The Genius Move: 5 Steps to Turn Your Focus to What You Control

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Genius Zone" by Gay Hendricks. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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When you feel unhappy, do you know the cause? What’s the solution?

Each moment, you can choose to focus on the things you can control or the things you can’t. Psychologist Gay Hendricks writes that the way to be content is to let go of the things you can’t control and instead devote your time and energy to things you can change.

Keep reading to learn how to perform the Genius Move when you start thinking about things you can’t control.

The Genius Move

The key method of Hendricks’s book is a technique that he calls “the Genius Move.” Hendricks writes that, when you feel unhappy, it’s because your thoughts have turned to something that’s outside of your control. The solution is to switch your focus to something that you can change. We’ll go over the steps that Hendricks recommends, and then we’ll compare the Genius Move to mindfulness.

  1. First, notice that you’re feeling unhappy, that you’re carrying tension in your body, or that you feel stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts. 
  2. Next, try to identify the situation that you’re trying to control. (That could be anything that you’re worrying about, from the impression you made on a new neighbor to the odds that Amazon is going to deliver the book you ordered in time for your weekend trip.)
  3. You might be able to figure out what it is and why you’re trying to control it. Or, that might not become clear. Either way, the important thing is to sit with the question. 
  4. Then, even if you’re not sure what you’re trying to control, acknowledge that it’s outside of your control and state that you’re letting go of trying to control it. 
  5. Finally, identify something positive and productive you can do to affect something that’s within your control and then take that action. 
The Genius Move Versus Mindfulness

Many readers cite the Genius Move as one of the most valuable parts of Hendricks’s method. For instance, author Josh Trent characterizes this step-by-step exercise as “a simple, life-altering practice.” For some readers, the simplicity of the Genius Move and its focus on becoming aware of your thoughts might sound like an exercise in mindfulness, another practice that’s often described as deceptively simple but potentially perspective-altering.

In Wherever You Go, There You Are, professor of medicine and mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as the practice of noticing what’s happening in the present moment and experiencing it without judgment. You can do this anywhere, anytime, just like the Genius Move: Mindfulness offers the opportunity to pause and experience what’s happening both around you and inside you, without trying to change or control the moment.

When, in the first and second steps of the Genius Move, you notice your negative feelings and realize that you’re trying to control something you can’t, you’re practicing a kind of awareness that Kabat-Zinn differentiates from thinking. You achieve this awareness by simply observing what you’re experiencing, whether that’s a feeling of unhappiness, a sensation of physical tension, or a flurry of negative thoughts. 

Kabat-Zinn explains that you can learn from this observation, as Hendricks explains might happen in the third step of the Genius Move, where you might gain some insight into the situation that you’re feeling an impulse to control. Kabat-Zinn also writes that mindfulness can help you look inward to make informed decisions and then take intentional steps in the direction you want to go. That’s similar to what Hendricks is describing when he advises, in the fourth and fifth steps of the Genius Move, deciding that what you’re trying to control isn’t yours to change, stating that you’re letting go of it, and identifying an action you can take.

While using the Genius Move and engaging in Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness exercises can help you tune in to what you’re experiencing, mindfulness meditation is a broader practice that involves a wide range of exercises designed for different purposes and people. But, in its most basic form, mindfulness, like the Genius Move, might be one way to pause and reset when you realize you aren’t spending your time on the things you value most. 
The Genius Move: 5 Steps to Turn Your Focus to What You Control

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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