Where is your focus?

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How to Use the Focus Spectrum to Move Past Mental Obstacles

The Focus Spectrum is an emotional intelligence tool designed to help transition one’s focus from analysis to action. It characterizes the natural shift that takes place when a person first evaluates the obstacles and challenges they are facing to when they determine how to move forward towards their desired outcomes. The spectrum spans from red to green, like traffic lights. Red indicates stopping, or pausing, while the situation is analyzed and evaluated. Green indicates moving forward with a solution. Both sides of the focus spectrum are critical to achieving successful outcomes. However, getting stuck on the red or moving too quickly to the green are often the cause for failure.

Red Side: Stop and Analyze

The Red Side of the Focus Spectrum reminds us to take pause and understand our circumstances before we jump to a conclusion and waste our effort heading down a wrong path. The Personal Whiteboard and Strategy Whiteboard both have a red ribbon at the top of their respective Analysis section because that is when time is dedicated to identifying the external factors that are impacting ourselves and the organization, and evaluating the internal workings of self and company to understand what tools we are working with. It is necessary and natural to analyze. Avoiding this initial focus is often the cause for unnecessary blunders or wasted effort because attempting to enact a solution that is poorly suited for the circumstances and conditions will almost certainly fall short of expectations.

The red side carries risk, however. If too much time is spent in red, allowing it to become the dominant focus, then it can limit a person’s growth and an organization’s adaptability. You have probably seen this happen a lot and referred to it as “analysis paralysis.” Big companies are often victims of this criticism. If you are too afraid of failure, then you discount the reward of success and end up stuck in the status quo. Analysis is good for contextualizing a problem and understanding the obstacles and challenges present. However, given enough analysis, anyone can find an infinite number of reasons why any solution would not work. This ultimately ends in never finding a solution because the search for perfection is forever. For people and organizations to reach their potential, the cultural focus must be weighted on the Green Side. The key is to use the red side as a springboard for moving forward, and not as a crutch to justify lack of action.

Green Side: Move Forward

The green side of the Focus Spectrum is all about action and forward movement. Like mentioned earlier, green side focus should be your dominant mindset if you are seeking growth. This is often described as having a bias toward action. This should not be confused with “shooting from the hip” or other behaviors that lack discipline and method. Green side focus is about setting one’s sight on the desired outcomes and determining what actions will move you in that direction. It answers the questions, “What will make it work?” and “What do we need to do?” The green side does not allow you to get stuck in analysis because it forces you to do something. Action is the only choice. So rather than getting stuck trying to figure out a perfect, invincible plan that assures success, the green side causes you to choose whichever available option is most likely to succeed.

The best way to use the Focus Spectrum is to learn how to readily shift from one side to the other quickly and often. That is what will result in the appropriate time spent on each side without getting trapped. It is also important to note that the progression is not always linear from red to green. In fact, it is quite often that we first start on the green side when there is a goal or objective we have in mind. Once that goal is brought to attention, then it makes sense to shift to the red side to establish the necessary context before planning how to achieve the goal. Once the context is established, the shift to green occurs during the planning phase and you stay in green while executing that plan. Even then, there will still be brief periods of red-side focus needed during plan execution because new information, circumstances, and conditions will arise that need to be accounted for.

Signs You are Stuck in Red

Red side focus can be so comfortable that it is easy to get stuck without even realizing it. Our internal justification explains it as being careful and vigilant. After all, for many people and organizations, there is a perception that the risk of failure outweighs the benefits of success. This is why previous success can be one of the biggest inhibitors of future success. An organization that already has a solid market position and reputable brand is less likely to risk harming their current status with change just for the sake of incremental growth. Contrast that to a small start-up that has yet to achieve substantial market traction. For a start-up, the status-quo is not sufficient to survive. Therefore, they will be ready to do whatever it takes and try anything to achieve their objectives. Otherwise, in-action would mean certain death for them. While the safer approach may seem wise to the conservative mindset, it will not work if the goal is to activate your fullest potential as a human or an organization. Reaching greater potential requires constant growth, change, adaptation, and innovation. If that is your aim, then look for these signs in case you are becoming stuck in the red.

Focus Altering Questions

When you recognize that your focus is being dominated by red side thinking, then you can ask yourself some focus altering questions to help shift out of red and into green. These questions can be powerful because they draw your attention to an outward perspective that helps you break free from the paralyzing effect of over analysis.

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