How Your Focus Shapes Your Reality

You may be familiar with the popular saying, “Your focus creates your reality.” Variations of this adage include:

“You get what you focus on, so focus on what you want.”
“Energy flows where attention goes.”
“What you focus on expands.”

Now, I love pithy maxims as much as the next person but I’m more interested in practical wisdom.

Whenever I hear a quote or idea that resonates with me, I typically ask questions like:

What makes this true?
What basis does this idea have in reality?
Can I corroborate this with an experience from my own life?

I've found that sayings that have endured the test of time tend to contain -- at the very least -- a seed of wisdom or truth in them. If not in a literal way, in a metaphorical way. It turns out there is both practical wisdom and scientific truth packed into the idea that “your focus creates your reality.”

Let me walk you through a short exercise that will demonstrate, on a small scale, the importance of where you place your attention.

Seeing Red

Look around you right now, wherever you are, and count how many red-colored objects you see in your field of vision. Any shade of red works. Go ahead and stop reading right now, look around you, and count how many red things you can find. I’ll wait…

Are you done? How many red-colored items did you count? I bet you saw way more than you had previously noticed before you did this exercise.

It’s not that those red-colored items weren’t there before. It’s that you didn’t see them because your brain wasn’t focused on looking for them.

Why You Should Write Down Your Goals

This psychological phenomenon is also a strong argument for writing down your goals.

Over the years, I’ve experienced firsthand the power of writing down my goals. It’s uncanny and quite frankly, a bit shocking. I’ve written about this on my Instagram page, but I want to expand upon the technical aspects of why it works and how it relates to this principle of focus.

By clarifying your goals and writing them down, you are essentially telling your brain what to pay attention to. You are giving it the clear direction: “This is important!” The result of doing this is that you will be more attuned to the things in your environment that are relevant to your goals.

Much like in the above exercise where you saw more red items once you started looking for them, when you set your “cognitive filter” for a clearly defined and written goal, you will be more likely to see opportunities relating to that goal where you might not have before.

My personal mantra is: “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”

Pro tip: If you want to take this a step further, you can turn your written goals into affirmations, saying them out loud multiple times a day. This will help drive them into your subconscious mind and further strengthen your “cognitive filter.”

The Science Behind The Saying

The explanation for this why this works has to do with how your brain is wired. There are thousands upon thousands of different sights, sounds and sensations happening in your environment at any given moment. If you were fully aware of all of them simultaneously, you wouldn’t know what to focus on and you’d probably experience sensory overload.

The way evolution has dealt with this is through the development of the part of the brain known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS). Think of the RAS like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub -- its primary job is to not let everything in. The RAS filters out the extraneous stimuli in your environment (something like 99%) and allows you to pay attention to what is most important or relevant to you.

This is why you are able to hear your name in a noisy crowd of people talking. It’s why, after you buy a new car, you start seeing that same car on the road more frequently. It’s why, after you learn a new word, you start hearing it more often. It’s also the reason you noticed the red-colored items in the room after I told you to look for them.

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” - John Lubbock


How I Manifested My Dream Woman

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Years before I met my wife, Vanessa, I wrote down all the qualities I wanted in a romantic partner. It was a list of about 30 different things. Fast forward a few years later: Not only did I manifest my dream woman, I got far more than I ever imagined.

Now let’s think about this logically. Did the mere act of writing down my preferences somehow magically make my dream woman appear in my life? Unless I’ve discovered a new law of physics, this probably isn’t the case. How then, can this be explained in rational terms?

By crystallizing and defining exactly what I was looking for in a woman, I effectively set my “cognitive filter” to pick up on those qualities more readily when I was on dates or interacting with potential mates. When Vanessa eventually showed up in my life, I already knew what I was looking for so I seized the opportunity to cultivate that relationship. I knew what I wanted so I was able to recognize when it showed up in my life.

Moral of the Story

Your brain constructs your reality based on what you pay attention to. Learning to manage your focus is the key to improving virtually every aspect of your life.


Ruben Chavez is a lifestyle philosopher, influencer, writer and personal development educator. His passion for personal development inspired him to create the Instagram account ThinkGrowProsper in 2014, which has amassed over 3 million followers. Along with his blog, these platforms are his way of inspiring and connecting with thoughtful, creative, and ambitious people just like you.