Focus. I’m sure you’ve heard this simple, one word instruction before, either from someone else or in your own head while trying to do something but being distracted by that link you just saw on FB or by the more exciting prospect of having a cup of tea or spending some quality time daydreaming. It was probably related to some kind of work or study you were doing. But focus skills aren’t just about concentrating on some learning, job or task you need to get done. In fact, the way you use and direct your focus will determine the awesomeness of your whole life experience. You might be thinking – ‘Shit, that’s bad news. I’m rubbish at focusing’. Maybe you think it’s a talent one is born with. This is partly because back when you were at school, you were told to focus but you were never taught how to focus. But Contrary to popular belief, it’s not an ability you either have or you don’t. Even children (or adults) who are diagnosed with what’s labelled as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are not actually unable to focus. They can be extremely focused, and often even to the point of obsession. It’s just that they’re selectively focused on stuff that doesn’t fit in the classroom or with what the teacher wants. So it’s good news; focus is a natural ability we all have; a skill which you can learn to improve and direct wherever you want. Focus skills are actually a simple decision of where to place your attention, and with practice, aiming it out of choice becomes a more automatic habit.
So why are focus skills so important and what will it allow you to do?.
1. Be more in control of your thoughts and emotions…by not controlling them.
Thoughts come up from the mind with or without your participation. It’s just the mind doing what it does and what it’s there for. The problem is we tend to take on unhelpful thoughts, or accept their invitations to follow them around. Why would you follow a thought or anything or anyone for that matter that’s not helpful or productive to you?
Learning to aim your focus means you can choose which thoughts to follow and which not. This doesn’t mean to resist or eliminate thoughts. There’s a common false idea that you should try and silence or destroy any negative thinking or self-talk. But this doesn’t work, because as you try to do that, you’re actually putting your attention on them even more, making them even stronger. You then need to fight them more, and so you’re stuck in a vicious cycle. Instead, training your focus skills means allowing the thoughts to pass by or through, but choosing not to place your attention or interest on them. You make the decision which invitations to accept and which to decline. This way, as you acknowledge their existence and their ‘right’ to be there without fighting them, seeing how uninterested you are they simply move on or out of your mind’s ‘view’.
2. Become the master of your mind.
As you begin to be more in control; not of the arising of thoughts but rather of which thoughts you’d like to focus on, you gradually become freer and freer of the mind altogether. This is because it continues doing its job of bringing up whatever thoughts it wants to come up with, but you’re more easily able to simply not react. Slowly but surely you then find that your mind becomes naturally quieter and quieter, as it sees it no longer has that hold over you. Every thought has also an emotional and physiological response in you so as you become more focused on thoughts and feelings of your choice, you can even become more in charge of your physical state. Your mind begins to follow you rather than you following it. It becomes your servant, waiting for your instructions. Training your focus skills is kind of like training a fierce dog. You might feel a bit uncomfortable at first telling it what to do – not wanting to upset it nor wanting it to hurt you… but after a while you realise it happily takes on whatever you command it to – it loves and adores you and you know it’s the best friend you could ever have.
“What worries you, masters you” ~ John Locke
3. Be more accepting and let go of judgement.
As you begin to realise and experience you’re the one in charge, you’re not so bothered anymore by the more challenging, external or internal events, thoughts or people coming into your life. You no longer feel threatened by them. You can allow them to be as they are, taking on what’s useful and letting go of what’s not. You’ll also find that with better focus skills you’ll be able to not care so much about what others think of you, as you simply move your attention away from them to yourself, minding your own business.
4. Be more unlimited.
If you’re human you’ve got imagination. I’m not talking about visual imagery necessarily, but simply having any kind of ideas. This means you have the ability to create, intensify and magnify any thought or state at any time you want. Your mind and body don’t know the difference between what’s real or imagined. This is because essentially, everything happens within your perception. This is super important, because it means that whatever thought you focus on, your mind accepts as ‘true’; as something that’s there in existence, and it will respond accordingly. So for example, let’s say you were feeling some level of stress or anxiety and having negative spiraling thoughts telling you everything is just about to crash on you and there’s no way out. By focusing your attention on a different time when you felt more relaxed and calm, your mind will instantly create more of those positive feelings. The feelings are in your imagination as they’re a memory of the past. But in order to bring up this memory your mind automatically gets access to these feelings too, which are in fact always there, as resources of your imagination. When you choose to focus more on these positive feelings in your memory which are now being accessed and therefore created in the present, you’ll find you’re then able to increase them more and more.
Now let’s say you can’t think of any positive memory in your experience. This makes no difference; you can imagine what it would feel like to be calm if you were able to relax, or imagine what a calm person would be feeling. Maybe you’ve got a role model or even a superhero you’d like to think of. It really doesn’t matter who or what you’re imagining. As long as you’re bringing it up in your awareness, you’re automatically creating the resource-states. So if your imagination is unlimited – so are you!
5. Be free of limiting beliefs.
Your mind is a creature of habit as habits are so much more energy and time-efficient than trying to do something new each and every moment. The creation of beliefs is the result of focus and repetition – turning your interpretation of events into what you believe is a general truth. So let’s say you’ve had some specific experience. You then focused on a particular aspect of the experience and gave it some meaning out of your perspective at that time. Your mind then ‘filters’ the next experience through that past memory and the meaning you applied to it as it looks for quick reference for response, which may or may not be productive to you. After repeating this process a few times, the thoughts you habitually focused on become your beliefs. You always act on what you believe in and within the confines of what you think is true or possible, and so your experience could be very limited. Kind of like you’ve taken a photo, focusing on an image using a particular filter that has a very specific effect. Now that you’ve got this special lens attached, the next photos will be filtered through it, so you continue getting same-styled images. This ‘proves’ to the mind the idea you originally took on is indeed ‘true’, when in reality you could’ve just taken the filter off and got a completely different picture. In fact, your beliefs control not only your mental and emotional states but even your physiological state. With training your focus skills and simply shifting your focus from that lens onto the camera itself, you can easily and simply remove the filter, and open up much wider possibilities and opportunities.
