Attention and Performance: How you attend to the world can transform your performance in it

Attention, State and Performance

In article 4 of the Attention series, Jules examines the relationship between how we use our attention, our state, and our performance.


The set of specific values in a person’s physiology, neurology and biochemistry, that gives rise to their behavioural expression and their subjective experience of themselves and the world in any given moment. Some states recur in each culture with sufficient frequency to have acquired labels in the appropriate language. Examples include joy, depression, happiness, angst, and joie de vivre. Naming states implies a commonality of experience, which is not necessarily the case. Naming states does not describe the differences in individual subjective experience which actually exist within any particular named state; i.e., one person’s generation and experience of elation, misery, or anxiety will be different from someone else’s and two people deliberately generating the same conditions within their bodies may call the resulting state by different names.

Our states influence the quality and direction of our attention, and our attention influences our states. States act as frames for how we use our attention, what we attend to and what we delete from our attention. States influence the perceptual filters we apply, and simultaneously, our more pervasive perceptual filters influence our access to different states.

“Our states influence the quality and direction of our attention and our attention influences our states.”

States give rise to mood frames such as happy, sad, optimistic, and pessimistic. They also influence the likelihood or absence of choice and opinion-based responses such as willingness, cooperation, participation, and trust.

States are not fixed. They shift continually, sometimes imperceptibly in small increments, yet they can also shift radically. This may be in response to receiving new information or to a sudden recognition of a change of meaning of existing information, though it can also occur when an activity starts or ends. Receiving important exam results, making a large purchase, and even having a meal often precipitates a change of state.

Some people experience states which are notably different from most of their other states. Certain frames and information which are normally accessible to them are not found while in these radically different states. If these states also require special circumstances to enter and leave, they are known as Dissociated States. Dissociated states often carry framing and meaning that is only accessible to a person when they are in that state. Examples include the sudden state changes associated with experiencing road accidents and chemically induced altered states such as exposure to mind-altering drugs or alcohol. The alcoholic blackout is a case in point where a person cannot remember what happened at a party until they are that drunk again, when it all comes back to them.

“There is anecdotal evidence that it is very hard to maintain a depressed state while doing a headstand.”

Chronically depressed states often have characteristics of dissociated states. When someone is experiencing depression, they are likely to express a belief that it is pervasive and continuous. In depression, they may not have access to the moments in their day when their attention has elicited a different state. They have difficulty imagining life being more rewarding, and often they cannot access their memories of pre-depression life or the moments, hours, and days where their attention is on something other than being depressed.

Where You Place Your Attention Can Affect Your State

What we attend to and how we attend to it can elicit changes in our state. We can learn to enter and leave any state by shifting our attention. If the process we use to shift our attention is sufficiently compelling, even the most subjectively difficult states will shift for long enough to provide a reference experience, unless they are chemically induced. Yet most of us have heard anecdotes relating to people in chemical hazes who seem to snap out of it for a brief period to present a straight or sober countenance to the world.

There is anecdotal evidence that it is very hard to maintain a depressed state while doing a headstand. Certainly, this is not a long-term option, but giving someone live evidence of a state change, even for a minute or two, can shift a belief that feeling depressed is all-pervasive. If someone can change that belief enough to consider other options, they may be open to learning more user-friendly attention-shifting skills. Then they can discover, through live experience, that changing state by choice is a skill which they can learn.

John Grinder’s ‘Chain of Excellence’

For our purposes, learning to change state is predicated on a person’s natural and habitual states, more than those involving artificial aids. John Grinder, the co-originator of NLP, proposes a ‘Chain of Excellence’ leading to enhanced performance in any context:





The Chain of Excellence has three points of leverage to shift attention and create a better quality of action in the world. They are:

  1. Change your breathing pattern and your physiology (posture, movement, and carriage) will change.
  2. Change your physiology and your state will change.
  3. Change your state and your performance will change. (Performance includes natural interactions, reading, sleeping, and eating, as well as prepared activities and working).

If you act on any one of the three, the categories below will shift in response. To test this, consider an issue in your life and note your state. Then go for a ten-minute brisk walk with an even, balanced posture and your head up comfortably. You will find your breathing will deepen, your physiology will be nicely shaken up and your thinking will become clearer.

You can attend to any matter on your agenda as you walk, or you can think about it before you walk, then shift your attention to enjoy the walk and return to the matter afterwards. Your take on it will be different. This is an example of a model known as ‘Personal Editing’, created by Judith DeLozier, and is the simplest and most natural way to do it. You can see it unfolding in daily life if you attend gym, exercise or dance classes. The class members come in after work in a work state. They attend to class, move, exercise, and perform routines. Then they leave in a different state.

When you engage the Chain of Excellence, your attention goes to the element you want to shift. When you follow through, your body function supports resourceful states that promote high-quality attention. Personal editing can provide you with a generic resource state which you can take anywhere. Then, when you enter a specific context, the state will enable you to access appropriate resources for performing well in that context.

A ‘Four Step Change Process’

In the New Code of NLP, John Grinder has developed a ‘Four Step Change Process’. It applies leverage through the Chain of Excellence to create generic, content-free (go anywhere) resource states. Step 3 requires an activity that applies the leverage of the Chain of Excellence. In this case, I recommend the Personal Editing brisk walk as you can do this by yourself and I have described it already.

  1. Identify a context where you want to perform with excellence and currently do not.
  2. Step briefly into the context and experience it.
  3. Step out of the context and start a Personal Editing brisk walk immediately, attending only to the sensory experience of walking and seeing and hearing your environment in real time.
  4. At the end of 10-15 minutes brisk walking, step into the context you chose in the state you are in now. Let the state blend into the context and enjoy the result. Now you experience the difference.

By Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer at INSPIRITIVE Pty Ltd.

Attention Training Articles

  1. Apply leverage to your attention for productivity by choice
    by Jules Collingwood
  2. 5 elements to enhance the quality of your attention and further your outcomes
    by Jules Collingwood
  3. Creating meaningful change and altering the way you represent the world
    by Jules Collingwood
  4. How you attend to the world can transform your performance in it
    by Jules Collingwood
  5. How using your attention can change the quality of your states (and vice versa)
    by Jules Collingwood

(Note: If you would like to learn more about the New Code of NLP, you can get a copy of our latest Kindle book, ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

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Learn more about NLP by reading our Ultimate Compendium of NLP

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