Robert Cialdani’s book Pre-Suasion (2016) contains a staggering amount of evidence that a person’s focus shapes their reality. I would argue that this is the underlying premise of the entire book. People’s minds tend to keep working along whatever direction they have been prompted.
One of his strongest examples, though it’s a bit unethical, is of a successful salesman he calls “Jim” who employed an unusual technique. The standard for most salespeople in his company was to have a polished presentation involving a couple taking a 5-10 minute quiz to answer questions related to the products they were potentially being sold, revealing how little they knew about fire safety and highlighting the importance of the products.
But for each sales situation, Jim would get started with the family, then a few minutes into it he would slap his forehead and say, “Oh, silly me. I forgot something really important in my car that I need to go get as part of our discussion. Would you mind if I let myself out and then back in to your house while I run out to my car to get it?”
The secret to his technique was that his asking the family to trust him to let himself out and back in to their house required them to establish a certain level of trust in their thinking. Often, they even had to provide a key to him to use temporarily. Consciously and subconsciously, they had committed to trusting him, and in granting his request, they set themselves on a path to trust him again as he told them about his products. The quick decision to trust him in a small way became a bigger reality that they would trust him in other ways.
Granted, this technique is morally questionable, but it should teach us some important things about how our minds work. Our brains are not meant for multitasking. Whenever one thing comes in to focus, the other matters slide to the back, out of sight and out of mind.
Appreciative Inquiry assumes that whatever it is people focus on will become their reality. This is part of why it is so important for us to focus on things that are positive, and to visualize what’s best. AI assumes that long before there is any implementation of larger changes, our churches are already shaped, simply by what it is on which we invite people to focus.
In a similar vein, Positive Psychology, a discipline that seeks out what creates human flourishing, places a huge emphasis on the importance of gratitude. If people regularly think about what it is that they are grateful for, they tend to be happier people.
Take just a moment and think about your church. Think about a time when you felt most happy there. Think about people who surrounded you and loved you at a time when you really needed it. Think about random acts of kindness and generosity of which you were the recipient. If you allow these thoughts to permeate your mind, you will surely feel a little more loving-kindness toward the people there.
We discussed the importance of asking what is good about our organizations. An important reason to do this is that when many of us are pre-conditioning our minds to see what’s good, we’ll discover a lot more good than we would have noticed otherwise.
The apostle Paul says something similar in Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Your focus becomes your reality. People who think about what is good become people who practice what is good. Churches who are looking for what is best are more apt to celebrate it. When we are busy with what is positive, we won’t be as susceptible to the weight of negativity.
To experiment with the power of focus, you might want to try one of these 31 exercises in gratitude. See what it does for how you’re feeling today. And if you discover it works, make it a habit!