Few organizations know how to manage change well. The traditional approach is to focus on the failures, define the problems and fix what’s broken. The problem with this approach is that whatever we put our attention on is what grows.
When we focus on problems, mistakes and limitations, our limitations grow. When we focus on new possibilities, the possibilities grow. It is infinitely more productive and exciting to focus on new possibilities than to look at all the mistakes of the past.
Most people recognize that when we continuously criticize children, they develop an inferiority complex. What most people don’t know is that the same is true of organizations. When people continuously critique the organization, work processes and each other, an inferiority complex develops and low energy is the norm. An unconscious air of disempowerment keeps people from taking risks and being innovative.
When our attention is on our problems and shortcomings we tend to find what we are looking for. Many people can spell out every nuance of what’s wrong with each department and each individual. They make the mistake of thinking that being well versed in all our limitations and all the inefficiencies makes us look clever.
We can move our organizations forward when we focus on the present and future instead of the past. Surely our problems need attention. But when we put too much attention on weaknesses and mistakes, they become overly important. When a problem is resolved, the good feeling that results soon has us looking for another problem to overcome. Fixing problems can be euphoric and often people become addicted to the high. The danger is that then we need to find new and more difficult problems to resolve.
We have the choice of focusing on what’s wrong or turning our attention to what’s going well, the things in the organization we wish to grow. When we look for instances of people doing good work, we’re looking for trends moving in the right direction instead of the wrong direction. The direction we are looking in is most often where we will end up. Each of us has the power to decide. We do not have to be a victim of problems or the past. We can end the ancient habit pattern of letting your past eat up your present and future. This is not an easy task. It requires habit formation, decision and constant reminders until habits change.
Suggestions for focusing on your desired future:
- Spend a few days just noticing where you put your attention. How often are you thinking about the possibilities for the future? How oftne are your focused on the limitations or the reasons you can’t have what you want?
- Ask how your work would be different if you stopped paying attention to perceived limitations, problems and the reasons you can’t move forward.
- Ask what can you pay attention to instead of your problems? What would you rather be doing? You can’t just give up paying attention to limits without thinking carefully about what thoughts will replace them.
- What are you waiting for to make your organization great? List all the reasons. How many of them are excuses?
- Find a touchstone to remind you to put your attention on the present and future. You might put a note at your desk that says, “Where is my attention right now?”
- Set up a support system of coworkers who would like to shift their focus as well. Call each other once a day and discuss your successes. Call when you’re struggling to shift your attention and call to celebrate your breakthroughs. It can help to talk to someone about how rich and rewarding work can be when you focus on possibilities rather than problems.
When you look for life-giving forces, you bring out the best in people. Instead of using traditional problem-solving processes that separate, dissect and pull apart, look for the things you appreciate which integrate and pull people together. By focusing on aspirations and ideals, the proverbial glass won’t be half empty or half full, but overflowing.
Written by Martha Lasley
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