Author of Focus – A Blueprint For A Happier Life and The Focus Blueprint Objectives Workbook
by Catherine Pratt
I recently read Focus – A Blueprint for a Happier Life and the associated workbook, The FocusBlueprint Objectives Workbook, by Barbara Sachs Sloan. I was so impressed with these little books.
In a lot of ways, the concepts described in these books are very complimentary to a lot of the thoughts I have on my web site.
Anyway, I thought I’d do something I’ve never done before and actually contact the author. I found her book and her workbook so interesting that I just wanted to discuss some of her concepts and ideas a little more in-depth. She was as fascinating as I thought she’d be and our discussion enlightened me even more.
Barbara has also been incredibly gracious and is allowing me to share our talk with you.
So, here’s how our discussion went:
LWC: You start off your book describing how I think so many of us feel, “distracted and overwhelmed by life’s chaos and contradictions”. That no matter how hard and fast you go, you just feel like you aren’t getting anywhere. So, I love the technique you use to settle your mind down as soon as you get up in the morning. How did you come up with this idea?
Barbara: I think I need to reread my own books. Only kidding, :D
The real answer is that I was working with a psychologist in St. Louis at the time, and he had a saying: “Where your focus goes, your energy flows.” This got me to thinking about the whole idea of focusing and how much better my days and life would go if I formed a habit of “directed focusing” first thing each morning. I wanted to “set” my day with my intentions and live more deliberately, with more awareness, or as one might say these days, more mindfully. I sat down one afternoon and composed my “Focus” daily recitation and started using it. Later a friend in trouble asked me how I stayed so on-target and cheerful all the time, and I wrote out what became the first draft of my book and sent it to her. She said it changed her life and that I should publish it so it could be shared with others, and eventually that’s what I did.
LWC: I know you were just joking there about needing to reread your own books but I think you've raised a really important point. So often, we actually have the tools we need to make our lives easier but we somehow get stuck in our old thoughts and processes. I know I do this myself and then I’ll suddenly realize if I would just use my own techniques from “3 Questions That Will Change Your Life” I wouldn’t be having anywhere near as much stress or anxiety. I have the tools, I just don’t always use them. So, that’s a really good point you make. Use the tools you have. That’s what they’re there for.
LWC: In your books, you also talk about how when you change your focus, your whole life will begin to change simply because you’re letting go of all the negatives in your current life as well as in the memories of your past experiences. Do you think it’s really that easy, just change your focus and the negative falls away? What about all those therapies that say you need to analyze and work through your past experiences? Is there a place for that or do you think it’s more effective to work on your current thoughts?
Barbara: If you start where you are now, you can experience forward movement fairly rapidly. The bigger issues may or may not need to be sorted out over time, but the key is to establish positive mental habits first—to learn how to choose how you feel and how you behave—and to get moving forward.
Your confidence will build as you see how changes in your own behavior affect others and change their behaviors. Focus is like a pebble in a pond, causing the focused person’s ripples to reach out to and impact those around them.
Then later on, if you see that issues from your past keep coming back out in ways even Focusing on your own isn’t solving completely, a short period of therapy with a good licensed psychologist or life coach might bring about the positive resolution you’re seeking and get you back on track. Focus is a tool but isn’t meant to exclude other forms of psychological help.
LWC: We hear so often, “you can only change yourself” but in your Focus Objectives Workbook you actually talk about this in a slightly different way. Can you explain this a little?
Barbara: Well, you can’t change other people—their belief systems or basic personalities—but you can change how they behave toward and treat you. This is a fine but very important distinction in a person’s self development and mastery of life. It’s the pebble idea in action. It’s setting boundaries by focusing on a positive outcome with someone who is perhaps behaving in a way toward you that you would like to change.
LWC: One of the great stories you talk about in your book is how you were able to get someone whom you describe as a “jerk” to completely change how he treated you. I thought this was brilliant, by the way, and so true. I love the steps you give to deal with it too. I think there were actually 11 different steps you had but I was wondering if you could just touch on how you were able to do this, how do you get someone to stop treating you badly?
Barbara: The first thing I did was assess what was really happening. I asked myself what exactly was he doing that I found so bothersome and what could I do about it. I’m a believer in handling people in nonconfrontive ways. I didn’t want to call more attention to the fact that I was having a problem (which may have satisfied him in some way to know he was getting to me), which confrontation always does. I also needed to remember that I needed to stop labeling him as difficult, nevermind as a jerk. I wouldn't force myself to like him. I just needed to choose a neutral attitude toward him. By doing this, I could also stop blaming him for being the problem. This completely changes your mindset so if you can release those feelings of blame then you can start to work on an actual solution. You're back to "focusing" on what you need to in order to solve the problem.
