motivation

How to Point Your Brain Towards Success

I heard a really interesting story the other day that got me thinking about how our brains get in the way our success. The story goes something like this. A man, let’s call him Mark, who’s been teaching people to white water raft for years. Mark says “when I started teaching young kids to white water raft I would always be pointing out the dangers. I would point and say don’t hit that rock! Don’t hit that tree! Look out for this, look out for that!” Mark was always focused on what he wanted these kids to avoid when they were paddling the raft. Then he noticed whenever he said to avoid something, the kids ended up steering right for it! After years of this Mark changed his tactic. Now the first thing he says to people when giving a rafting lesson is “I’m going to point where I want you to go. Look where I’m pointing and go that way!” As a result, the kids steer the raft towards the calm water that Mark is pointing at, and avoid the obstacles without even focusing on them! Eureka!

Maybe you don’t white water raft but it works the same way for something like riding a bike. I’ve heard my husband tell our son a million times to look where he wants to go when he’s riding his bike because that’s the way he will steer. Don’t look at the bump or the hole that you want to avoid or you’ll end up going right for it. Makes sense right? We do this when we are driving too. We don’t look at the pothole. We look beyond the pothole to where we want to go and then we avoid it.

Our brains work the same way when setting goals. It’s really easy for our brains to come up with things that we don’t want, or we want to avoid in our life when goal setting. Think about your own goals. If you picture yourself a year from now and say you had the best year of your life what happened? Your list might sound something like this;

  • I don’t want to be in debt anymore

  • I don’t want to be overweight

  • I don’t want to be tired all the time

  • I don’t want to be working paycheck to paycheck

Do you see a common theme here? All of these goals are worded in a way that focuses on the PROBLEM, the things I want to AVOID in my path. When I list my goals by focusing on the negatives, and what I don’t want, it pulls my brain’s focus to those negatives and I start paying more attention to those problems.

I gave the example a few weeks ago of sleep and how we can trick our brains into thinking we had a good sleep by telling ourselves we have a good sleep, and avoiding complaining about how bad our sleep was. This is the same idea. The more I think about what I DON’T want, the more my brain gives attention to those negatives, and I am more likely to continue on a negative path. Whatever we focus on we will find more of in our lives. Our brains are really good at this. But if we focus on what we want to avoid, or on the negatives, our brains will find more of that day to day.

Instead of focusing on with what I want to avoid I need to point my finger in the direction of what I do want. Where I want to go. Not focusing on the potholes, or the rocks, or the branches in my way, but focusing on the endpoint, the safe point, the happy point.

I’ll ask the question again. A year from now if I’ve had the best year of my life what does it look like? Now I’m going to reword the points about what I DON’T want to focus on what I DO want.

  • I am debt free

  • I exercise regularly and am a healthy weight

  • I have energy during the day

  • I have surplus income each month

Can you see the difference? Look where I’m pointing my finger (my brain) now. I’m pointing at where I want to go (positive) not at where I want to avoid (negative). It may seem like a subtle distinction but this small language change and mindset change makes a big difference for my brain. If I word my goals as positives, as where I want to go, my brain is going to focus on that positive endpoint and I’m going to be more successful.

I’m going to be writing over the next few weeks with a focus on setting and achieving goals including tips and strategies to change our thinking, to overcome mental obstacles, and to be more successful in our goals. Let me know what you think and send any questions my way!