Vail Daily column: The power of focused attention |

Vail Daily column: The power of focused attention

Chuck Wachendorfer
Vail Chamber

Have you ever heard the phrase “We become what we think about”? Or, “People who think more positively are typically more successful”? I’ve heard both and yet wondered in the past how, if most of our thought is unconscious, do successful people purposefully think more positively?

Though it may seem contrary, the answer actually can be found in questions. Yes, the questions we ask ourselves, our team, our families and organizations actually discover answers as they help focus our attention and thought.

Focused Mode

Dr. Amit Sood, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and author of “Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress Free Living,” talks about two fundamental states of mind — focused mode and default mode. Focused mode is when our mind and attention are engaged while we’re processing something interesting. Any time we experience something new, novel or different, we engage the focused mode of our brain. In this mode, we’re in a state of self-forgetfulness and are concentrating on something other than ourselves. The goal for improving performance in life or business is to spend more time actively engaged in focused mode. Not only will you realize performance benefits from upping your time in focused mode, you should also see real health improvements.

Support Local Journalism

Default Mode

Default mode is considered mind wandering. Have you ever read something or been involved in a conversation where, after a few minutes, you have no idea what you’ve just read or what was said? That’s operating in default mode. Typically, left unattended, our minds will stay in the default mode. For many of us, that can equate to 50-80 percent of our day.

So, what makes great leaders and those people successful in life and business different than the rest of us? They are different because, in an effort to stay in focused mode, they continually ask themselves and their organizations questions. As they constantly strive to improve their lives or the performance of their business, they repeatedly ask the questions, even when the answers may be difficult. So it’s not the thoughts that we’re focusing on that make the difference and matter most. The differentiator is the ability to pose the questions that control our thoughts and continually engage the focused mode of our brains.

Two Simple Questions

Following are two questions that appear to be very similar yet are vastly different.

1. Where will life take me?

2. Where do I want to take my life?

Do you see the difference between them? The first question places me as the passenger in my life while the second puts me in the driver’s seat. As a passenger, I am passive about what comes my way and I am essentially along for the ride. However, as the driver in No. 2, my brain begins to actively engage to discover the answer to the question. Like losing my car keys, I may not be able to find them right away but my brain will continue to work on the question until it has the answer.

Propelling Outcome

Top performers, leaders, executives, business owners and parents are hyper-attentive to the questions that inevitably enhance focus. They realize that focused attention propels outcome, behavior and results for themselves, their organizations and families. They never take that for granted. Walter Issacson, in his biography of Steve Jobs, talks about Steve’s relentless pursuit of simplifying seemingly complex ideas and technology. According to Issacson, Steve would go back again and again asking, “Do we need this part? Can we get it to perform the function of the other four parts?” The iPod, a product that simultaneously revolutionized multiple industries, was a result of Jobs’ never-ending questions as he drove Apple designers to develop the unprecedented device.

Ask Great Questions

Even in my role as a consultant for Think2Perform, I don’t always have the answers to some of the business challenges our clients face so I have to focus on asking great questions. Having worked in real estate, financial services, insurance, banking, technology and other industries, most of the time the executives or leaders I’m working with know more about their business than I do. I’m there to help them discover the answers to the challenges or problems they’re facing. Even if I have the answer, my role is to help them discover it themselves. If they discover it, then they own the solution. It’s theirs.

What We Know

Here’s what we know — our questions drive our focused attention and focused attention drives engagement and performance. Choose your questions carefully.

If you’ve found my columns over the last few months helpful in paying more attention to what you think about and how you’re developing your team, organization or business and want to learn more, the please attend the upcoming workshop that I’m doing for the Vail Chamber on Sept 30. The focus of the workshop will be situational leadership, a foundational tool developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey. Situational leadership is a important tool used in the most successful organizations to develop talent and improve performance. If you’d like to learn more or enroll, then please contact Alison Wadey, executive director of the Chamber, at 970-477-0075 or email her at

Chuck Wachendorfer is a partner and the chief operating officer at Thin2Perform, a business and sports performance firm that improves bottom-line results for executives, athletes and organizations such as American Express, Ameriprise Financial, Comerica Bank, Boston Scientific, United Health Group, the FBI, 3M, the Minnesota Twins and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He resides in Edwards with his wife Lori and their three children. Think2Perform is a partner of the Vail Chamber & Business Association. They offer a series of “Breakthrough for Business” workshops throughout the year, helping local businesses achieve their best practices. To learn more visit or

Support Local Journalism