The Things You Pay Attention to Dictate Your Happiness

“You will act like the sort of person you conceive yourself to be” — Dr. Maxwell Maltz

In this article you’ll learn:

  • That thoughts or ideas you fixate on becomes habit

  • What you fixate on becomes your reality (even the negative stuff)

  • How to use worry to get the life you want and overcome negative self-image

I look outside my window. The neighbors trailer is an under-hand-rock-toss away. Not that I’ve tested this theory, I’m not the kind to throw rocks at people’s houses unwarranted.

It’s just a little trailer park, the people here are a hodge-podge of college kids, gray-birds that come up to the mountains for the cool summers, and the working class, like the hubby and I.

I pull into our gravel driveway, see our little red trailer in all her age and glory, with the hummingbird feeders blowing in the breeze and the lucky horseshoe, and I smile a little.

Someone else might pull up and think white-trash.

But I see our little home, with the fur-kids peeking out the window. There are flowers, a green lawn and a trail behind the house that goes into National Forest.

If I was still the person I used to be, I might see our home and feel shame. But I am not who I used to be. Though this is not where I envision myself ending up (oooh no, not even close), I recognize it for what it is: a stepping stone to my growth.

You see, I don’t pay attention to comparison and my lack like I used to. I don’t haunt myself with thoughts of failure: let me count the ways I don’t measure up.

I’ve realized over the years that what you give your attention to flourishes, and what you deny, wilts. This works for your betterment if you’re focused on positive things, or for your failure, if you’re an awfulizer or worrier.

Your Mind is Like a Ball-Fixated Blue Heeler

“Every human being is hypnotized to some extent either by ideas he has uncritically accepted from others or ideas he has repeated to himself or convinced himself are true.” — Dr. Maxwell Maltz

I am a recovering worrier.

It is no exaggeration to say I spent the better part of my life obsessing over the negative things I had done, could do, or ways that I didn’t fit the bill. Instead of embracing the things that made me a unique human being, I tried to strip myself of them and blend in as much as possible.

I could occasionally reach a place of uncaring, a place of lightness where I would hit my social stride and not feel like every thought and thing that came out of my mouth was measured.

But it usually only happened after I squelched my emotions with alcohol, or if I was around people I didn’t feel inferior to.

In general, my mind would become fixated. I would fixate on all the ways I was screwing up, or doing something wrong, or acting like an idiot, or making poor choices. . .the list goes on.

In the wake of this fixation on my inferiority, there were half-baked friendships, awkward introductions, strained small-talk, and anxiety that vibrated off my like electricity.

Even if on the outside I was acting like a normal human being, on the inside I was a hotbox of worry.

To some degree, we all fixate on things. This hyper-focus can be used for good — like when we push through on a dream with bullheaded grit, or for evil — like when we obsess over what we said at a party three years ago with the anxiety of a high-school girl.

Without realizing it, a casual thought of comparison, can turn into fixation, and then suddenly that fixation on our inferiority becomes a habit.

Suddenly our attention goes to all the ways we are lacking, or screwing up, or the ways we’re not good enough — without even trying.

These thoughts suddenly become the hypnotizer Dr. Maltz refers to above. We give our faults, regrets and lack our unbridled attention and suddenly we believe these fixations as if they are fact.

We come to believe that we are the thing we fear most — failures.

Be Careful What You Fixate On

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve” — Napoleon Hill

Worry, stress, anxiety and failure is a result of paying attention to the wrong things.

Success, relaxation, flow and creativity is a result of paying attention to the right things.

Attention is the matchstick. It can either light your candle, or burn your house down.

As Napoleon Hill famously said: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.” So if you believe all the negative things you give your attention to — the ways you don’t measure up, past failures or embarrassments, your lack — you will achieve all of those things.

I’ve seen this play out a hundred times before, in my own life and in others.

I used to believe I had something wrong with me, that I had a spastic colon, like my dad (oh hey, vulnerability). It got so bad that I wouldn’t leave the house for fear my body would betray me in social situations.

Dating was a nightmare, and for the first six months that I dated my now-husband, I would sneak out of his bed at midnight, the stress of that kind of intimacy was too much for me to bare.

I believed that I would get sick, that my body was not to be trusted. I would fixate on the outcome I feared most: getting sick and embarrassing myself in front of all those nice people.

My overactive imagination would play out a hundred scenarios detailing the embarrassment and shame I would feel — and that was all before I even started doing my makeup to go out.

