When I was in college, one of my many jobs was managing a boxing and mixed martial arts studio in West Los Angeles, about a mile away from the UCLA campus. The owner of the studio was a former champion boxer and kickboxer. He taught me what it takes to run a small business—and even more about martial arts, but there was one lesson in particular that stood out, one that I’ve never forgotten.
He told me that when you box, your natural instinct is to look down, particularly as the fight progresses. As your body gets tired, it takes a lot of effort to hold your chin up.
“Wherever you look,” he warned, “that’s where you’ll end up.” If you look at the ground, you’ll end up on the ground. This lesson extends far beyond the boxing ring. The results you get in life are a result of the actions you take, and the actions you take are determined by the meaning you give to your circumstances. What drives the meaning you give to your circumstances? You guessed it. It’s what you focus on.
If you focus on what’s wrong with you or others, you will not be encouraged by the good work that you or your team is actually accomplishing. Consider the following example: A few weeks ago, my wife and I had family stay with us over an extended holiday. My seven-year-old nephew was so focused on the fact that he had to leave in a few days that he couldn’t fully enjoy the time he had with his cousins. You don’t have to be seven years old to recognize this tendency to be dissatisfied despite all of the good surrounding you.
What’s Your Primary Focus?
If you want to lead an extraordinary life, you have to focus on the things that will empower you, not limit you. It turns out that we all have a primary focus, one that’s responsible for much of the way that we process opportunities or perceive failures and success in business. To figure out what your primary focus is, you have to identify the question you ask yourself the most. Anthony Robbins, the author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and coach, says that, “the quality of your life is the quality of your questions.” You can stay on target by asking yourself a primary question and answer as best you can.
Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff credits the wisdom of his revolutionary management system V2MOM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, Metrics), a cascading system of answers to a set of powerful questions that help his entire organization stay aligned.
What’s Your Primary Question?
Everyone has a primary question that determines what they focus on. When I first set out to identify my primary question, it didn’t take long. Almost immediately, I knew the question I asked myself most often was, “How can I make sure I know more than anyone else?”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an insatiable learner. This primary question had driven me to focus on learning as much as I could, all the time. This intense focus on learning served me in many ways, both personally and professionally, but when I first became aware of it and examined it, I recognized that it was holding me back.
I was so intensely driven by the acquisition of knowledge that I wasn’t fully living my life. So, I decided to consciously choose a new primary question. I decided to move from a question that was running me into the ground to intentionally constructing a question that would optimize my life.
My new question became (and still is) this: “How can I appreciate and live life more fully right now?” It’s been transformational. When I repeatedly ask this question, the world shows up to me as a series of opportunities to appreciate and live life more fully. While I’m still an avid learner, I’m not as compulsive as I once was. My new primary question has freed me up to fully enjoy my relationships with friends, colleagues, and loved ones and have an overall more positive focus on life.
That’s the power of focus. When my focus shifted, so did the meaning I gave to my circumstances. In turn, the actions and opportunities that I naturally saw as available to me shifted, and so did the results I began to get.
What is your primary question? What’s the one question you ask yourself all the time? Do you ask: Am I good enough? How can I make sure I don’t fail? Will people like me? How can I make this even better? Can you see how these questions might be limiting?
Whatever your current primary question is, ask yourself where it serves you and where it limits you. Then take some time to choose a new primary question. Once you’ve done that, practice asking yourself the new question multiple times a day. This has been a game-changer for me, and I know it will be for you, too.