When you feel distracted or unproductive, the first thing you might think about is focus; as in “I need to get focused.”
This conjures ideas of laser-centered attention to one thing. Actually, you may have the idea of focus all wrong.
Dr. Jim Taylor writes in Psychology Today:
“Let me introduce a term and then I’ll define focus for you. Attentional field is everything inside of you, such as thoughts, emotions, and physical responses, and everything outside of you, including sights and sounds, on which you could focus.
Focus is the ability to attend to internal and external cues in your attentional field.
Further, he states, Prime focus involves focusing only on performance-relevant cues in your attentional field. In other words, only focusing on cues that help you to perform your best.
Depending on the sport, performance-relevant cues can include technique, tactics, your opponent, the score, time remaining, and many other cues. Prime focus gives you the ability to adjust your focus internally and externally as needed during the course of a competition.”
The ability to properly focus on the right cues is what builds greater performance, not just centering on one thing.
The cues come at us in many different ways, so you must understand your focus style.
Again citing Dr. Taylor, “a focus style is a preference for paying attention to certain cues. Athletes tend to be more comfortable focusing on some cues and avoid or don’t pay attention to other cues.
Every athlete has a dominant style that impacts all aspects of their sports performance. This dominant style will surface most noticeably when they’re under pressure. The two types of focus styles are internal and external.
Internal focus style. Athletes with an internal focus style perform best when they’re totally and consistently focused on their sport during a practice session or a competition. They need to keep their focus narrow, thinking only about their sport.
These athletes tend to be easily distracted by activity in their immediate surroundings. If they broaden their focus and take their mind off their sport, for example, if they talk about non-sport topics with their coach during practice, they’ll become distracted and will have trouble narrowing their focus back onto their sport.
External focus style. Athletes with an external focus style perform best when they only focus on their sport when they’re about to begin a drill in practice or begin a competition.
At all other times, it is best for them to broaden their focus and take their mind off their sport. These athletes have a tendency to think too much, become negative and critical, and experience competitive anxiety. For these athletes, it’s essential that they take their focus away from their sport when they’re not actually performing.”
The Business World
In the business world, we need to focus in much the same way as the athlete. There are internal factors and external factors in constant movement within and around us. The best focus is not merely getting locked in on one thing or one objective, but rather the ability to grasp multiple things in better contrast.
Finding the key elements that are needed to achieve the best outcome require this multi-layered ability to focus, sifting everything in your attentional field to identify the right parts.
As a simple example, think about driving on a long highway. When we stare at the centerline of the road, we get hypnotized.
How often have you snapped out of that trance and thought to yourself, “Wow, how long have I been doing that?”
Yes, your motor skills may have sustained you during that trance, but you certainly were not at your peak performance despite the intense focus.
Focus on the Right Things
Running your business is much the same way. Your effectiveness as a leader is not just about your internal values and motivations. You must connect externally, taking in information and relating to the people around you.
By focusing on the things that matter most, you are not giving attention to one thing, you are assembling the right things to make the most of your current situation.
Photos courtesy of Unsplash and Paul Skorupskas