When I was a kid, my parents would take my sister and I down to Long Island a few times a year to visit relatives and go to the beach. Given that said relatives lived about 45 or 50 miles East of Manhattan, we usually took the George Washington or Tappan Zee Bridges as to avoid an unnecessary slog through Mid or Lower Manhattan traffic.
On one occasion, though, for some reason I can't remember, we were indeed in Midtown Manhattan, and were taking the Lincoln Tunnel out of the city. (For those of you who aren't familiar with NYC, the Lincoln Tunnel connects Midtown Manhattan with New Jersey.)
The Lincoln Tunnel is rather narrow, especially to the eyes of a seven-year-old kid who is unaccustomed to such sights and riding in the back seat of his Dad's car. I watched the wall -- so close, it seemed, I could touch it -- in amazement as we sped through the tunnel. My Dad's from Brooklyn, and I knew two relevant facts: 1) he knew exactly what he was doing; and 2) he had driven all over New York City. Still, I wondered, "How are we not crashing into the wall? It's so close!"
(image of Lincoln Tunnel from guestofaguest.com, "Weird New York"
So I asked him. Little did I know his response would become one of the most important working metaphors of my life -- and one that I'd pass along to countless friends, family, and clients. His response went something like this:
"It's easier than you think. When you're driving, you have a tendency to steer the car toward where you're looking. So when you're driving through the tunnel, all you have to do is look ahead at the road -- at where you want to go. Because if I were to look at the wall, I'd drive right into it, or come dangerously close."
It was an "Ah-ha!" moment for me ("Coooool!") -- I'd been given insider information on one of those super awesome grown-up mysteries: I now knew how to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel. And that was satisfaction enough for me.
It's curious, but I whereas I remember that early, simple memory with precision and clarity, I couldn't tell you much about the moment, years later, when I recognized the deeper brilliance of what my Dad told me that day. It boils down to this:
If you focus on what you don't want (to hit the tunnel wall), you're setting yourself up to get what you don't want. But if you focus instead on what you do want (drive safely through the tunnel), you're setting yourself up to get that.
In other words, our actions, and all their consequences, tend to follow our focus.
I think it's possible in just about any situation to identify something you don't want; heck, I'll go out on a limb and say that's even what most of us are trained to do automatically. Think of it. How often do we say, "This sucks!" or "I don't want to do that." How often do we focus on our problems? (Hint: very often.)
It is far more useful, productive, and pleasant, frankly, to give your attention to what you want, i.e., your goals, and the outcomes you desire. There will be challenges and obstacles, but if you remain persistent in your focus on what you want, you will seek, and find, solutions.
I can't stress enough what a powerful life skill this is. And the good news is that this type of perspective reorientation is a very simple matter of choice. All you have to do is be willing to say to yourself, "Okay, I'm very clear on what I don't want. What is it that I do want?" That simple thought will propel you forward; and, as I recently said in another post, your life will open up to you.