Is there really such a thing? Absolutely there is! And there is much research to substantiate it. What is it? FOCUS!
What is focus? It has been defined as: “The ability to set one’s mind and attention on a particular course until it yields the desired results.”
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where focus is not only discouraged, but something we must fight for. Duke professor Dr. Dan Ariely said, “The world is not acting in our long-term benefit. Imagine you walk down the street and every store is trying to get your money right now; in your pocket you have a phone and every app wants to control your attention right now. Most of the entities in our life really want us to make mistakes in their favor. So the world is making things very, very difficult.”
Research shows that most of us are losing the struggle to remained focused. But focus is a key component for those who report great success and a fulfilled life.
In our brains, the “focus function” does not reside in just one place. Rather, there is a network of regions in the brain that make up our ability to focus. That system interacts with our thoughts, feelings and actions to ultimately determine our attentional focus and our mental focus.
There is an old saying …
Be mindful of your thoughts, because they create your emotions.
Be mindful of your emotions, for they create your actions.
Be mindful of your actions, for they create your habits.
Be mindful of your habits, for they determine your destiny.
More directly …
Be mindful of your focus, for it creates your destiny.
Dr. Daniel Siegel said that the power to direct our focus has within it the power to shape the way our brains fire. Neuroscience has proven that if we simply practice responding to things differently, we create new neural pathways. These new pathways affect our mood, our choices, and ultimately our lives and direction. Dr. Athena Staik said, “You are always in the process of becoming what you are most thinking (and focusing on). Thoughts shape your actions. You become what you do.”
Reading mountains of research, there are several things that appear over and over:
1. Many of us have lost the importance of dreaming and setting goals. In order to harness the power of focus, we must have dreams along with corresponding goals that direct our path toward those dreams. Research indicates that many of us treat goals a lot like New Year’s resolutions: something that we think about but fail to write down. What automatically follows is a failure to make a plan to accomplish our goals. We unwittingly fall into a pattern of unfocused living. The lack of focus has a cascading feature that leaves us in a state of perpetual drifting.
The cure? Those who live more fulfilled lives dream regularly, form mental goals from those dreams, write down those goals, and stay laser focused on those goals.
2. Secondly, research shows that we are lacking in persistence (“stick-to-it-iveness”). Thomas Edison failed over 10,000 times before he created the lightbulb. Henry Ford’s first company went bankrupt. By age 62, Colonel Sanders had failed at 1,009 opportunities. He was repeatedly told, before he launched Kentucky Fried Chicken, that the concept was crazy. Walt Disney was considered a failure and went bankrupt before the creation of Mickey Mouse. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers. Oprah Winfrey was once fired from a job as a newscaster because her producer said she was “unfit for television.” (Let that soak in: an industry professional once told Oprah that she was unfit for television!!!)
Each of these profoundly successful people were doggedly persistent. They remained focused on their dreams and their goals. Each one succeeded!
Are you determined? Or do you give up on your goals and dreams easily? You must have the power to remain focused even when you are getting criticism or negative feedback.
When I was working on my master’s degree, it was a common theme among the staff in the psychology department that building a successful therapy practice was difficult. They preached that few of us could succeed at such a task. They pointed us to other career opportunities. (They were not being mean; they wanted to warn us away from fruitless effort.)
But I went to graduate school with one goal in mind: developing a private practice. And I was determined that I would do just that!
I wish I could tell you that it happened overnight. It didn’t. I worked as a waitress while I did all the things required to make that happen. What were some of those “things”: My first clients were nearly all free. My first paying client paid me $8. Because I was desperate to keep my early clients, I would often talk to those in crisis all night long on the phone. Hard work, and at first with little reward. Here I was, working on my doctoral degree, working as a waitress, working as an interpreter for the deaf, marketing all day long, and talking to clients all night.
When friends and family told me that there was just no way this was going to work, I had little hard evidence with which to respond. But I remained laser focused. Although the time frame wasn’t working as I had hoped, failure was not an option. And quitting was not even a conversation I was willing to have.
Today I enjoy a very vibrant practice. Although I still scholarship at least 10% of my client load, I no longer stay up all night talking on the phone. The biggest difference between what I envisioned and focused on for 3 years, and what actually happened, is that my practice is far more fulfilling than I ever dreamed!
Sometimes what we avoid is just as important as what we actually do. Here are 10 things that focused people do not do:
1. They avoid multitasking
2. They avoid procrastination
3. They don’t seek validation from others
4. They don’t allow distractions to get them off task
5. They don’t use excuses
6. They are not afraid to take a risk
7. They do not dwell on the past
8. They don’t involve themselves in matters that are not theirs to resolve
9. They don’t say yes to everything
10. They do not quit
If you struggle to maintain focus, a good corrective start would be to avoid the behaviors that highly focused people avoid.
What kind of life (and thus relationships) are you focused on? If you want to make your life better, research has some lessons for you:
- When you focus on the negative characteristics of your life partner, the relationship is likely to end in a severed relationship or divorce.
- Likewise, when you focus on the endearing characteristics of your life partner, the relationship is likely to thrive and be fulfilling.
- When you focus on the negative elements of your job, your life situation, or your health, research shows you will likely become depressed and your health and energy levels will decrease.
- Likewise, when you focus on the positive elements of your job, your life situation or your health, research shows you will likely become happier, healthier and more successful.
Focus is SO IMPORTANT. You may have a bit of trouble focusing as times. We all do. Let me help you with that.
Here are five things that will help you improve your focus:
1. Hydrate. Studies show that if you are even 1% dehydrated you will have at least a 5% decrease in brain function, making focus more difficult. If you are 2% dehydrated, you may struggle with fuzzy thinking (brain fog) and short- term memory loss.
2. Cardio exercise. Cardio exercise has been shown to change the way the brain is able to focus. At the University of British Columbia, they found that this type of exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, the brain area most involved in focus.
3. Doodle. Neuroscientists have found that doodling can help us focus. Not only that, it can also help express emotions that are too complex for words. This complexity can interfere with focus.
4. Right environment. Finding the “right” environment (for you) has a great impact on your ability to focus. My office and my home have beach themes. There’s a very specific reason for that. When I have “beach time”, I can laser focus! Many of my best projects and successes were born during focus time on the beach.
5. Sleep. Not only has research proven that lack of sleep reduces will power, self-control, and intelligence… sleep deprivation also severely interferes with our ability to focus.
Again, what is your focus? We know that
happiness and success are usually grounded in focus. Focus creates your life
and your destiny. If you focus on negative things, your life is more likely to
go off the rails. But if you focus on positive things, you will find your life
going in a great direction.
An ancient proverbs says: “You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating (focusing) on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious… the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly: things to praise, not things to curse.”
Take a moment right now to dream about what you want for your life. Form goals from those dreams. Write down your goals. This will encourage making plans. Set your focus on those plans. This repeatable process, worked over and over and over, will take you to extraordinary places!
That is certainly my hope for you. Now go do it! I know you can, I hope you WILL!