Why SHOULD You Focus on the Positive?

Why SHOULD You Focus on the Positive? by Dr. Lynn K. Jones“Nothing in life matters quite as much as you think it does while you are thinking about it.”~ Kahneman and Thaler

I know that I have been guilty of preaching about how you can focus on the positive, assuming that that is something that you want to do.  Not convinced?  I understand.  Let’s talk about that.

I’m going to surprise you here.  What I want to discuss is not research about positivity, but about how focus works.  One of the principles of Appreciative Inquiry is the Poetic Principle, which suggests that what we choose to focus on will grow.   That of course, is exactly why I advocate focusing on the positive.  If positivity is good for you, (and research suggests that it is) what could be better than making it grow?

Whenever our attention is drawn to something, psychologists have found, that thing feels important, in ways that we don’t consciously sense.  It’s a quirk of our brains.  One way to think about it is to visualize the design of some virtual graphical interfaces:  When you scroll over icons on a screen, the one under your cursor enlarges to look bigger than the others.

In the same way, when you think about something positive, the accidental meeting of someone important in the coffee shop, for example, its consequence grows.   You begin thinking about how fortunate you were to run into that person and you probably make some inferences about that, such as:  Whenever I get motivated to get out of my office something good happens.  And you decide:  I am going to get out of the office at least once a day and will always be prepared with my business cards.  Guess what?  Because you are expecting to have happenstance meetings and are subconsciously on the look-out for those opportunities, you do!

Why SHOULD You Focus on the Positive? by Dr. Lynn K. JonesWhy does it work that way?  Part of the answer may lie in the mechanics of attention.  Your attention acts like searchlights in the night sky.  Your interest is magnetically pulled to the vortex of the lights– you probably can’t resist shifting your attention to those search lights, even if you wanted to, and a strong impression is made on your thoughts and feelings.   Attention evolved so that we could focus on important things.   We’re programmed to think that whatever we’ve focused on must be a big deal.

It is true, that not everything we give attention to is important, but ahem… I’m not going to go into that here.  But what is also true, is that we can give our attention to things that we want to be more important. That is why the WWW list developed by Martin Seligman may be so useful in helping you to develop more positivity in your life.

We are all bombarded by negativity every day by the media.  The front page lands on our doorstep first thing in the morning and more bad news screams out at us when we boot up our home pages.  We take a break and inevitably scan over the headlines, as if we needed more bad news.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by the negativity of the media, get a positivity fix by visiting www.DailyGood.org.   The volunteer-run site highlights inspirational stories of everyday heroes and celebrities who are making a difference in the world.  You will find that it is a lightening counterbalance to the heaviness of the headlines.

The bottom line?  Focus on the positive and it will grow!  What do you think about the mechanics of attention and how focusing on the positive can make it grow?

If you would like to discuss how coaching might support you in developing focus, please call me for a free complimentary session at 805.448.7681 or schedule a session using my on-line calendar.



p.s. I always am interested in what you think about these discussions. Please post your thoughts on the blog…your constructive criticism and support is appreciated!
Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach

Your MOJO Maven

Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach based in Santa Barbara, California and a sought after coach and consultant for organizations and individuals across the US.   Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values using a process of Appreciative Inquiry.  She coaches individuals on achieving their reflected best selves.  An MSW@USC faculty member, Dr. Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, CSWM, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment.


  1. Linda Menesez on August 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    I agree with this post so much, Lynn. Knowing how important your focus is, and how it can impact your life, can be so empowering! Thanks for shining the light on this concept.


    • Executive Coach on August 14, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      I know you work at focusing on the positive and at helping your clients to do so at Santa Barbara Counseling. Thanks for being with me in the vortex of the positivity search light!

  2. Susan Schorr on August 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Lynn, learning to focus is one of the most valuable things I ever learned. Focus allows me to gain traction on the details, to really master the situation mentally. Focus teaches patience and helps prioritize one’s attention. In art and problem-solving, focus invites one’s right brain to participate, increasing the possibility for a positive outcome. I credit focus for good listening skills, so necessary for good relationships. Thanks for reminding us about this vital skill. Susan

    • Executive Coach on August 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks for cataloging so of the many other fabulous attributes of focus that I didn’t have the space to cover in my blog! I especially like how you described how focus uses both sides of our brain. If that isn’t an argument for the importance of focus, I don’t know what is!

