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Controlling Your Focus (or, confessions of a child magician)

As a child, I did 300+ professional magic shows, onstage for audiences as large as 800 people.

Until recently, I rarely spoke about the experience, even with close friends and family.

Why? To be completely honest – and I’m not sure that I’ve ever really admitted this – it messed me up.

Any sort of live performance is extremely demanding on the performer, and magic is one of the most demanding.

It’s unusually bad for a magician to make a mistake on stage. If he does, there is a good chance that the entire trick will be ruined. If the secret is accidentally revealed, he runs the risk of disappointing his audience, and potentially getting harassed by the magic community (I wish I were joking).

So, a good magician strives for unreasonable levels of perfection. Hours and hours are spent practicing subtle, almost invisible moves in the mirror to find the flaws and fix them.

The lesson I learned was that looking for and fixing my imperfections made me a better performer. So that’s what I did. For nine years I obsessed over my flaws.

This might not have been so bad if I were able to draw a bright line between my life on stage and my life off. But I don’t have the ability to intentionally compartmentalize my life, so my focus extended beyond my flaws as a magician and transferred to my flaws as a human.

It was only years after I quit that I was able to understand what being a child performer did to my psychology: it made me focus more on what was wrong with me and the world than what was right.

Once I understood how my focus had been hijacked, it became easy enough to fix and develop a healthier mentality.

But here’s the catch: you don’t need to be a child performer to obsess over your flaws. We have all been programmed to seek them out and obsess over them.

Marketing, education, politics, and society (which, yes, means at times our friends and families) train our attention on what’s wrong in hopes that we can fix it with a new product, a better test score, a vote, or a change in our personality.

The world looks like what you focus on

One of the most important things I’ve learned about the human experience is that the world ends up looking like whatever you focus on.

Most of us never learn how to control our focus, so our focus is controlled by external sources.

Watch the nightly news and you’ll end up believing that the world is a dangerous place filled with Ebola and terrorists.

Surround yourself with encouraging people and the world will look like a welcoming place filled with possibility.

Taking control of your focus, your thoughts, and your feelings

Gratitude

The most powerful day-to-day tool to control your focus, if you want to be happier and more confident, is gratitude.

Gratitude helps you feel good about your life. It makes the world appear more abundant, because it trains your attention on what’s right, which leads to seeing possibility where others see limitation.

Practicing gratitude is simple. All you do is shift your focus to what you are thankful for. That’s it. The best way to do this is by making a list of things you’re grateful for with pen and paper.

Personally, I start each day by writing down at least three things that I’m grateful for, and end each day by writing down at least three great things that happened during the day.

Of course, there are times in life when it feels like everything is falling apart and finding something to be grateful for is challenging, If you’re there, start small. Maybe you’re grateful for your bed. Or a pen and paper. Or the ability to read. That’s enough.

When I’m having a bad day or a difficult moment and I need a boost, I pause to write a list (sometimes I do this in my head) of ten things for which I’m grateful.

My challenge to you – really, my hope for you – is that you spend a few minutes each morning making a list of at least 3 things that you’re grateful for

It took several months for me to fully feel the effects of practicing gratitude, so please don’t give up after a day or two if you’re not feeling any different; it takes a bit of time to override old thought patterns.

As you continue to do this, you’ll be training your attention on what’s right about you and your life, which if you pause to think about it, is a beautiful thing.

Being a child performer did amazing things for me and I wouldn’t change it. But it also taught me to focus on my flaws and imperfections. Unfortunately, many of us have fallen into this same negative feedback loop and have become so obsessed with what’s wrong with us, that we fail to notice how wildly awesome, sexy, and successful we are.

As you condition yourself and your attention to focus on what’s going well, you’ll be constructing the doorway to happiness, abundance, and enchantment. From there, it’s fairly easy to walk through the door.

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Photo credits

Focus by Michael Dales

Gratitude-Pg 1 by marynbtol

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6 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Controlling Your Focus (or, confessions of a child magician)”

  1. Mark Taylor November 25, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Awesome article, Jason. I completely agree that the world looks like what you focus on. Granted, I do think it is good to strive and better yourself, but too many times I feel people drive themselves into depression or diminished self-worth by a false sense of urgency by society saying “get their imperfections fixed now” (or in marketing terms, for only $19.99), Further, the depression worsens if/when they don’t achieve it.
    Another thing that helps me is to work on contentment. When your sense of entitlement is in-check, you don’t get disappointed as often, and in turn, it allows you more energy to focus on what is going well in your life.

    Keep ’em coming Jason 🙂

    • Jason November 26, 2014 at 1:35 am

      Mark – thanks so much for the kind words, and for the insight. You’re absolutely right, there is a line to walk there between improving yourself (which does require being aware of your areas of improvement) and not spending too much time obsessing over what’s wrong. Contentment is a great way to do that (though difficult to achieve, at least for me).

      And you’re absolutely right: marketers take BIG TIME advantage of us when they try to sell us BS solutions to make us feel complete (which never actually work). Thanks for reading!

  2. Tyler November 25, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    This was a fantastic article. Over the last year I have tried quite hard to focus on things I can improve on as a person. This is not a bad thing, but it certainly can start to overwhelm you with negativity. Changing ourselves for the better is certainly important, but focusing on the positives should play more of a role. It seems we live in a world where negativity sells papers and makes corportations the big bucks. Focusing on the positives can be very difficult, but when I do, it helps me realize how blessed I truly am. This world can be a truly amazing place. Thanks for writing. I love reading your articles.

    • Jason November 25, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      Tyler, thanks so much for the comment, you rock! It’s hard to find that balance. I’m also strongly driven to improve myself as well, which does, at times necessitate focusing on my flaws. Personally, what I try to do is start and end the day with gratitude and acknowledging whats right, and then also be really compassionate and gentle when I am doing self improvement stuff. Self compassion, along with gratitude, is like a super power.

  3. Becky November 25, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Jason, you nailed this one so perfectly! I am continually amazed at your ability to express yourself in these blogs.I for one am grateful for the writing that you do!

    • Jason November 25, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks Becky, this totally brought a big smile to my face. Thank you!

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