Winston Churchill made famous the phrase “Never give up!” But when I say Don’t stop, I am not referring to the importance of persevering. Though being determined and resolute and tenacious and unrelenting and tireless and purposeful and persistent are all exceedingly important, those qualities will not help you move through life’s obstacles as effectively as the angle I’m going to ask you to focus on here.
And focus is exactly the right word.
Much to my great detriment, I have spent far too many hours of my life working on what I wanted to get rid of; things I wanted to stop doing; negative character traits I wanted to see less of. And it turns out that, all by itself, THAT was the obstacle. My focus was keeping me from blasting through those things I wanted to get rid of; those things I wanted to stop doing and those negative character traits I wanted to get rid of. My focus was the obstacle.
I was simply focusing on the wrong things!
When I coach people on this topic, one of the questions I always ask is What do you want? It is always quite revealing about what the person is focusing on when they say things like ‘I want to stop procrastinating’ (or ‘…stop avoiding conflict’, or ‘….stop second-guessing myself’, or whatever the thing is that they don’t want). I listen and then ask What else do you want? If the person continues talking about what they don’t want, then I know we’ve got a real focus problem.
In one initial phone consultation with a woman in her late sixties, I asked her the question and she immediately said that she wants to stop getting cheated on. Gulp. That’s heavy. There’s a lot of pain in that desire. I asked, “What else do you want?”
She thought for maybe half a minute, which, over the phone, can seem like an eternity. Finally she said, “I guess I want lots of things, but wanting to not be cheated on any more is my main focus.”
I asked, “Are you sure?”
“Sure about what?”
“Are you sure that is your main focus?”
She thought some more about it. “Yes. For purposes of the coaching I feel that I need, my big thing is not being cheated on ever again.”
I asked for her to agree to withhold judgment on what I would say next. “Are you willing to withhold judgment on my first big piece of feedback until you give me ample opportunity to really explain where I’m coming from?”
She said yes. I then asked her to prove to herself that she was able to be open-hearted to my opinion by smiling as soon as she hears what I tell her. That broke the ice. She chuckled and agreed. Now she knew she wasn’t allowed to be offended. So, now I could tell her the truth without a breakdown in our communication.
“The truth is that you aren’t telling the truth, but you just don’t know it. Deep down, you either really do want to be cheated on because there’s some payoff in it for you, or you are confused as to what you really want. That’s what I get from what you’ve said so far. Are you smiling?”
I went on to explain to her that when I asked her what she wants, she identified something that she says she does not want. She did it no less than three times. She even clarified, insisting that not getting cheated on is her “main focus.”
Thinking about what you want to get rid of instead of what you want more of means you will continue to get more of the things you say you want to get rid of. Ruminating about the bad habit feeds the bad habit. I’ll do those undesirable behaviors just as much as I ever did, or even more(!), because of the attention paid to them. I’ll keep seeing more of the character traits I spend most of my time cogitating about. And I’ll certainly see a repeat of the same relationship calamities I’ve been experiencing if that’s what happens to occupy the center of my attention.
Whether we’re talking about your personal thought-life (Why do I keep thinking this way?), or your personal behaviors (Why do I keep engaging in these behaviors?), or things you’re doing that are getting poor results in your relationships (Why do I keep sabotaging things?), or in your career (Why do I seem stuck in a “rut”… or stagnant; or Why doesn’t anyone seem to take me seriously? etc.), the answer to those questions is real simple. The answer is: BECAUSE YOU’RE ASKING FOR IT!
The key — the big secret to turning things around: Don’t stop.
- Don’t stop thinking about what you want more of
- Don’t stop doing what you know works
- Don’t stop practicing the habits (behaviors that you repeat) that promote the results you want
- Don’t stop working to cultivate what do want
- Don’t stop asking yourself better questions
- Don’t stop expecting things to get better as your focus shifts toward what you do want more of
- Don’t stop writing about what you want more of rather than what you want less of
- Don’t stop reading (and reading out loud as often as possible!) material that promotes what you want more of
- Don’t stop asking one or two trusted people to hold you accountable to the change(s) you are embarking on
- And Don’t stop getting back up when you stumble (this is where Winston Churchill comes in)
Do all the above… and then keep doing all the above.
The old automatically gets evicted by the new. Frustration gets replaced by freedom. The worthless gets shoved aside by the worthwhile.
The coaching client I described above really got this and “owned” it very quickly. We were able to shift her focus away from not being cheated on and instead train our laser-like focus upon what she really does want:
She wants to be someone whose strengths are attractive to an equally strong, quality individual
She wants a lasting relationship
She wants loyalty and to be loyal
She wants to invite openness by being more open than she has been in the past
By being very clear in her own heart and mind about what she really wanted, she began to make very clear – without ever having to say it out loud – what she would never again tolerate in a relationship.
Once she got into the habit of cultivating those things – the things she really does want more of – she didn’t need me anymore!
How do I get rid of what I do not want and what I do not want more of? How do I stop doing what doesn’t work? Don’t stop doing what does work.
Find out what you want and think on that and act on that. And don’t stop.