to focus, v.
to cause (something, such as attention) to be directed at something specific
: to direct your attention or effort at something specific
: to adjust (something, such as a lens or a camera) to make an image clear
we toss the simple, proverb “mind over matter” about in all sorts of circles, now-- in this age of hyper-drive innovation +, markedly, almost obsessive self-improvement-- perhaps more than ever. it’s this concept that bears an almost buddhist quality of a rejection of excessive materialism (the matter piece-- basically that we all are already equipped, internally, with what we need to be content) blended with the conviction that our minds have the power to overcome the obstacles of our perceived realities. kind of this, “if you can dream it, you can achieve it” idea-- the belief that our minds + intentions have a certain power over our physical world, + over our destiny. people with strong faith, with determined intention, with disciplined mental focus, can overcome unbelievable odds-- we see this every day; sometimes, we even call these wildest-dream achievement-things miracles.
so the mind is powerful.
i think we’ve established that through this first cycle of “health-wheeling.”
but what boggles my own mind is that, again + again, i’m made aware of just how much more of my lived experience is really informed, if not determined by my mental state. i read reports on studies being conducting on the link between mind + body, i read stories about faith or love or fierce hope not just inspiring but fueling human survival, i see clients work dedicatedly through a writing series or a period of coaching +, through rewriting the story they’ve been telling themselves about who they are + what they’re capable of, transform their physical beings + environments. this is astounding. each + every time.
+ so i’m wanting to go out on the limb of my own here + suggest that we can, perhaps, with this evidence, this raw + real human data, create a new proverb to apply to how we think about challenge + transformation, on personal + societal levels:
mind makes matter.
okay, so i know that certain things are fixed + real + unchangeable;
but hear me out.
one of the most common areas that clients want to focus on in coaching is “movement, exercise, + rest”-- basically, they’re interested in getting in better shape. + this is totally terrific! as this sort of movement muse who’s all about getting curious about how our bodies interact with space + use + create energy, i am always eager to help folks explore how they can incorporate more personally meaningful, sustainable movement into their days + lives. + something that many many people struggle with is maintaining their motivation toward making these changes. now, there are some very physical realities that get in the way of incorporating a new exercise habit into a daily routine, especially for someone who might not enjoy or have a great deal of experience in this area. the exercise is truly going to feel more challenging to these individuals than to someone with a higher physical fitness baseline. the matter is there-- it’s real.
so what to do with this?
i recently listened to a ted talk by emily balcetis; she's this super-sharp social psychologist at NYU who studies goal-setting + motivation. in this talk, she shares her findings as she followed her own curiosity about why some people find exercise more challenging than others. + what came out of the studies she ran is totally fascinating, + speaks to the power of mental attention + focus. take a listen, + you’ll get the full scoop, but essentially what she learned is that by using something she calls the “eyes on the prize” strategy, her subjects who had physically struggled (read: had actually been slower + more out of shape in a basic numbers measure) with a fitness task, succeeded in actually increasing their speed + performance by focusing their attention on a specific visual goal. dr. balcetis tells us of her subjects that this “prize” was the gamechanger: “it changed their subjective experience of the exercise. it also changed the objective nature of their exercise.”
truth. +, yes, it’s crazy-astonishing, almost unbelievable:
this strategy of focusing eyes + attention is enough to actually increase the runners’ speed. + the significance of this has profound implications for transformative health behavior change, for life-story change. someone who is successful at achieving this kind of small milestone is more motivated to continue working toward his or her goal, + these tiny steps add up. what’s more, as dr. balcetis notes, this powerful strategy is accessible + applicable a multitude of people in myriad situations, at no financial cost.
intention, attention, + energy-- focus these. + maybe, just maybe, there’s some matter-making mind magic in that sharpened perspective.
for nearly a decade, greta nelson has worked with women + girls in myriad capacities; she brings this kaleidoscope of skill, experience, + energy to active voice. she is a graduate of duke university's integrative health coaching program + holds a master's degree in english education from columbia university teachers college. in addition, she is a practicing educator, writing clinician, + e~ryt 500 certified yoga instructor. greta synchronizes expertise with passion to be a guide, an advocate, + a sister in support to each every one of her clients.