And you know what would happen? I would get sick as soon as I arrived to my destination. As if on cue, my fears were realized almost without fail every time.

After years of this, and getting sick of getting sick, I started to realize the power of my mind over my body and my life.

I started trying out visualization to calm my nerves — it was all warm stretches of deep blue water, waves breaking on some lonely beach. And occasionally, when I could calm my nerves, the visualization worked.

Naturally my anxiety started to go down over the years, and soon enough I believed I could live and socialize in this world without getting sick (and it turns out there’s nothing wrong with me).

It was only after reading Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz that I understood the full power of the human mind — and finally realized what I had been doing to myself all those years.

In his book, he details how self-perception and our beliefs dictate our reality. Which sounds pretty standard if you’re in the personal growth crowd. But Dr. Maltz takes this a step further by dissecting how our fixation on past failures, worry and fear gives our “automatic mechanism” a goal to aim for — but it can’t determine whether that goal is positive or negative.

The automatic mechanism is that all-encompassing Universal creation, our subconscious, our flow state. It’s that thing that causes synchronicity, inspiration and coincidence. It’s basically the elves in the background that somehow line everything up without us noticing.

Or, as Dr. Maltz states: “A human being always acts and feels and performs in accordance with what he imagines to be true about himself and his environment…For imagination sets the goal ‘picture’ which our automatic mechanism works on.”

But that automatic mechanism can’t decipher what it is your conscious is aiming for — it can’t know that even though I was fixated on getting sick on a date, that I actually DIDN’T WANT TO GET SICK. I was just feeding my subconscious — or automatic mechanism — a goal to aim for, and that mechanism is always working, regardless of the goal.

But if it’s always working, and we know that what we fixate on iis like a goal our automatic mechanism is aiming for, then can’t we aim it at good things?

How to use worry for good

“Our self image, strongly held, essentially determines what we become” — Dr. Maxwell Maltz

Worry and fear are strong emotions. These things make our bodies do things, like release adrenaline and cortisol, and make us act in ways we maybe wouldn’t have otherwise.

But if you can take that same emotional fixation, and the visualization that comes with imagining all the ways your life can go wrong, then we can take this same energy and these same actions to imagine all the ways our life can go right.

After reading Psycho-Cybernetics, the realization of how I fixate on worry and fear walloped me between the brows.

I thought I had my shit together because I wasn’t stressed out, I can meditate for more than 5 minutes and I haven’t refilled my xanax prescription in over a year. I was so wrong.

Despite having my anxiety under control, removing stressful situations from my life and establishing healthy habits, I was still lugging my worry, fear and negative self-perception around like a boulder on my back.

I just didn’t realize it because all that fixation from years ago had become my habitual mindset. My default was I’m not good enough, I’ll never succeed, I can’t do this, life will always be hard for me.

There’s a lot of layers to this personal growth onion, am I right?!

So, I began putting the recommendations in Dr. Maltz’ book to work, and tried to focus the same amount of emotion that I drudge up for my bouts of worry into remembering all the times I’ve succeeded.

This is now my meditation routine: to focus on the good feelings of those successes and then to visualize my goals with these good feelings from my past — as prescribed by Dr. Maltz.

Now I’m taking it a step further, and adding nature into the mix. Why? Because nature provides a perfect backdrop to calm stress and anxiety naturally, and to focus your attention to simple beauty, which creates an amazing mental state for visualization.

Which is why I’m launching Truth in the Wild™, a program that uses nature as the backdrop for personal growth. I’ll be leading group coaching hikes in which we’ll learn how to focus our attention, a la meditation, but without the annoying “sit still and don’t think” idea. Go follow Truth in the Wild™ on Instagram to keep up to date with upcoming hikes!


The idea here is to use this same fixation on worry and negativity and use that energy to fixate on your goals, your successes, and to change your self-perception from someone who is a failure to someone who has failed, but is not defined by it.

Our minds are more powerful than we know.

If we can harness that power for good, for our success, for our personal growth and self-actualization, than we would be capable of living lives beyond our wildest dreams.

We are capable to turning our fixation on worry into fixation on success. It takes the same amount of effort.

Take Action!

Make massive change in your life by figuring out how you want it to FEEL every day. I created a 10 minute audio exercise to plug you into your authentic self, so you can start living the life you want today 👇

Click here to get the Feel > Do > Be exercise now!

Article originally published on Medium

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