How Your Focus Shapes Your Reality

You may be familiar with with popular adage, “Your focus creates your reality.” Variants of this saying also include:

“You get what you focus on, so focus on what you want.”

“Energy flows where attention goes.”

“What you focus on expands.”

In this context, "focus" is used interchangeably with "attention" to describe your level of awareness about something.

Now, I love pithy maxims as much as the next person but I’m more interested in practical wisdom.

When I hear a quote or idea that resonates with me, I typically ask questions like, “What makes this true?” “What basis does this statement have in reality?” “Can I corroborate this with an experience from my own life?”

Sayings that have been around for a long time tend to contain at least some truth or wisdom. It turns out there is a lot of wisdom packed into the idea that your focus creates your reality. Let me walk you through a short exercise that will demonstrate, on a small scale, the power of your focus.

Seeing Red

Look around you right now, wherever you are, and count how many red-colored objects you see in your field of vision. Any shade of red works. Go ahead and stop reading right now, look around you, and count how many red things you can find. I’ll wait...

Are you done? How many red-colored items did you count? I bet you saw more than you had previously noticed before you did this exercise.

It’s not that those red-colored items weren’t there before, it’s just that you didn’t see them because you weren’t paying any attention to them.

The Bouncer in Your Brain

The explanation for this phenomenon has to do with how your brain is wired. There are thousands upon thousands of different sights, sounds and sensations happening in your environment at any given moment. If you were fully aware of all of them simultaneously, you wouldn’t know what to focus on and you’d probably experience sensory overload.

The way evolution has dealt with this is through the development of the part of the brain known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS). Think of the RAS like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub -- its primary job is to not let everything in. The RAS filters out the extraneous stimuli in your environment (something like 99%) and allows you to pay attention to what is most important or relevant to you.

This is why you are able to hear your name in a noisy crowd of people talking. It’s why, after you buy a new car, you start seeing that same car on the road more frequently. It’s why, after you learn a new word, you start hearing it more often. It’s also the reason you noticed the red-colored items in the room after I told you to look for them.

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” - John Lubbock

Why You Should Write Down Your Goals

Over the years, I’ve experienced firsthand the power of writing down my goals. It’s uncanny and quite frankly, a bit shocking. I’ve written about this phenomenon briefly on my Instagram, but I want to explain why it works and how it relates to the principle of focus.

By choosing goals and writing them down, you essentially tell your brain what to pay attention to. You send the message to your RAS, “This is important!” You then become more attuned to the things in your environment that are relevant to your goal. In other words, by setting this “filter,” you are more likely to see opportunities relating to your goal where you might not have before.

Writing down your goals is a vital part of goal-setting. It amplifies your cognitive “filter” by making your intentions that much more concrete.

Pro tip: If you want to take this a step further, you can turn your written goals into affirmations, which you write down or say out loud multiple times a day. This will help to further strengthen your cognitive “filter”.

How I Manifested My Dream Woman

Years before I met my wife, Vanessa, I wrote down all the qualities I wanted in a romantic partner. It was a list of about 30 different things. Fast forward a few years later: Not only did I manifest my dream woman, I got far more than I ever imagined.

Now let’s think about this logically. Did the mere act of writing down my preferences somehow magically make my dream woman appear in my life? Unless I’ve discovered a new law of physics, this probably isn’t the case. How can this be explained in rational terms?

By crystallizing and defining exactly what I was looking for in a woman, I effectively set my cognitive “filter” to pick up on those qualities more readily when I was on dates or interacting with potential mates. I had a heightened sense of awareness when it came to the specific qualities I preferred so when Vanessa eventually showed up in my life, I was ready to cultivate that relationship. I knew what I wanted and so I was able to recognize when it showed up in my life.

Moral of the Story

Your brain constructs your reality based on what you pay attention to. Give most of your attention to the things you want to see more of in your life and in the world around you. Learning to manage your focus is the key to improving virtually every aspect of your life.