by dtrasler on September 17, 2010 - 2:33 pm

    Brilliant! I am almost certain to remember to pick up your husband’s dry cleaning from now on….Wait….Er….

  2. #2 by Wendy C. on September 17, 2010 - 4:29 pm

    Great post! Made me think!

  3. #3 by mc6pack on September 17, 2010 - 4:50 pm

    Valuable advice, Kristen, and a great reminder that we can’t always control what the day throws at us, but we can control what we dodge. And how we react in the likely event that we take one to the face.

    This is of particular importance as a writer. I can go do a serviceable job of mowing the lawn with a poop-in-my-pants attitude, but to try and sit down and write, especially with the humorous voice I’m going for, doesn’t yield much for results. Plus I’ve sat down with poop in my pants, which is never comfortable.

    By the way, I was hooked at Ricky Bobby.

    Really enjoy the blog, Kristen. Thanks.

    • #4 by Kristen Lamb on September 17, 2010 - 5:09 pm

      I LOVE Ricky Bobby. That movie is the best. Thanks for the comment and you are so right. I know I tell my nephews, “You will have to work for the rest of your life. Might as well do it with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.” :D

  4. #5 by Julie on September 17, 2010 - 4:57 pm

    Fascinating post, and since I have a pitch session with an agent this weekend, I especially liked that example. :-) I think this is one of the reasons why I do my Gratitude Sunday post on the blog every week. It keeps me out of the weeds of life and focused on all of the good things. When you are focused on finding the good, that is indeed what you find.

    • #6 by Kristen Lamb on September 17, 2010 - 5:07 pm

      What a great idea! Gratitude Sunday. I will head over and check it out. Yes, when you do your pitch, it is really important to focus on the results you want to have. Thanks Julie and best of luck on the pitch :D.

      • #7 by Julie on September 17, 2010 - 5:12 pm

        Thank you! I will have good luck (hopefully that is the right way to phrase it)

  5. #8 by Bob Mayer on September 17, 2010 - 5:14 pm

    I really like the part about saying things positively. The subconscious is very powerful. One phrase I always watch out for is any time I say: “We’ll see.” That’s a hedge and a lacking of accountability. If it’s something I control, how can WE see? It shows a lack of commitment.

  6. #9 by angelwilson on September 17, 2010 - 8:29 pm

    Awesome post. I needed to hear that today! Thank you!

  7. #10 by Piper Bayard on September 17, 2010 - 8:32 pm

    I stay positive by reminding myself that I have a choice. That puts me in control of my attitude and makes me responsible for what I do with my time. Thanks for your post. All the best.

  8. #11 by Óscar Perdomo León on September 17, 2010 - 8:39 pm

    I agree. Positive way of thinking is an great answer to live better.

  9. #12 by Jami Gold on September 17, 2010 - 8:40 pm

    Great post, Kristen! Yes, I love focusing on the positive. I’m only going to get one life, so I’d rather like to make sure this one is happy. :)

  10. #13 by Nigel Blackwell on September 17, 2010 - 9:28 pm

    Actually knowing your goal (as in being able to write it down, not “oh, it, er, kind of you know…”) helps too.

    Now, where did I put mine…

  11. #14 by Heather on September 17, 2010 - 11:16 pm

    SO true, I love the analogy with the race car drivers, thank you for another inspiring post!

  12. #15 by purplecamouflage on September 19, 2010 - 4:30 pm

    Man, I wish I had read this earlier!
    I’m a volunteer teacher twice a week, and I can attest to the fact that for some kids, constant correction = constant attention, and it actually encourages them to do it again. Our students have actually managed to destroy a wall once because we kept telling them not to kick it. We’ve tried shouting, we’ve tried whistles.
    But yeah, I noticed that when we praise some kids or simply thank them for trying to help us control the others, a lot of them start doing the same. A student has to actually start doing it though, which doesn’t happen a lot, and sometimes it turns into fights.
    Thanks for the post! I’ll try to look for more ways to praise the kids this week. :)

    • #16 by Kristen Lamb on September 20, 2010 - 12:58 am

      It will be tough at first, but most of them come around. Good luck!

    • #17 by Kristen Lamb on September 20, 2010 - 1:09 am

      Oh and one more thing. Instead of constantly giving negative commands/instructions like “Don’t kick the wall” try replacing with positive instructions like, “Go sit down on the rug please.” Get them scope-locked on where you WANT them to be as opposed to what you want them to stay away from. Make sense? (Negative commands will just fixate them on the wall.) I found that helped tremendously.

  13. #18 by Linda G. on September 20, 2010 - 2:06 pm

    So, so true! You are what you think, so why not make it positive? Thanks for a marvelous post. :)

  14. #19 by Sean May on September 30, 2010 - 7:59 am

    As so many others have said – great post!

    It struck me as being an apt metaphor for the writing process – keeping your eyes on the finish line, meaning knowing how your story will end so you always have something to work towards.

    • #20 by Kristen Lamb on September 30, 2010 - 12:38 pm

      Thanks Sean for the comment! Yes, actually in my novel workshop we get the writers to figure out their ending before they ever begin writing. It is tremendously mentally liberating and helps the focus. :D

  15. #21 by CMStewart on October 18, 2010 - 12:13 pm

    When I must deal with negative people or negative situations I remind myself that I am not the negative person or situation. I am separate, autonomous, and strong. Sometimes negative situations overwhelm me, but I pick myself up and refocus on the positive.

    Great post, thanks for the reminder!

  16. #22 by Kathleen on October 18, 2010 - 4:17 pm

    Great post Kristen!

  17. #23 by Allan G. Smorra on November 27, 2013 - 11:03 am

    A friend of mine recently sent me a Thought-for-the-day that ties into your post: So why is a car’s WINDSHIELD so large & the Rear View Mirror so small? Because our PAST is not as important as our FUTURE. So, Look Ahead and Move on.

    I really like your observations and experiences in this post. If you don’t mind I am going to reblog it.

    Allan

  18. #26 by Allan G. Smorra on November 27, 2013 - 11:05 am

    Reblogged this on Ohm Sweet Ohm and commented:
    Kristen has some timely information for us in this wonderful post about life and attitude.

  19. #27 by Alpha on November 28, 2013 - 10:24 am

    Since Allan’s shared your blog, I have something else to be thankful for today – a message to reinforce being positive. Racecar drivers hitting the wall reminds me of preparing for a marathon years ago where “hitting the wall” meant reaching the point where you thought you could not continue and it required some positive internal dialogue to persist reaching another point when the endorphins resurface to diminish the pain and you move into “the zone”. Seeing life as process with daily opportunities and recurring needs for positive self talk via prayer, meditation or simple affirmations helps enrich the journey. Thanks for your positive perspective, Kirsten. Hope you and your family enjoy this Thanksgiving!

  20. #28 by Alpha on November 28, 2013 - 10:26 am

    I’ll try not to let typos get me down, Kristen. Sorry.

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