"The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want." - Ben Stein
Oh, the Olympics. How I love them. The flips, the dives, the leaps. The passion and grit.
I’m not catching nearly as much as I would like to, but watching the Olympics always makes me think about the athletes and their dedication - the hours of practice that go into such effortless and graceful looking movements.
While all of these athletes came to where they are from very different backgrounds, I would argue that they all have a clear focus on what they want.
It’s this focus, this knowing what they want, that keeps them training longer and harder than anyone else, that gets them up day after day, early morning after early morning until they have literally arrived at the opportunity to capture the gold.
This sort of brilliance is never a mistake.
This level of excellence happens because at some point someone made a decision about what they wanted and they focused their energy on it. Excellence of this sort doesn't happen solely because someone has natural, raw talent. The world is full of out-of-shape people who are naturally athletic.
I believe that what makes some of us excel and others barely get by, starts with knowing what we want and making a decision to go after it with dogged pursuit.
Here’s the thing, though...knowing what we want and declaring it is scary business.
When we put ourselves out a limb, it leaves us vulnerable to failure, rejection, and falling on our face.
So, most of us don’t.
We boldly declare what we sort of want. We proudly go after something we don’t hate.
We settle for the mediocre job, the ok relationship - because sitting on the sidelines of what we want feels safer. Not everyone can get the gold.
When we don’t decide what we want, though, it’s pretty f-ing hard to get it.
When we don’t take the time to declare what we want out of fear, laziness, or busyness and leave it up to fate, we are much more likely to wake up one day wondering what happened to our life. Mid-life crisis sports car anyone?
We end up settling. Or worse, we pass right by what we do want and don’t even realize it.
When we know what we want and we focus on it, we activate a nifty part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System. Yes, it's neuroscience geek-out time.
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is my favorite part of the brain because it works like magic. It’s the science behind The Secret, vision boards, and visualization.
The RAS takes instructions from your conscious mind and passes them on to your subconscious mind. Science has shown that our subconscious mind pretty much runs the show, so this is a big deal.
Our RAS “acts like an antenna, noticing stimuli and alerting your brain to pay attention to data that is relevant to your goals. It also works as a filter, preventing the conscious mind from becoming over-burdened by incoming information.” (Coaching with NLP for Dummies)
Have you ever had your eyes on a new pair of shoes, and suddenly you notice everyone is wearing that shoe style? That’s you RAS at work.
Have you ever been desperately single and all you notice are saccharine-sweet couples eye-gazing and making out everywhere? Your RAS hard at work.
Every day we’re constantly bombarded by so much information. If we paid attention to all of it, we would all be committed to the nut house within hours. This is why our RAS is so important; it filters out everything that isn’t important to us.
The problem occurs, however, when we don’t know what we want, when we don’t tell our RAS what to filter in and out.
When we don’t take the time to articulate what we want, when we focus on what other people want for us, or when we focus on what we don’t want, we give our RAS instructions to look for more of exactly that.
Its one of the reasons, despite wanting to change, we can find ourselves stuck in negative patterns.
I’m not dissing the importance of noticing and knowing what you don’t want. There can be value in it during the discovery process. But, we want to use that helpful information to figure out what we do want, and shift our focus to that.
As Tony Robbins says in Awaken the Giant Within, “We’ve got to remember that we get what we focus on in life. If we keep focusing on what we don’t want, we’ll have more of it. The first step to creating any change is deciding what you do want so you have something to move toward.”
When we know what we want and we focus on it, we give our RAS something to work with. Then, it can go to work filtering in opportunities that align with what we want and filtering out those that don’t.
So, what is it you want?
When we’re clear on what we want, we can start to take action and live our lives on purpose. We can align our compass and point ourselves in the direction of our true north. The moment we get clear on what we want, we've taken the first step to creating change.
And, who knows, you might surprise yourself and win the gold along the way.
Feeling a little lost about what you want? This is also something I love to help my clients to discover. Next week, I'll share a few tools on how to uncover what you want.