Imagine Health

In Praise of Fractions

We all have areas of our lives we would like to see change. For example we may wish to feel more confident, to worry less, or to cope with pressure in ways which are better for us in the long run. Because we are troubled by something not being as we would like, we tend to focus on it and become good at spotting when it is happening. Unfortunately this can sometimes increase the chances of the problem sticking around.

If you’ve ever been skiing, you’ll know that it helps to look where you want to go. If you look at those trees, the chances are you’ll start to head towards them! Similarly, I recall a helicopter pilot telling me about a training exercise where he had to fly under some electricity cables – the crucial skill required in order to avoid disaster was that he had to find a way of never looking up, nor even to think about their presence. Essentially, we tend to move towards and increase what we choose to focus on. The good news is that we can use this knowledge to nudge things in the right direction.

Even if it feels as if a problem is around all the time, if you look hard enough you will find that there are always moments when it is around slightly less or even not at all – ‘flashes’ of what you want already starting to happen in the present. Attending to these exceptions can be hugely helpful – by simply looking out for what you want to see more of, you can increase the chances of the changes you desire coming true.


If there is a specific thing you would like to change, how about trying the following exercise for a week:


  • Be clear on where you would like to get to. Take time out to paint a detailed picture of all that will be different when you get there – how will you be thinking, feeling, acting? Be sure to keep this description positive, ensure that you describe what you will be doing rather than what you won’t.
  • Ask yourself, on a scale of 0 (the worst things could possibly be) to 10 (every part of your desired future has materialised), where am I now? What am I already doing that’s helping me be here at not at a lower number?
  • Set yourself a task of noticing any moments over the next seven days when you feel even slightly closer to your goal, even if only for a short while. So if you are currently at a 4, anything above this counts – even a 4 ½ – and make a quick note of what you were doing at the time. The key point is that if you can’t spot any moments, you aren’t looking hard enough – they are always there!
  • At the week end, spend a while reviewing what you have noticed. Are there any patterns emerging? What kinds of things are you often doing around the time that the problem is not around as much? What ideas does this give you?


This exercise shouldn’t take a great deal of time or effort. But you may be surprised by where it takes you!


Dr Michael Stoker
Principal Clinical Psychology Manager
Imagine Health