There were two behaviors I wanted to change—that became my simple goal. We worked at the same company. The first one occurred on occasion when our secretary was out; as a favor to her, and in case the call was for me, I would answer the phone (this was before voicemail), and if it was for him, I’d let him know he had a call. He would always react in an unpleasant way, yet his door was open and there was no instruction to not interrupt him. So next time we encountered each other outside our offices, I pleasantly told him whenever he was ready to retrieve any messages, he could come out to his secretary’s desk, and they’d be waiting for him there. He actually thought this was a great idea. His secretary appreciated this, too. Turns out the man had trouble setting his own boundaries—he felt he should always have his door open and be available to anyone who happened by, but it interrupted his work so much, he felt frustrated about how unproductive he was.
LWC: So, you used the steps you talk about in your book of putting yourself in the other person's shoes as well as your other step of letting go of any emotions you have about past behavior or experiences with that person. I think you described that one as letting go of your resentments towards that person and treating each encounter as brand new instead hanging on to past hurts.
Barbara Correct. You really did read my books.
LWC: Oh, yes. I've read them so many times now I think I almost have them memorized. I'm planning on using these steps myself with some people I know. Anyway, what was the second behavior you said you wanted to deal with?
Barbara The second behavior was a crazy-making thing he did, which I think gave him a sense of power. He was very off-hand in how he communicated anything. He’d make mention of a possible future meeting but not have or give any details about when or where. Later he’d chide me for not knowing about the meeting and say “I already informed you about it. Don’t you remember? You’re so forgetful!” And he’d often do this in front of and to others at the company. Changing this one was a little harder because I had to start paying closer attention to any business-related conversations he and I had for a while, until I cured him of pretending to give me information when all he’d done was drop a mention. The strategy I used was to remind him later, when he started to chide me, of exactly how he’d brought up the so-called “already informed me” subject—I would do this in a very friendly way, saying something like “Oh, yes, I do remember you said there might be a meeting with Paul sometime soon, but you never got back to me with the details.” When this happened in front of colleagues a few times, he stopped playing that game.
A third thing he did was tell racist or unkind jokes, and my solution there was to just walk away if possible or not laugh and immediately change the subject if I couldn’t leave.
We didn’t become best friends, but somehow my gently putting up some simple boundaries allowed us to have a much more cordial working relationship. I think we have to pick our battles carefully, so you can see I just targeted particular behaviors to change rather than taking on his whole personality or character or turning it into a fight, none of which would have gotten me anywhere with him.
LWC: One of the results of working through your process is that you become more centered in yourself. A comment in your workbook which I love is that you see people who aren’t centered as being ‘reactive’ to everything in their world. Would you be able to touch on this a little and why you think that happens? Also how do you think a centered person reacts and how you do achieve that?
Barbara: I hate to use the word “control” because it can have so many bad connotations, but people who aren’t centered feel they’re at the mercy of every other person and circumstance in their lives, that they have no control over anything. Somehow they got into these relationships and situations, but they don’t know how—they take no responsibility for it because they aren’t aware they’re making bad choices.
It’s a scary thing to realize you ARE the center of and responsible for what happens in your own world, and the only way to live the life you want is to learn how to choose well. We aren’t taught this in school, and many of us don’t learn it from our parents either. But what these uncentered people do when problems arise is react, usually in anger, sometimes with tears or some other emotional outburst. Uncentered people believe their emotions cannot be controlled, that emotions rule.
A centered person, on the other hand, will have fewer problems, I believe, because she’s made better choices about who she’s with and what she allows herself to get involved in. A centered person would be much less likely to “react” in the traditional knee-jerk sense, too. Instead, a centered person is capable of counting to 10 and making a quick decision about how to handle what’s happening, even if that means delaying a response by making arrangements to deal with it at a later time.
LWC: I always tell people that the only thing you really have absolute complete control over is your thoughts. You get to choose your thoughts and what you’re going to focus on. It gives you so much more power over your life once you realize this, and I love the technique you use to take that moment to calm your mind and then focus it on the direction in which you want to go. So, thank you for providing this technique, and thank you so much for discussing all this with me today. I very much appreciate it.
Did you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?Barbara:
You’re very welcome, and thank you for taking the time to tell your readers about Focus. A focused person is a self-confident person.
LWC If you're interested in checking out Barbara's books, Focus – A Blueprint for a Happier Life and the associated workbook, The FocusBlueprint Objectives Workbook, you can find them on her web site at: www.focusblueprint.com
You can also watch this short video which provides an excerpt from her book.
Note: Press the pause button to stop the video at the end.