By Paul Morin
It’s a common refrain among coaches: “You must focus to be successful”.
I agree with this statement. Focus is important in sports, business, relationships and almost every other aspect of life! That said, I think it’s important to get a clear and slightly altered definition of focus, in order to make “focusing” a realistic objective.
On dictionary.reference.com, two helpful definitions of “focus” are as follows:
7. to bring to a focus or into focus: to focus the lens of a camera.
8. to concentrate: to focus one’s thoughts.
While I think focusing in the camera sense is a useful metaphor for thinking about how to be successful, here we will discuss focus from the concentration perspective. That is, we’re talking about focus in the sense of concentrating, of zeroing in on one thing, one goal, one activity, etc., to the exclusion of other potential distractions.
Until recently, often when I thought about focusing, I thought about it in an extreme way. I thought about focusing on just one thing, to the complete exclusion of all other things. I thought that in order to be successful in one endeavor, I had to completely shut out all other activities, not just for the moment, but for an extended period of time.
I continue to think that shutting out all other distractions can be very effective in achieving one’s goals in a particular endeavor. Unfortunately though, I’ve also realized that for most people, including me, it is usually completely unrealistic to shut out all other distractions, at least for an extended period. Like most people, my life is not one-dimensional; I have my family, my business, my sports, my leisure activities, etc. Given that reality, can I ever really “focus”?
Thankfully, the answer is yes! I can focus! I can focus on one thing at a time. And when I’m done with that particular endeavor, I move on to the next one and I focus on that one. I guess what I’m saying is that you can become a “serial focuser”. It works.
What doesn’t work is trying to do several things simultaneously! When you are distracted while performing an activity, it’s virtually impossible to achieve your optimal result. Take an example that’s getting a lot of press these days: texting and driving. It has caused many serious and fatal accidents. This is a great metaphor for what can happen in other aspects of your life when you don’t concentrate, when you’re distracted while doing something that requires your complete focus.
Another key point is that focus is usually more important at certain junctures of an activity than at others. For example, if you’re playing soccer, or tennis, or baseball, one of the most important times to be completely focused is when you are about to strike the ball. Focus is important at other times in those activities, but it’s at premium at the moment of impact. This situation repeats itself in other sports as well, and it repeats itself in business and other aspects of life too! There are certain moments when your complete attention is required for optimal performance and there are other moments when it is not as critical.
So, if you’re going to become a “serial focuser,” and I encourage you to do so, understand the key moments in your endeavor, whatever it may be, where the value of complete focus is at a premium. Make sure that you are dialed in, switched on, tuned in, etc. at those moments. If you need to take a mental break, or if you need to multi-task, as we all do from time to time, don’t do it in one of those premium moments. If you do, your performance is likely to suffer greatly!