What Do You Focus On?
Updated: Apr 21
One of my many jobs when I was in college was managing a boxing and mixed martial arts studio in West LA, about a mile away from the UCLA campus. I loved that job. I learned a lot about what it takes to run a small business. And when I wasn’t dealing with customers or tending to business issues, I was taking classes. The owner of the studio was a former champion boxer and kickboxer. He taught me a lot about martial arts. But there was one lesson in particular that stood out and that I’ve never forgotten. He told me that when you box, the natural instinct will be to look down, particularly as the fight progresses. As the body gets tired, it takes a lot of effort to hold the chin up. “Wherever you look,” he reminded me, “that’s where you’ll end up.” If you look at the ground, you’ll end up on the ground. I can attest to the truth of that teaching.
The lesson extends well beyond the boxing ring. The results you get in life are a function of the actions you take. And the actions you take are determined by the meaning you give to your circumstances. What then drives the meaning you give to your circumstances? You guessed it. It’s what you focus on. If you focus on what’s wrong with you or others, certain actions will occur to you, ones that are completely different than if you focus on what’s working.
Consider the following example. A few weeks ago, we had family stay with us during the Thanksgiving holiday. My seven-year-old nephew was so focused on the fact that he had to leave in a few days that he couldn’t fully enjoy the time he had with his cousins. You don’t have to be seven years old to recognize this tendency.
If you want to lead an extraordinary life, you have to choose to focus on the things that will produce an empowering meaning. It turns out that we all have a primary focus – one that is responsible for much of what we experience in life. To figure out what your primary focus is, you have to identify the question you ask yourself the most. Anthony Robbins, the author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and coach, calls this your primary question. In his words, “the quality of your life is the quality of your questions.” Salesforce founder and CEO, Mark Benioff, credits this wisdom with his revolutionary management system V2MOM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, Metrics), a cascading system of answers to a set of powerful questions that help his entire organization stay aligned.
Everyone has a primary question that determines what they focus on. When I first set out to identify my primary question, it didn’t take long. Almost immediately, I knew that the question I asked myself most often was, “how can I make sure that I know more than anyone else?” For as long as I can remember, I have been an insatiable learner. My primary question had driven me to focus on learning as much as I could, all the time. This intense focus on learning served me in many ways, personally and professionally. But when I first became aware of it and examined it, I recognized that it was holding me back. So intensely driven was I by the acquisition of knowledge that I wasn’t fully living my life. So I decided to consciously choose a new primary question. I chose to move from a program that was running me to intentionally constructing a part of my code that would optimize my life.
My new question became (and still is), “How can I appreciate and live life even more fully right now?” That question has been transformational. When I repeatedly ask that question, the world shows up to me as a series of opportunities to appreciate and live life more fully. While I’m still an avid learner, I’m not as compulsive as I once was. My new question has freed me up to fully enjoy my relationships with friends, colleagues, and loved ones. That is the power of focus. When my focus shifted, so too did the meaning I gave to my circumstances. In turn, the actions that I naturally saw as available to me shifted, and so did the results I began to get.
What is your primary question? What is the one question you ask yourself all the time? Here are a few examples: Am I good enough? How can I make sure I don’t fail? Will people like me? How can I make this even better? Whatever your current primary question is, ask yourself where it has served you and where it limits you. Then take some time to choose a new primary question. Once you’ve done that, practice asking yourself the new question multiple times a day. This has been a game-changer for me, and I know that it will be for you too.