Where is Your Attention? - Christine Kane

Genius. It is just attention to something specific. That’s all it is. And so anyone who gives attention to any subject for a period of time will evolve in the direction of that understanding.


I just returned from teaching a day-long creativity workshop for leaders in the federal government. I’m contracted to teach this every two months. (Sometimes more often.) I designed the morning session myself, and it’s geared towards creating a very real right-brain hands-on creative experience. (No small task when you consider the job descriptions of these participants.)

Until this most recent workshop, I led the afternoon session, but I didn’t design it. I had merely followed the instructions written by The Center for Creative Leadership. The activity is called “The Visual Explorer.” In this activity, hundreds of 8×10 images – beautiful, rich, and evocative photos and paintings – are placed all around the room and hallways. Each participant is told to think of a “problem” in his or her life. S/he then walks around the room looking at all the images, until s/he finds an image that represents that “problem.”

The participants get into groups of three, and they take turns sharing their images and problems with the other two people. The two observers then tell the person with the problem (PWP) what solutions they see in the image. Often the two outside observers find solutions that help the PWP to see new opportunities.

Here’s the thing, though. In past workshops, I noticed that the group energy got really low during the Visual Explorer. I blamed it on the “after lunch” energy crash. But still, it frustrated me. I didn’t want to be too aggressive with the supervisors who had chosen this activity, but I was uncomfortable with the level of attention that was given to the “problem.” I even suspected that this was the cause for the energy crash. I checked in with the program director and told her I wanted to change this activity around. Because I’ve had great success in my teaching so far, she gave the reigns over to me.

So, I did three things differently.

1 – I told the participants to pick a “challenge.” The word “challenge” contains the slightest bit of opportunity in it. It also shifts the person with the challenge into an active participant. A “problem,” on the other hand, is more permanent and heavy. Someone with a “problem” is stuck and passive. Someone with a “challenge” might actually benefit in the end. (I then corrected anyone who used the word “problem” after this distinction was made!)

2 – I told them to pick out not one, but two images. The first image would represent their challenge. The second would be a solution. They would still break down into small groups, but the discussion would be about both images. The two observers would add to the solutions that the person with the challenge had found.

3 – Before they jumped up to find their images, I had them sit quietly. They had the choice of closing their eyes, or of writing down notes as I spoke. I then guided them through their challenge, and I included a reflection on how they might be a contributing factor to this challenge. (This helps to avoid dead-end challenges like – “My boss is an idiot!”) I also included a reflection about opportunity: “What might I learn from this particular challenge? In what ways could I grow? Are there opportunities here?”

They got up and began the exercise. The results were staggering. The energy of the group not only rose, but the emotions and depth that each group experienced was life-changing for some. (There were many “a-ha!” moments.) After each group had finished, several volunteers stood up and shared their experiences. (Some even cried at the relief of the new knowlege of their new-found solution.) I got goose bumps over and over at the new levels of wisdom that were shared.

So, what happened?

I believe it’s about attention. When the group had been told to focus their attention on their “problems,” the energy got stuck and stale. (And sad too!) When the PWP talked only about the “problem,” then all of his/her attention stayed right there – on the problem. The two observers were the ones who presented solutions. This did result in a few solutions, of course. But the solutions were coming from the outside of the PWP. S/he had spent all that time talking only about that problem. Then s/he sat and waited while other people came up with the solution. It wasn’t a very empowering model.

When the attention shifted, the group dynamic shifted. When the participants were told to find their own images of solutions, they were forced to tap in to a deeper part of themselves that had the wisdom. That part is always there. We just forget to place our attention on it sometimes! The small group discussion then elevated from a complaint session (“Yea, my boss is an idiot too!”) into something more exciting, as each person shared her own wisdom with the other two people, who then added to that wisdom with more attention on it.

So, where is your attention?

Oprah says, “Intention rules the earth.” I believe that. I’ve written blogs about it. I also believe that the daily practice of intention is the hourly practice of attention. Attention is the discipline. In our conversations with friends, in our time spent on various activites, in our thoughts, and in our choices of what to focus on.

So, how and where are you choosing to focus your very precious and very powerful attention?

  • Stacey

    It’s amazing what you find when your looking for it. I use a video in a process improvement course I teach to help people see how their observation isn’t a good as they may think it is. They will observe differently depending on what they believe they will find or what they are purposely seeking to find or as you show above, where they are putting their attention.
    Click here to test your attention Enjoy!

  • Lacey

    Awesome exercise, takes the whole “Houston we have a problem” to a whole new level. That sounds like sudden death, but if we were to say Housten we have a challenge for ya” that would be kool, shoot! LOL!

  • Katie Konrath

    Very interesting concept with asking your participants to choose a challenge instead of a problem. I’ll have to keep that in mind for when I do creativity sessions myself in the future!

