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You Go Where Your Thoughts Go

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

This week on the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast, we’re finishing up a three-part series on Attitude: The Difference Maker. I’ve enjoyed hearing comments from people about what they’re learning from Mark and his co-hosts, but there’s a theme that keeps popping up that I’d like to explore.

In fact, it’s a theme that can be found in next week’s podcast—an interview with author and researcher Marcus Buckingham, who spoke at our Live2Lead event earlier this month. The night before Live2Lead, Marcus and I sat down with Mark to talk, and while the conversation was just amazing, there was one statement Marcus made that’s stuck with me.

And it’s in line with what I’ve been hearing from our podcast listeners. Here it is:

“Change follows the focus of your attention.”

Let that sit with you for just a moment. It’s a powerful statement, and my team and I have been chewing on it ever since. There’s so much to unpack from just those few words, you could teach for days and not run out of things to say.

Here are some of my observations from this idea:

Action follows thought. What you think about influences how you behave—the things you do or don’t do. If your thoughts are negative or helpless, then your actions will follow suit. I’ve taught for years that you are today where your thoughts have brought you, and you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you, because your thoughts drive your actions. When you or I spend time really thinking about an idea, a habit, or an opportunity, those thoughts will inspire us to take action towards those ends.

Attitude follows thought. In my book, How Successful People Think, I reference a verse from the Bible that captures this idea well. Even if you’re not a person of faith, you can see the point that’s being made: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” When we fill our minds with things that are healthy, good, inspiring, helpful, and positive, it’s tough to maintain a bad attitude!

Good thinking requires focus. Notice what Marcus said—“the focus of your attention.” One of the more interesting ideas we discussed was how a thought can start out simple, but the more you focus on it, the more complex it becomes. That’s where most people give up; once the thought gets complex, they turn their attention to something else. But maintaining that focus helps you fight through the complexity until you have a simple thought again—but now it’s a thought you deeply understand. It’s what I call “thinking until you think through.”

Positive change requires attention. I’m currently working on a book around the idea of transformation. I’ve met several times over the past few months with my writing team so we could discuss ideas and principles that we want to include in the manuscript. At the same time, I’ve been hard at work on our iLead youth curriculum, which helps school-age children learn, embrace, and practice good values, and I’m doing all of this in addition to my usual speaking and teaching opportunities. Here’s what I know: if I’m going to see transformation happen in the world, then I must give it my attention; I have to commit the necessary time to think about and dream about what lasting positive change is needed, and how that transformation can be achieved.

I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I want you to know that you go where your thoughts go, because, “Change follows the focus of your attention.” I encourage you to set aside a few minutes, take a pen and piece of paper, and capture some of the thoughts that go through your mind. Just jot them down as they come into your brain. Do this for 5 minutes, or maybe 10 minutes, or longer if you’d like.

At the end of your time, take a look at the thoughts you’ve jotted down. Are they positive or negative? Hopeful or hopeless? Full of dreams or full of worries?

Writer George Bernard Shaw once bragged that he made a reputation for himself by thinking once or twice a week, while most people only thought once or twice a year. Just imagine if we as leaders took time to think every day!

What are your thoughts on the idea that, “Change follows the focus of your attention”? Share in the comments below.

9 Comments

  1. […] You Go Where Your Thoughts Go […]

    • Vilma M. Young on November 2, 2019 at 10:29 am

      Very powerfull thoughts.
      I bealive a lot in energy and definitely good energy attracts good things. The energy that flows starts on our mind, and having possitive thinking comes with possitive energy.
      Some times we are distracted by the challenges that we confront and our thoughts become negative, but we have the power of redirect them and think positive again; we need to be focus to do this and we need to be in control of our minds.

  2. Lu Parsons on October 29, 2019 at 8:17 pm

    I think we ignore or put off thinking about our thoughts because we fear where they may take us. It may mean change or discomfort.

  3. Eugene Martin on October 29, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    This is definitely in line with scripture; As A man thinks in his heart, so is he. This is great stuff. Thanks, John Maxwell.

  4. Antigha Hogan on October 29, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    Sure, you are correct my Lord. Certainly…change follows the direction of our focus. My focus in life had been Honesty, Forthrightness in dealings with others, Care for the weak, excellence at work, zero tolerance for indiscipline like immoral conducts, indecency, promiscuity, disrespect for constituted authority or any form of corruption in my space of operation. This has distinguished me among my fellows. I stand as a Moral Giant anywhere I go. I give credit to my Father-HEO Antigha for excellent groomings & proper upbringing. My [email protected] Hogan[ Admin, Nigerian Television Authority, Uyo-Nigeria]

  5. Penny Dunman on October 30, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Another reason Personal Growth is a priority, as John Maxwell has taught us so well to remember. This article is one to keep near by during the tough and during the restful times of our days.

  6. Walter on October 30, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    I believe that positive thoughts equals positive results. When we are surrounded by positive energy, it will follow positive results throughout our lives. Often times, there is negative energy or thoughts that bring down a team, department, or an organization. I believe it is incumbent on leaders to ensure that positivity is expressed throughout the organization. If our thoughts are positive so will be our actions and our focus.

    Great as always! Thanks, John.

  7. Justyn G. on November 5, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    This is great wisdom. To add onto it, having a melancholic/phlegmatic personality, I have a tendency to overthink on a daily basis. I can get stuck in my head for days on end, but never take action on the thought. Is there a cure for this? If there is a habit or a system I can apply that will help me match the “doing” with the “thinking” I would love to know!

    • Lu on November 6, 2019 at 9:10 am

      First, writing down what you are thinking makes it real. Seeing it makes it concrete and touchable. The next step is to give it a ranking. How much of a priority is it? If it is a 10 with 10 being the most important, the first item on a success list will require you block some time to break it down into action steps on the calendar. Eat an elephant one bite at a time works for thoughts that need action

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