The yellow car game (focus on what’s important)

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

A few years ago, spending a couple of days with my sister-in-law and very young niece and nephew, I was introduced to the yellow car game. They usually played it as they drove around, going about daily life and it simply involved pointing and shouting “yellow car” whenever they saw one on the road. Of course the presence of another adult in the car doesn’t change the game for a three a year old, and I was soon joining in, slightly frustrated that being in the driver seat gave sister-in-law a slight advantage over me 😉

During those two days it became natural – I started spotting the yellow cars without really trying, even in the middle of a conversation. After two days playing the game whenever we were out, when I set off for the two hour drive home I kept noticing every yellow car, and making a mental note. At this stage it wasn’t a conscious effort – my subconscious had taken over and was doing it for me. Over the course of the next few weeks as I stopped consciously looking for yellow cars I noticed them less and less but every now and then I’d see one and my subconscious would kick in and notice loads more for a while. There’s a good chance that you’ll start noticing the yellow cars the next time you’re out; e-mail me at with the subject “Yellow Cars” if you do.

Why did my mind focus on the yellow cars, long after the game?

Different people would give different explanations for this, from the scientific to the spiritual. I’m going to keep it simple: your subconscious mind will focus, for a while at least, on what your conscious mind is focused on – for better or worse. Don’t picture an elephant. In a pink tutu. And blue scarf. It’s a classic example, in this case a negative instruction, and one which usually works.

Why does this matter?

Because you can start telling your subconscious what to focus on. For example, you could make the conscious effort to start noticing all the flowers when you go out - count them, name them, point them out to someone you’re with. After a while you’ll start seeing their colours and their beauty, and surely that’s a good thing. You may need to remind your subconscious every now and then, because it tends to forget (unlike that elephant).

Now, imagine it’s more than flowers. That you can tell your subconscious to notice and to focus on anything you like. You could tell it to focus on all the good things that happen. You could tell it to notice the things that you learn (see for more about recognising progress). You could tell it to focus on healthy food, on what makes you happy, on taking care of you. As an extra bonus, when you start filling your subconscious with the positives that are important to you, there’s less room for all the other stuff.

How to tell your subconscious what to focus on

There are many ways to help your brain to focus, and lots of tools available:

- Make a game of it with others – who can see the most yellow cars / pink flowers / brown dogs, or who can list the most good things about your day

- Write it down – list the things you want to focus on

- Say it to yourself – in your head, out loud, in front of a mirror – whatever works for you. It could be once, or it could be three times, like summoning Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice)

- There are plenty of journals and apps and books and sets of cards etc available for when you need some inspiration for positive thoughts

Experiment, and see what works for you. Whichever way you choose, limit your messages to about three at a time to avoid splitting the focus. And if you do e-mail me about yellow cars, let me know how you’re focusing your subconscious.

How focusing on what's important is helpful for someone who is supporting a partner with mental health challenges

When something else, something "big" is going on in life, it's very easy for that to become not only the main focus, but the only one. Supporting a partner with mental health challenges can be emotionally and physically exhausting, and one way to balance that it is to also keep focus on the positives, and the other things that are important to you by sending your subconsious messages.

These messages can range from future "I will do X for me today" or completed "I did a great job on X today" or both - whichever works for you. What have you noticed has been slipping a bit lately, that you can focus on? What message will tell yourself tomorrow morning?

When my other half was signed off work with stress, my life was turned upside down too. These blog posts are based on the things that helped me, the lessons I learnt the hard way and what I realise with the benefit of hindsight would have helped. I’ve collected some of the other key learning points and tips and made these available to download at

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