  • Christine Kane

    hey angie – wow. sounds like a great art instructor. i think the folks at the federal govt would freak out if i asked them to meditate.

    thanks vicki! appreciative inquiry? sounds very cool.

    thanks amita!

    martha – that made me smile. i’ll use it soon i’m sure!

    thanks so much colleen. what kind words to read this evening. yea, i got over that “formal education” requirement a while ago. not that it’s a BAD thing. it’s just not the ONLY thing! 🙂

    that’s a good one mike! thanks for adding to the conversation.

  • Christine Kane

    thanks caren!

    yogajenn – i totally get the metaphor to money. (my first few million were HELL to get – but after that, it’s been a breeze! 🙂 ) And as far as vulnerability, I couldn’t agree more. (just ask the women who’ve come to my retreats!)

    hey adam! thanks for the help and the thoughts!

    chickiepam – i love reading about moms who are really working at non-judgment and conscious parenting. It’s inspiring to me. So thanks for your words.

    barb and yogajenn – thanks for your additional remarks. they really help keep the conversation going. and it’s a good topic. i’ve asked these same things to “motivational speaker” types – and i didn’t get nearly as cool insights as some of the people writing here!

    thanks jen!

  • Mike


    Brilliant work on reframing as Martha pointed out. It reminds me of the old adage: if you’re riding a bicycle down a path and see a large rock in your way, don’t focus on the rock, or you’ll surely hit it.


  • Colleen

    Hi Christine,

    I have not commented in a while but I’m still here surrounding myself with creative, mindful people like you!

    I was going to ask you if you were really about 100 years old because of the amount of wisdom you have accumulated. But sheer hard work over 15 years would do it too, I guess!

    You’re an inspiration to me not only because of the words that you write but because of the fact that you’ve accumulated this wisdom at a young age and without having your PhD in Psychology. It makes me know that when I think about my own goals, lack of formal education does not mean lack of merit!

  • Martha Garvey

    Great example of a reframe. I’m also reminded of something I heard when I was working on a team (re “problem” vs. “challenge”): “It’s not a bug. It’s a FEATURE!”

  • Amita

    Thank you for yet another inspiring post. The simplicity with which you convey such insightful thoughts is awesome. Your blogs are a staple diet for the likes of me, thanks again!

  • Vicki Schroeder

    Great breakthrough for you! I took wellness coaching training last year and learned of Appreciative Inquiry, something being done in the business world to change company cultures. It’s based on what’s going right, and the energy it generates is amazing. People do first have to acknowledge the challenges, but then focus on what’s working. So wonderful that you were able to tap into that same process. Hooray for you!!

  • Angie Hartford

    Wow. The part about having the participants sit and focus quietly reminds me of the drawing class where the instructor 1) did not admit late students and 2) had everyone meditate for 10 minutes at the beginning of every class.

    The work that ensued was phenomenal.

  • jen

    It is so refreshing to have someone “get” when an old process doesn’t work. Too many times, the standard of solving problems never changes because someone is to uncreative to think of a solution. Kudos to you for creating an atmosphere of learning in a room full of people who like to hear themselves talk. (oops that was a personal observation) Thank you for the inspiration!

  • yogajenn

    just an addendum…i am not referring to posting from a whiney place or from a place of suffering. i just find that i can relate to/empathize with/learn from another who is fallible NOW, not just in the past and has ‘gotten through it’. but i understand that is not always appropriate for posting to a blog. it’s simply my resistence coming up and i thought i would share it since it might also be coming up for others…or maybe not… i guess inspiration can be generated in all kinds of ways. thanks.

  • barb

    yogajenn, just wanted to chime in here that while the healing process is definitely not linear it is hard to write/describe a non linear process. it would be kinda like the 3 dimensional chess that Spock played on Star Trek (I do love Sci fi). in person, i find that I am going in 3 dimensions but if I had to write, I’d be just in one dimension. For me, I can have “good” hours intertwined by “not so good” hours but having travelled the non linear path, I know that I will be able to handle the “not so good” in a better way and not let myself get back way down in my cave. hope this helps. barb

  • ChickiePam

    Hi Christine!

    First, let me say that I love, love, love your new song!!! And I’m oh so excited about the new album. (So is my daughter cuz I drive her crazy sometimes playing the old ones over and over and over….) Oh, I said album! Dating myself yet again.

    It’s been a while since I have visited your blog. I have gotten all caught up now with both the posts and the comments. I just have to say that you rock. Your words always touch my heart and I am grateful that you are in my life.

    I have a comment to YogaJenn concerning the “bad days”. When you’ve been doing this inner work for a while and you get some momentum going, it is just easier to NOT go to the “bad place”. And when I DO go there, I find that I don’t stay there as long or go quite as deep. That is a giant relief! Things that used to send me to a near terminal tail spin just don’t get a rise out of me. Ask my son. He just flunked out of college and my big reaction was “So what do you plan to do now?” That question was put to him quite calmly and sincerely and lovingly! Wow!! I HAVE come a long way…no recriminations, no stuff about wasting money (He has learned a lot, just not what he intended to, so I figure he has gotten his money’s worth!), no guilt, no fear….just a simple where do you go from here. And of course he had a plan, has enacted it and is doing a wonderful job with his life. And he is thriving when some people would consider him a failure. But I know that truth. He is an awesome, creative, beautiful person who is finding his way in the world, and he is doing it his way. I love him more than I have words to express. But the mom’s out there will understand that.

