How To Stay Focused: The Four Basic Requirements

focuspingFocusing is a lost skill, a casualty of the 21st century. People bury their noses in iDistracted and Distractdroid devices, practically salivating at the notifications which confirm their importance. Instead of commanding their day, they are controlled by their uncontrolled lust to be distracted.

And what purpose has distraction traditionally served? What result does it accomplish?

Escapism. Let’s escape from the reality of life, escape from the self-responsibility to pursue dreams, and escape from anything challenging. Distraction is the drug of choice of the 21st century, and supply is endless.

You may not be an alcoholic, but how much of your dissatisfaction is drowned with the web, Facebook, TV, text messaging, or video games? These things are not supposed to be core life activities, but enjoyable side trips. And they are much more fun as side trips.

Distraction Is The Plague, And Focus The Cure

Focus is power. It’s the ability to say I’m doing THIS and nothing else, and nobody is going to stop me. A focused mind is difficult to stop from doing exactly what it plans. In a free country like America, nobody wants to stop you anyways.

Who wants you to keep on the weight? Who wants your business to fail? Who wants you to be miserable? Who wants your dreams to go to waste? If there were positive answers for those, those people are your mortal enemies and I’m sure you avoid them anyways. Typical people won’t care, because we are all self-centered by nature. I care about getting my six-pack of beer.

There are certain subconscious thoughts and ideas you have that can make focusing extremely difficult, so what we need to do is pull those subconscious thoughts into the spotlight and address them.

There are four basic requirements for staying focused.

1. Accept that you may not succeed with the task at hand

Think about it. When you focus on something, you’re pouring all of your energy into it. Your brain will automatically label it as important. Focus is typically split up between several different tasks, ideas, and thoughts. So when you focus on a single cohesive idea, thought, or task, the brain says, “Whoa now, this task is getting special treatment. It must be important.”

It’s healthy to face failure and learn from it, rather than to bury it in other distractions, but it places more pressure on you to perform when you focus. Juggle six tasks at once, fail at one, and what happens? You keep going with your other five. Focus on one task and fail, and you have to face that failure. There’s nothing else to look at.

Sometimes, I hesitate to write. Before writing a story, I’ll consider how it might not turn out well or that I’m not as skilled as some of my favorite authors. The discomfort in potential failure pushes me back to burning time on Facebook, because there’s no pressure there. It’s easy, and fun, and a waste of my time.

To focus, give yourself a free pass on failing at the task. Make it ok to write a boring story, exercise with low energy, screw up your business launch, and embarrass yourself. If you only attempt things you’re 100% sure will end in success, you won’t do anything of significance.

2. Accept that you will not make progress in ALL other areas of your life (for the chosen time)

You have 50 areas of your life you know could be better, don’t you? And you want them done now! ALL OF THEM! Or you know that your reward if you succeed would be delayed significantly from the work (like writing a book).

The decision to focus is almost always slightly uncomfortable. Focus is commitment to a single task, and it can be very unsettling to commit to read your C++ book for your career when you know you need to get in shape too.

This is where Facebook rears its ugly blue and white head. “Hey, you don’t need to read your book or go to the gym, you have a new notification. Let’s just think about that in the background while we check this exciting, immediately rewarding message.”

I like to combat this tempting thought with another thought – whatever I do today is a projection for the rest of my life. If I spend 2 hours on Facebook today, I’m setting that standard for the rest of my days. But if I write 2,000 words today, I’ll have written more than 700,000 words per year at that pace. Did you know that the average novel length is 64,000 words? That means I could write TEN full books in a year! Even if I cut my pace in half to 1,000 words per day, it’s FIVE full books. It really hits home for me when I think about how much time it’d take me to write 1-2 thousand words – about two hours. So my choice is between trifling conversation on facebook and writing five books? Hmm…

This decision is what you need to make, and the next requirement is how you can make it.

3. Believe that your current task is worthy of #1 and #2

When a task is appealing enough that you’re willing to risk failure, and you’re willing to forego everything else for a time, it’s worthy of your full, unbroken attention.

Take a long-term view of your life to understand what is worth this honor. I would be so excited to have written one full-length book (five is fine, too), and that could easily happen with focused writing. What down-the-road reward makes you smile when you think about it? Is it your fit body in the mirror or on the beach? Is it having written a book? Is it having a clean house or going minimalist?

There are a number of different paths you can choose, and as I alluded to in this post, it is not about picking the BEST one. You could spend a lifetime trying to figure out whether to spend your time reading excellent books, working out, writing, volunteering, or anything else. Move forward and make progress in areas that matter to you. When you look at your six-pack, you’re not going to think, “I should have been learning Italian.” You’re going to think, “Wow, I have a six-pack… Maybe I’ll learn Italian now.”

4. Battle against distractions using weapons of time, location, and mindset

Once you have picked your task to focus on, get strategic with it. What time is best to read/write/exercise/learn karate? Where should you do it that will allow you to fully concentrate? What distractions could arise in this time and how will you react to them? Will you turn off your iDistractYou device or put it on silent?

Focus is inherently simple, but difficult too. Its simplicity can trick people into thinking it’s easy, but it takes strategy, dedication, and a commitment to see one thing through to the end at the cost of all other possibilities. The benefits, though, are among the most rewarding I have ever experienced.

The more rigid you are with your rules of focusing, the more skilled you will become at it. Sometimes people act like the world’s distractions are their boss. But remember, the world distracts you because it is not tuned in to you. Telemarketers don’t know you’re eating dinner (RIGHT?!). When your friend calls, she doesn’t know that you’re in the middle of something very important in your life. Call her back when you’re not in the zone.

Instant notifications are drugs that train you for a life of distraction.

Let people know that your focused time is important to you and your well-being, and any reasonable person will understand. Starting out, you can set aside just one hour per day to focus on a key area of your choice. If you say you don’t have time, I will punch your nose four times. You have time for the things that matter to you.

(photo by Raccatography)

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