A physician reported at the end of our second coaching session that, “The most important thing I am learning is to focus on what I want, instead of what I don’t want.” My client’s words capture the mindset of most physicians. The rigorous medical training of physicians that reinforces creating a disaster scenario in the doctors’ minds heightens the natural tendency of people to focus on problems and risks.

After more than 20 years of clinical experience and an MBA, my client’s growing self-awareness was transformative. She was exploring how to leverage her last few years of practice at the hospital, as she moved toward “retirement.” As she began to focus on what she wanted in her life and career, even in the context of the political reality of her hospital and the likelihood of her declining revenue, new options began to emerge.

Have you ever found yourself feeling stuck in negative thought patterns – with the worst possible outcomes – that dampen your expectations? Perhaps you have thought or said, either, “I don’t think I can make this work,” or, “I seriously doubt that I can pull this off.”

Such a common mindset often proves challenging to change, even after you finally decide that you’ve had enough negativity. The good news is that learning to focus more on what you want can be done with skills you already have: practice and persistence.

4 Keys to Creating Your Best in 2014

Would you like to rearrange your current reality? Try these 4 simple strategies to shift your focus to what you want to create, starting in 2014.

1) Under every frustration is a personal request.

At the end of a week, how often have you said in frustration, “I wish I’d been able to:

  • make progress on a favorite project
  • go for a run
  • spend time with my children
  • have a date with my spouse

Your complaints give you a clue about the things to which you are committed. As you develop your self-awareness about what is most important, you build motivation to make a change and create a personal call-to-action.

Tip: Pick one area of focus at a time. Trying to make too many changes at once does not work.

2) Perform an attitude check-up several times a day.

First, pay attention to how you feel. If you’re feeling irritable, pessimistic, or stressed, you’re probably focusing more on negative thoughts. However, if you’re feeling positive and productive, it’s an indicator that you’ve been thinking positive thoughts.

Tip: Our speech reveals things on which we are focused. Do you tend to talk about problems, or opportunities? Do you contribute to negative conversations, or do you endeavor to shift the conversation in a more positive direction?

3) Challenge and change your negative thoughts.

Although you can’t always control your circumstances, you can control your response. If you are feeling doubtful about your ability to finish that pile of charts on time, you might engage in a bit of encouraging self-talk. “Okay, so I’m a bit worried right now, but really everything is under control. I’m strong, I’m smart, and I’m definitely capable of finishing on time. I just need to focus and do my best, and I will be fine.”

Tip: Positive self-talk can get you thinking and feeling in a more positive direction, which will open up your problem-solving abilities.

4) Keep your eyes on the ball, on the goal.

Many things in healthcare are not working ideally. Look beyond the challenges to see your desired outcome. When motorcyclists want to avoid an obstacle, instead of getting trapped in negative target fixation, they need to look past the obstacle. They need to focus on where they want to be, not where they don’t want to be.

Tip: Work daily on developing positive expectations. Each day when you wake up, affirm confidently, “Today is going to be a great day, because _________! I feel fantastic about being able to _________.” Fill in those blanks with three specific reasons for holding positive expectations about your day.

Small changes are additive, for big results.

On their own, each of these four strategies probably doesn’t seem significant enough to change the course of your life. Each strategy is designed to create a subtle shift, rather than a radical change in direction.

But don’t underestimate the results from a small shift in course. If you were flying from New York to London, and the pilot was only 1o off course during the whole flight, you probably would miss Europe.

If you improve your life with small changes today, the results will compound over time. Changing your life is often a case of making small adjustments that produce huge benefits in the long run.

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