My family has a special family tradition with our children. For their 12th birthday, they can select any city in the continental United States to visit for a special celebration with just Mom and Dad - no siblings. Our middle child, Grace, decided on New York to celebrate her 12th birthday. Having been there many times ourselves, it was fun to see the wonderment in a first-time visitor's eyes as she took in the lights of Times Square, the windows of the shops along 5th Avenue, the view from the Empire State Building and the ethnic richness of Chinatown and Little Italy.

Since our hotel was near Times Square, we walked a well-worn path down Broadway during our stay. Times Square really is the ultimate in sensory overload. During nearly a dozen trips down the same street, we noticed something new every time. Whatever item we were looking for seemed to magically appear even though we had previously walked past it numerous times without noticing - a souvenir shop, a deli, a street vendor selling scarves, a hot dog stand, live musicians or Italian cannolis. Whatever we were looking for seemed to pop out from the array of visual stimuli of Times Square. This experience reminded us once again that when you change the way you look at things, things change the way they look.

The things we pay the most attention to reflect what we think about most. The reverse is also true. If we change what we think about, what we notice in our surroundings will change. For example, when was the last time you saw a yellow car that was not a taxi? Maybe last week or last month?

Now that I have made you aware of yellow cars and you are thinking about them, you will start seeing more of them. Is there going to be a sudden invasion of bright yellow cars? Of course not; they've been there all along. The difference is, in the days ahead, you will be thinking about them and, therefore, more readily notice yellow cars.

I call this connection between our thoughts and our attention "The Yellow Car Phenomenon." This phenomenon is rooted in neuroscience. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is the mechanism in the human brain that brings relevant information to your attention. In essence, the RAS is the brain's filter between the subconscious and conscious mind. Without you being aware of it, the RAS sifts through the millions of pieces of information, stimuli and data coming into your brain from all your senses. It then filters out the irrelevant and brings only the relevant information to your conscious mind.

So, the RAS decides what you put your attention toward. It allows your conscious mind to focus only on that which you've determined is useful right now. This explains why, on our walks down Broadway in New York City, we did not notice the Italian cannolis when we were looking for scarves and vice versa, but once we were hungry, we saw cannolis galore! And it's why you'll start seeing yellow cars now that we've planted the information in your RAS that yellow cars are relevant.

You can leverage "The Yellow Car Phenomenon" to help you demonstrate appreciation for your team, and as a result, deepen their commitment. Simply make good performance your Yellow Car. Look for things they are doing well and reinforce it. For example, recognize positive movement or effort toward the goal. Demonstrate your appreciation for their approach, not just their results, such as:

  • Presenting a professional image,
  • Always looking for a win-win,
  • Encouraging team members,
  • Staying focused at work when they have lots of distractions at home,
  • Consistently meeting deadlines or presenting top-quality work.

If you make positive efforts and results your "Yellow Car," you will find plenty of positive performances to appreciate and, therefore, deepen your team's commitment.