What You Focus on Expands

I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve heard this expression. As is the case with many familiar concepts, this is much easier said and done. For example, I can recount numerous episodwhat-you-focus-on-expandses in my career where I encountered criticism from either a parent, a student, or a colleague, and rather than focusing on the 98% of people who were happy and satisfied with my performance,I poured a tremendous amount of energy fretting about that other 2%. Now…if this concept holds true, and I do believe it does, think of how my focus changed my reality. Rather than concentrating on all the things I was doing well, I put the majority of my focus on how I was not living up to someone else’s expectations, and before I knew it, my whole reality became about my shortcomings – or even worse – other people’s perceptions of my shortcomings. Crazy, huh? Especially if those percentages are accurate! But here’s what I’ve learned. I’m not the only one who does this. In fact, I think this is a fairly common occurrence. So I’ve spent some time thinking about why that is. Why are we humans so inclined to focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right?

As is the case with most great questions, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. But for me, and for many others (teachers especially), I think I can boil down the answer into two words. We care. I am absolutely certain this is the case at the Community School of Davidson. In my career, I have worked in several different school systems and throughout my life, I have been exposed to a wide variety of schools and educational institutions. All of this experience leaves me supremely confident in one thing – CSD is special. Perfect, no. But special, yes. This is a place where adults put children first and care deeply about individual students, not just as learners, but as people. That means that the 2% who aren’t satisfied take a great toll on us as we work tirelessly to meet the needs of ALL students. Now, I am in no way suggesting that we should ignore criticism or feedback that is intended to be constructive. Clearly, we should all be constantly looking for ways to better ourselves and to hone our craft. However, what I am saying is that we need to be deliberate about striking a sense of balance. While we should absolutely give attention and energy to our weaknesses, we should not let that outweigh celebration and thanksgiving for our strengths. And when offering criticisms or suggestions for improvement, we should also be mindful about balancing those comments with recognition of all that is going right.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a renowned Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist, wrote an incredible book about her experience of having and recovering from a stroke (My Stroke of Insight). Given her vast knowledge of the anatomy of the brain, her account is riveting. She also has a great TED talk on the matter in case you are interested – http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight . At one point in her book, I remember her talking about the notion of focus and how she deliberately put her focus on the color red. What happened was that she then began to see red everywhere. The existence of red had not changed; it had always been there. But with a change in her focus, a new awareness of the color red emerged. And she saw it everywhere!  I think this is an incredibly powerful idea that is seldom successfully employed by many people. While I don’t give a flip about the color red (actually, red is one of my favorite colors), I do care immensely about where we choose to put our focus.

In this season of love, thanksgiving, and peace, I urge each of you to put your focus on what you would like to see expand. What is going right in our school community? What is going right in the life of my child?  Where can acknowledgement or recognition be given to someone else for their tireless efforts? What do you want to see expand and how can you deliberately put your focus on that element? Imagine the collective power this holds if each of us – if even for just one brief instance – decided to focus on all that’s right. Hmmm. That thought truly overwhelms me with emotion. So let’s do it. Let’s remember that our school community is a special place, and that much like a plant or a garden, needs plenty of TLC and attention in order to thrive. I implore you to make an effort to hold that vision in our heads as we travel through this magical time of year. Because maybe, just maybe, these words hold true. What you focus on expands.

Wishing ALL of you a Holiday season filled with love, light, and peace.

All my best,


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