A conversation this week reminded me of what I call the magnification principle. This was first introduced to me by something John Mauldin wrote many years ago, and since then I have come across a variety of research discussing it (with different names in different areas) and validating it. This is very relevant this week (being New Year’s, etc.), but is also very worth paying attention to throughout our lives. My version of the Magnification Principle is very similar to John’s:
“What we focus on gets larger.”
Notice that this is not “what we focus on appears larger” but instead indicates that it actually gets larger. Obviously if I focus on my mailbox, it won’t magically grow or anything. But I’m continually surprised at where this does apply. A few examples:
- Research with subjects that want to lose weight: They were divided into two groups. One group focused on their weight, the other focused on their physical fitness. The latter succeeded hands down, while the first generally failed (and even many of them gained weight). What you focus on, increases (even if you’re focusing on reducing it).
- Research on debt reduction: Again two groups, one focused on reducing their debt and the other focused on working towards financial freedom. Similar outcome: debt was reduced dramatically more in the second group.
If you focus on reducing something, you’re sabotaging yourself – because what you focus on increases.
It’s astounding (at least to me) how many places I see this principle in action. Finances, physical fitness, mental fitness, etc. but also it applies at meta level things: I once came across research (pre-internet) comparing race relations between cities that made a focused effort on reducing racism vs cities that celebrated the progress they’d made. Racism in the latter was dramatically improved, while in some of the former cities it was made worse. In Pittsburgh PA they’re working on improving bike-friendliness, and they’re making great strides. Their success is not because of more laws protecting bikers but because they’re focusing on their image of being a biker friendly city.
Are you focusing on some character weakness in your life? Try focusing on what you want to replace it with and see if that goes better.