In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about focus, defining exactly what it is, its role in evolution, the three types, how to harness it and more.
What Is Focus?
Focus is the ability to direct one’s attention on a particular goal ― either short-term or long-term ― and doing so until it yields the desired results.
Mindlessness Versus Mindfulness
Mindlessness is when your mind is focused on many things. Mindfulness is when your mind is focused on one thing. Mindlessness is unproductive. Mindfulness is productive.
Involuntary “bottom-up” neural processing causes our attention to drift and be distracted by external stimuli. Voluntary “top-down” neural processing allows us to intentionally direct our attention.
Multi-Tasking Versus Single-Tasking
Research conclusively shows that Single-Tasking ― the process of focusing on a single activity at a time ― results in more success than Multi-Tasking ― the process of focusing on multiple activities at a time.
The Evolutionary Perspective
Humans have not evolved to process multiple distinct situations within short timespans (within seconds) ― as switching between more than one task usually entails a considerable cost during which the brain must readjust from one task to the other.
In other words, from an evolutionary perspective, human brain evolved to focus on one thing at a time, not many things at a time. It evolved for single-tasking, not multi-tasking.
The Three Types
In his book, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman writes that all high achievers master three types of focus: inner, outer and other.
Inner relates to our internal world. Outer relates to the external world. Other relates to empathy. Success demands we master all three.
It Can Be Trained
Just like any habit, focus can be developed.
The same way your muscles strengthen by giving them a workout is the same way your focus strengthens by giving it a workout. In other words, the more you practice the habit of focus, the stronger it becomes.
Since focus demands we tune out our emotional distractions, our neural wiring for selective attention includes that for inhibiting emotion. That means those who focus best are relatively immune to emotional turbulence.
Furthermore, it is key to mastering any skill. The more we focus on a specific skill, the more we activate the neural circuits associated with that skill, the stronger those circuits become which creates feedback loop.
“Success demands singleness of purpose.” ― Vince Lombardi
The Key To Success
It is said that when asked what they thought was the most important factor in their success during a dinner event, both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett wrote down the same answer: “focus.”
This ability shows up in the lives of successful people time and time again because it is a timeless, universal and fundamental truth. There aren’t many better than that of Thomas Edison who invented the electric bulb after over 1,000 failed attempts. Edison was focus embodied.
When you try to do every-thing, you increase your chances of getting no-thing. When you try to do one-thing, you increase your chances of getting every-thing. The path to more is through less.
Success If Sequential
Extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous. What starts out linear becomes geometric. You do the right thing, followed by the next right thing, followed by the next right thing and so on.
Over time, momentum builds and the geometric potential of success is unleashed. Find the lead domino ― the one thing you must do right now ― and attack it until it falls. Then repeat the process.
“Nothing can be denied to you when your focus is one-pointed.” ― Sadhguru
How To Harness The Power Of Focus
The quality of your results is directly correlated with how concentrated your focus is. The more concentrated it is, the better your results are. The more diluted it is, the worse your results are.
Therefore, the key to harnessing the power of focus is to align it with your goals and the life you desire. It is not only about what you’re saying yes to, but also what you’re saying no to.
Furthermore, ensure you set a clear goal, identify a clear strategy and eliminate distractions. Setting a goal directs focus. Identifying a a strategy optimises actions. Eliminating distractions magnifies both.
“Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there.” ― Josh Billings
There are two questions you must ask yourself:
- What is my long-term focus?
- What is my short-term focus that will help me achieve my long-term focus?
These questions can be used in different areas of your life to provide you with both a map for where you’re going and a guiding compass for how to get there. While the first is about finding the right direction and the second is about finding the right action. While the first is the strategy and the second is the tactics.
Focus is the thread that connects where we are now to where we want to be. Future goals connect to present actions.
Focus involves channelling all of your energy on a specific goal ― either short-term or long-term ― and remaining in that state until one has achieved the desired result.
The key to harnessing focus is to ensure that channel it into things that are aligned with goals and the life you desire.