    So baby steps do turn into a walk, then a run and perhaps flight. We are all human and have our bad times. I don’t know who said it, and I may not have the exact words, but the gist of it is this: Pain is a given. Suffering is optional. Or something like that. It is all a choice.

    Thanks Christine.
    PS: I’m writing an e-book on how to do a cleanse!

  • Adam Kayce : Monk At Work

    It worked, kinda!

    (caren posted while I was writing this, but now you’ve at least got a so-so explanation here… although I noticed it tweaked the syntax in my example (shouldn’t have a “>” after .com; and, it dropped out the “” in the explanation; oh well.)

  • Adam Kayce : Monk At Work

    Love this post, Christine — such a great example of getting off the beaten (to death) path!

    As for the link thing, assuming your blog allows limited HTML (most do), then writing the code for a link does the trick. I’ll try to write an example … instead of the ( and ) , you’d use …

    Go to (a href=”http://christinekane.com>”)Christine Kane’s homepage(/a).

    would become:
    Go to Christine Kane’s homepage.

  • yogajenn

    thank you – it makes a lot of sense. two things – soon after i wrote that, i realized that healing could be compared to making money (stay with me here…) – I recently heard that when you are creating wealth, making that FIRST million is the most difficult (hey man, it’s just a metaphor! :)) and then it gets easier and easier to duplicate that. kind of like creating that first breakthrough in healing, or achieving that first level of ‘health’.
    second – i’ve been reading some on leadership lately and trying to put it into practice, and much more of the recent publications are emphasizing the need to be transparent, and vulnerable. And by risking that exposure of yourself, not to expect anything to be gained by it – so staying unattached but willing to be seen. This is very difficult for me but incredibly powerful. So I suppose that is the background to where that question/concern came from.
    It’s always interesting to watch my reactions to your posts – unpredictable but always interesting!

  • Christine Kane

    okay, i obviously don’t know how to make a link happen in my comments. anyone care to offer a how-to? (that’s how i learned to make smiley faces!) 😀

  • Christine Kane

    yogajenn – nope. never a bad day. just ask my husband! 🙂 Seriously though, here’s the thing: my purpose for blogging is to encourage and inspire people. if I write when i’m in the whiney place, then that doesn’t serve anyone. and besides, I’m learning that that place isn’t the truth of me anyway. it’s an old pattern. and no, none of this work has been linear. that’s why I write posts about having bad days and sabotage and getting through it. (http://christinekane.com/blog/how-to-survive-a-bad-day/) and, i appreciate your honesty and your frustration. I’ve been at this work (in a VERY committed way) for about 15 years. I committed myself to my own healing soon after I was out of college – and the crappy stuff doesn’t last as long now. it comes – but it’s just not as “real” as it used to be. And it doesn’t last for weeks like it used to. so, the answer to your question is: yes, i have those days still. i think that’s why i work so hard at reaching out to other “emotional/creative/intuitive” types. they need to know that this work takes persistence and lots of kindness to yourself. Does that help?

  • yogajenn

    my first reaction was – “of course the results were staggering!” then i realized how it was tinged with resentment and cynicism – just noticing, not judging. i guess i may misunderstand the purpose or intention behind blogging, but it would be great to hear that this linear journey of personal evolution you have been on is not so linear. i realize it has been a lengthy journey for you up to this point, and you truly have come a heck of a long way. buuuuuut, do you not have bad days when all these tools and lessons are nowhere to be found?

    again, no criticism or judgment here – just curiosity. Thanks.

  • Christine Kane

    hey susanne – yea, i forgot to mention that i’ve been sneaking into your mind! i’ll stop if you want… 🙂

    thanks meg! i’m happy to hear you’re doing the no complaining thing. let me know how it goes!

    hi judy – thanks for the note.

    hi fivecats – AND sometimes you really don’t know if you trust yourself or not – you just gotta wing it. i’ve also tried things at workshops that didn’t work at ALL! (Notice how I don’t write about those times!)

  • fivecats

    it’s wonderful when you trust yourself that way, kicking out the old preconceptions and the ‘easy way’ of doing things and creating your own path.

    thanks for the (continual) inspiration!

  • Judy

    What a powerful shift you created! Sometimes that incremental change in thinking is all it takes, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing this experience.

  • Meg

    Bravo to the intructor who facilitates from the heart, not the notebook!

    This framework will be very helpful to me. I’ve been trying the “no complaining or comparing for 30 days” that you mentioned at the retreat. Framing the tough parts amd moments as opportunities v. problems and the thought questions will help me stay on track. As always, many, many thanks!

  • Susanne

    Now I know for sure that you’re reading my mind. I have to rush off and share this with somebody.