The Power of Focus

Sep 1, 2009   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon  //  No Comments

“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”

[Anthony Robbins, US self-help expert, author and adviser to leaders]

(1066 words, approx 6-8 mins to read)

In our last ‘slice’ we talked about AWAY-FROM and TOWARDS types of motivation, and I made the assertion that the only way to achieve long-lasting, fulfilling and satisfying results was to make sure that your motivation was mostly, if not fully, of the TOWARDS variety.

If you still haven’t quite got why, even after a quick reminder by re-reading the last slice if you need to, imagine trying to drive using only your rear-view mirrors, or trying to run somewhere with your head turned to look behind you all the time.

This time I promised to discuss with you how you make sure your motivation is of the TOWARDS kind, but before I get to that I need to chat a little bit about mountain biking…

Some of you may know that when I get the time I like nothing more than riding up and down bleak hillsides, across moors and hurtling along singletrack through pine forests. One of the first things I learned when I started, the hard way I might add, is how to avoid obstacles on the trail.

The vital element is to NOT look at the obstacle. Instead, you have to focus your attention on the gap that you want the bike to go through, the route you actually DO want the bike to take around or over the obstacle. The rule of thumb is that the bike goes where your attention already is – if you’re looking at what you want to avoid, you’ll hit it!

It’s all about FOCUS.

You could also think about taking decent photographs – even with today’s auto-everything cameras, you still need to make sure the central subject is in FOCUS, often by making sure they’re in the centre of the frame or telling the camera where they are.

Again, it’s all about FOCUS.

It’s your FOCUS that determines whether you’re AWAY-FROM or TOWARDS motivated. Remember though that what we’re talking about here isn’t just what your eyes are focused on – we’re talking about your mental and emotional FOCUS – what your mind and ‘heart’ are currently paying attention to.

As most of you may have noticed, our FOCUS is often a fickle phenomenon, flitting from one thing to the next without any apparent rhyme or reason. But with a little effort and gentle persistence your FOCUS can be pointed where you decide it should be.

Let’s start with a simple experiment. Read through the instructions below fully and then give it a go:

  1. Take a deep breath and close your eyes
  2. Make a clear space in your mind and focus on the number ‘1’ in whatever way seems most appropriate for you.
  3. Breathe in and out in a relaxed manner and count each breath, focusing in each number in turn, i.e. ‘2’… ‘3’… ‘4’…
  4. See how far you can count before anything other than the numbers and your breathing pops into your head. Be totally honest – even if your attention wanders for a moment, you have to stop and note how far you’ve managed to count.

Most people read the instructions and think this is a simple exercise, expecting to be going for a while. However, many are surprised when they don’t even manage to get to ‘10’ before their attention wanders. If you practise meditation or yoga you may find this easier, but most of us aren’t that well disciplined yet.

You see, our attention moves amongst a multitude of stimuli, from the outside world and our inner world too, like a searchlight looking for things to focus on. The search stops when we react emotionally to one of those stimuli, even fleetingly and from the depths of our unconscious – it can sometimes happen so fast we aren’t even aware of it.

If it happens to be a negative reaction, like anxiety, fear, upset, guilt, regret, or something along the lines of “Oh no…”, guess what..? – we have the basis for AWAY-FROM motivation. If it’s a positive feeling like happiness, contentment, satisfaction, desire (the good form – remember?), or something along the lines of “Ooo yes..!” then we have the foundation for the lovely TOWARDS variety of drive.

All too often though we get stuck at the “Oh no…” stage, and forget to realise that we can step beyond it, like I should’ve done on my mountain bike when I got a little too fixated on the rut across the trail instead of nudging my attention one step further to deciding how I needed to adjust my weight on the bike to make it over the rut safely.

It’s that shift of FOCUS, which may require a regular nudge, or the occasional heave, to the “Ooo yes..!” side – from what we don’t want to what we DO – that makes the difference between AWAY-FROM and TOWARDS.

Here’s one useful way to finding that FOCUS:

  1. Pick a goal or achievement you desire
  2. Notice where you’re FOCUS is – as you think about that goal or achievement, are you focused on avoiding something you don’t want (AWAY-FROM), or taking hold of something good (TOWARDS)? If you’re not sure, notice whether you’re thinking and feeling something negative or uneasy, or something wholly positive?
  3. If you’re focusing on avoiding something negative, ask yourself the question, “Well, if that’s what I don’t want, what is it that I DO want instead?” and keep digging until you find that TOWARDS.
  4. Once you have that positive ‘DO want’ in your mind, imagine it as rich and detailed as you can – bright colours, clear sounds, and notice what you’re feeling too – until you can’t help but respond with an “Ooo yes..!”
  5. From now on, each time you may find your attention wandering when you’re working on the steps to that achievement or goal, nudge your attention back to the “Ooo yes..!” and hold that FOCUS until you feel that positive reaction resurfacing again.

Like anything worthwhile, this does take a little practice but then the day will come when you find you’ve done it without realising that’s what you did until it’s already happened. You can give yourself a head-start by practising the first breathing exercise on a regular basis, or even by picking one task each day that you will give your undivided attention to, and will commit to re-focusing on each time your attention wanders, until it’s completed.

It’s all about FOCUS.

Until next time,

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