  3. Patricia on August 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    This site is really cool! http://www.DailyGood.org

    Last semester I learned a lot how much negativity is fed to us. This relates to your comment “We are all bombarded by negativity every day by the media.” The statisics on just how many violent acts we see on tv etc.are astounding.

    On another note: It seems like positive thinking is somewhat of an exercise/habit and if you’re not used to doing it that one should be mindful to continually keep reigning thoughts back into a point of positivity.


  4. Executive Coach on August 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I am so glad you liked the http://www.DailyGood.org site! Yesterday they had a story about the Pay-It-Forward Little Libraries that was so sweet.

    And you are absolutely right, cultivating positivity is a habit. So how are you and Neha doing on your WWW challenge? 🙂


    • Patricia on August 16, 2011 at 4:05 am

      I would ask more…how we’re doing on the GRE and GMAT. Although, I can speak for myself…I won’t make it thorough unless I do a WWW! I’ve been keeping a www journal but it’s a challenging time to really see much different on the daily for my activities are simple for the next while.

  5. Renee Manseau on August 22, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Great post! It really does make a difference to focus on something, it stands out so much more. I’ve noticed that even with the little things. For example, if I learn a new word or if a friend gets a new car.. I’m suddenly hearing this word being used left and right and everyone seems to be driving a Malibu! They’ve always been there, the only shift was my focus. The positive is always there, it’s just a matter of focusing in on it.

    • Executive Coach on August 26, 2011 at 12:19 am

      Those are such great examples Renee, of exactly how this works. I am always amazed how when I go to a conference with thousands of people and it seems like the same handful of people keep turning up everywhere–in the elevator, in front of me in line.
      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  6. Calla Gold on August 25, 2011 at 5:38 am

    This is a great article! Focusing on something, anything, really does increase your awareness of it. So why not focus on the good things in life, and multiple your awareness of them?


    • Executive Coach on August 26, 2011 at 12:20 am

      Absolutely, Calla! And research shows that it works! 🙂

  7. NLM on August 29, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    It is phenomenal how much power we have through the power of our MINDS! This is an Ancient Teaching and still we struggle with fully demonstrating it. I suppose for most, even for me, being consistent and patient are the most challenging aspects of practice. The decision to believe either this Law/Principle or CNN is the first step.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Executive Coach on September 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm

      It is true how Ancient Teaching is being validated every day by new research about the brains. Despite having such practices be so convincingly reinforced, the pull to pay attention to the bombardment of information that we have is difficult to ignore. I agree that believing that there is something to this is most likely the first step, as it is in any strong mindset that influences us!
      Dr. Lynn

  8. Alejandra on August 31, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Focusing on the positive works! I know it does, but keeping the focus is difficult.

    I think it has to do with upbringing, definitely the media, but also on the community each of us chooses to associate with. Is my community lifting me or bringing me down?
    I have learned to be selective but also mindful of the conversations I engage in. Is it helping me to focus on the good or the bad?

    • Executive Coach on September 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm

      Wow, what a great observation, Alejandra! We probably are less aware of the subtle influence that community and the people around us have on us than we are when the news is in our faces. Research does show that community has a powerful influence. Dan Goleman in his book Social Intelligence shares research that we can not only change our own neural pathways based on on our mental attitude, but we can change the pathways of people around us by our mental attitude! That is pretty stunning research that means, I think, that we have a lot of responsibility for our mental attitudes for not only how we live our own lives but because they are so influential on the people in our community!
      Thanks for the post.

  9. Jane on September 16, 2011 at 7:40 am

    great article, and so true that switching your focus to the positive brings positive effects

    • Executive Coach on July 31, 2012 at 11:31 am

      Glad you liked the article and thanks for commenting, Jane! Here’s to more positive focus and its incremental impact on our lives!

  10. […] If you would like a practical way to begin mirroring what is working, check out this blog post Why SHOULD You Focus on the Positive? […]

Leave a Comment