6. Be more of a creator and achieve your goals more easily.
Aiming towards a goal is in itself also the conscious directing of your focus towards some particular destination. Expectation, aka the ‘law of attraction’, is hugely important to the outcomes you experience. This too, is simply a matter of focus skills and where you place your attention. You want to focus on positive expectation; on what you want, not on what you don’t want. This is because even if you say to yourself you don’t want something in your life, your mind still has to come up with and focus on that something in order to understand this preference. Have you ever heard the saying “Don’t think of a pink elephant”…? Along with the unwanted object, your mind will also bring up all the negative thoughts and feelings associated with it (nothing to do with our elephant though, we love him).
It’s also a good idea to focus very clearly and specifically on what or where exactly you’re aiming for. Otherwise, it’s all a blur…you just can’t see where you’re going and it might be tricky getting anywhere (ever been to a festival and played a game of hide and seek with your elusive shape-shifting tent after a very long night?)… Other than concentrating on your success, during your journey towards getting there you’d also be more able to focus on the task at hand, overcome distractions and procrastination, and increase states of inspiration and motivation. This all becomes more effortless with improved focus skills as you’re more in charge of your mental and emotional states and you create your beliefs more consciously so that they serve you and what you want.
7. Suffer less.
Pain is a natural and human part of life. We all experience times of pain or difficulty and trying to avoid it is futile unless you give up on life altogether and isolate yourself completely from everything and everyone. So first, let’s look at pain; it too can be very much a matter of where your attention is. For example, winning sports people who hurt themselves while in a competition or game are known to be able to temporarily distract themselves from pain by concentrating on the end goal. Or maybe you’ve had an experience of hurting yourself in a small way; cutting your finger or something similar. Have you ever noticed that when you focus on the finger and how sorry you feel for yourself, the pain tends to grow? If you experienced a similar thing but while in a place, situation or emotional state you were really enjoying, it’s likely the pain has troubled you much less. Another common example is a child who hurt themselves running around, who stops crying once they shift their focus to that intriguing flying object in the sky. So the experience of pain can be subjective.
Secondly, pain doesn’t mean you need to suffer. They’re not the same thing. Suffering is the continual focus on pain. So when you give your attention to all the negativities you perceive or experience for a longer period of time, you’re creating suffering. Again, of course you’ll have some painful times during your life, and it’s completely OK and even desirable to allow them rather than try to avoid, suppress or resist as I’ve pointed out earlier. But comes a time when enough is enough. With focus training and by shifting your interest onto more positive thoughts, gratitude and other productive feelings and resources, you get to experience more goodness that’s available all around. Going back to the camera analogy, whatever you focus on you will experience more of. As you zoom in closer onto an object, it fills the frame so that you might think it’s the only thing there. But if you only zoomed out, you’d realise it was just a small part of the picture. Sure, lots of stuff around the world suck right now, but it’s also an amazing and beautiful place and time to live in and there’s much love, kindness and inspiration to be found everywhere.
8. Have better relationships.
Boosting your focus skills can hugely help you create more and better connections with others. Beginning as early on as paying attention to strangers’ names when you first make your introductions. Then focusing on genuinely listening to what others have got to say instead of planning out your own speech or response in your head. Focusing on the good in people instead of on what you don’t like, on positive intentions and on giving rather than taking. It’s also helpful to be able to shift your focus from your own perspective onto others’ to better understand them. These all have the power to completely transform your relationships into more healthy and productive ones.
9. Be a solution finder rather than problem dweller.
Problem solving and creative thinking is all about your focus skills. You acknowledge an issue, but instead of complaining, sulking or giving up, you direct your attention to what can be done or how you can move forward. This is a growth and learning mind-set. Sometimes you might not have any idea how to resolve a challenge, but just keeping your focus directed towards the possibility of getting an answer, makes all the difference in the world. Your mind adores challenges, dramas and problems as they keep it busy thinking – which is exactly what it’s there for and it wants to be ‘useful’. This is why it often even creates them unnecessarily – more fun and entertainment! The trick is to focus the thinking by asking (the right) questions. Your mind loves this game. As you ask it a question, it will go off searching for a solution or answer. It’s like throwing a bone for that dog you trained to fetch.
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious” ~ Albert Einstein
10. Be more present.
This too, is a question of where your focus lies. Are you getting caught up following thoughts of past or future, or are you paying attention to this very moment being fully engaged in what you’re doing? Being more focused on the present allows you to enjoy a more meaningful life, instead of having that feeling you’re missing out on something that’s already gone or something you haven’t got yet but you wish will be there one day. You’re also not wasting time dwelling on past pains or worrying about stuff that hasn’t happened yet. You’re here. Your body is obviously here – as unlike your imagination, it can’t really go anywhere else. But with practicing your focus skills, your mind will be joining in as well, fully experiencing all that’s life got to offer you right now – which is pretty f**king amazing when you think about it.
So really, you could say focus skills are responsible for almost everything. Learning to hold focus and direct it, you become freer to create and determine your whole perspective and life experience making it so much more purposeful and worthwhile. It’s easier than it sounds…and the first step is to fully understand that the camera is always in your hands and with some training and practice it really does become more of a simple choice. Whether using hypnosis or meditation techniques, concentration games or activities, other mind or focus skills training tools, asking your mind the right questions or simply practicing more conscious and deliberate attention-placing, mastering your focus is the single most powerful thing you could ever do for yourself.
Go on, throw that bone.
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus” ~ Bruce Lee