Flexible Focus #9: The magic of mindset

by William Reed on July 8, 2010

The word mindset often refers to a frame of mind, a point of view, a perspective that is single or fixed, and not flexible in focus. The question to ask is whether a singular mindset helps us or harms us?

Having a point of view enables us to be very clear on where we stand. The disadvantage is that once we gain a clear viewpoint, there is a tendency to believe that our point of view is the only one that is right. This is not a light matter. Differences and inflexibility over point of view can put people on the warpath.

Flexible focus changes your point of view

Two friends were walking on a busy summer New York Avenue. One was an entomologist, an expert who was able to identify insects by sound and shape, even on a busy urban street. The entomologist astonished his friend by hearing and pointing out insects along the street, despite the clamorous sounds of people and traffic. His friend asked, “How can you possibly hear such small sounds with all of this traffic noise?” The entomologist removed a coin from his pocket and dropped it on the street, which instantly turned all heads. “We notice,” he replied, “the things which interest us.”

A mindset is a mental filter, predisposed to select certain types of information and shut out the rest. The more knowledge or interest you have in a subject, the more you are able to see and find things which are related to it. A mindset can work for us if we need to specialize, or against us if we sacrifice flexibility, the ability to change points of view. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Flexible focus gives you a strategic advantage

Miyamoto Musashi (武蔵 1584~1645) was a master swordsman, painter, and philosopher. Fighting more than 60 duels from the age of 13 to 30, he was an undefeated samurai. His book on strategy and swordsmanship, The Book of Five Rings, is a classic of martial arts literature from Japan and is still quite popular today.

Musashi’s most famous duel took place on Ganryu Island on the 13th of April 1612, and was fought against Sasaki Kōjirō, The Demon of the Western Provinces. This duel has been immortalized in film and literature. Musashi combined courage with unconventional strategy to defeat his hot-headed opponent. Musashi gained the advantage in three ways: psychologically upsetting his opponent by deliberately arriving two hours after the appointed time; choosing a wooden oar as his weapon against Kōjirō’s long sword; and running to position himself with the sun at his back, thereby blinding his opponent at a critical moment.

The first character in Musashi’s name (武) is also the character for Bu in Budō (武道)meaning martial arts. It appears in the illustration here eclipsing the rays of the sun, exactly as Musashi did in his duel with Kōjirō.

Flexible focus opens your eyes

A classical optical illusion is the Rabbit-Duck, which appears as both a rabbit facing right, or a duck facing left, depending on how you look at it. Even more surprising is the animated optical illusion of the dancing girl, who appears to be turning clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on which leg you focus on.

Dutch artist M.C. Escher took optical illusions to a level of artistic perfection. Optical illusions remind us that things are not always exactly as they seem. A slight shift in perspective produces a completely different picture.

Just as our eyes play tricks on our visual perception, our mind also plays tricks on our mental perception of people, places, and phenomena. The Buddhists go so far as to say that the world we see is void of fixed forms, and modern physicists agree.

Flexible focus lets you frame and reframe

If you get too caught up in the illusions, then the world appears as unreal as a house of mirrors, which indeed it is to the person who plays a passive role in life. When you realize that you can also shape, imagine, and influence what you see, then the game changes and the real fun begins.

As long as you accept your assumptions and believe that everything is just as it appears, you will miss the opportunity to make new discoveries and to shape your circumstances. This takes practice, and a good way to start is by framing and reframing the things you see using the Mandala Chart.

To assist in framing and reframing a question or problem, try downloading the Magic of Mindset Mandala as a reminder and worksheet for the following questions.

  1. Metaphor. What is this situation most like? What can the problem be compared to?
  2. Game Changer. What strategy can I use to change the situation?
  3. Second Opinion. Who else can I ask that can give me informed or expert advice?
  4. Sleep on it. Gain a fresh perspective by getting away from the problem for a while.
  5. Win/Win Solution. What would help all parties?
  6. Mastermind. What help can I get from mentors or books?
  7. Ask Better Questions. Reframe the problem by asking new and better questions.
  8. Empty Your Cup. If your cup is full of opinions and prior knowledge, you may have no room for anything new.

Remember Musashi and see if you can reframe the situation, put the sun at your back, and find a winning strategy. Have fun learning the art of flexible focus, and make magic with your mindset.

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