Staying Focused

"The sun's energy warms the world. But when you focus it through a magnifying glass it can start a fire. Focus is so powerful!" - Alan Pariser

It has been at least 25 years since I had a speeding ticket. Recently I was travelling north on Highway 400. The traffic was flowing at 110-120km/h. For most of my 2½ hour trip, I stayed focused on maintaining a speed limit that would be acceptable to the ever watchful OPP. I was only 20 minutes from my destination when suddenly, I saw an OPP officer run to his vehicle, set the blue and red lights afire and rush onto the highway. I was confident he was about to chase another driver or drivers who seemed to be going faster than me. He stayed behind me though. I looked down at my speedometer, and to my horror it was at 125km/h. It was then I knew I had to pull over, because the culprit being chased was me. He walked up to my car, I rolled down the window. He simply said, “I clocked you driving at 125km/h in a 100km/h zone.” My response: “I guess I lost focus on what I was doing.” A ticket of $120 and 3 demerit points was my just reward.

We have all had the experience of driving long distances when many kilometres have passed and we wonder where the time went and how we got so far without really being aware of what we were doing. Current traffic laws deny us of cell phone use while driving. Large signs are posted at regular intervals warning us of speeding. Traffic signs guide us through dangerous curves, wet and slippery road sections, animal crossings, narrow bridges, oncoming vehicles, reduced lanes and the like. All of this is done not to restrict our destination goal but to help us stay focused. To lose focus increases risk, invites danger and if ignored, could result in injury or the loss of life.

Every successful athlete recognizes that a sports competition is not won solely be being physically stronger but by being mentally focused. The integration of mind and body is a must for success.

"My thoughts before a big race are usually pretty simple. I tell myself: Get out of the blocks, run your race, stay relaxed. If you run your race, you'll win... Channel your energy. Focus." - Carl Lewis

Several years ago, a few friends and I decided to travel from Rousseau to North Bay on snowmobile, a two day ride. On the way back and towards the end of the trip, a few of us decided to “race to the finish”. The snowmobile trails in Ontario are not typically very wide or straight, like Quebec. And certainly, in lower cottage country barely two snowmobiles can pass easily. That, with the overhanging trees and stumps, ruts and bumps, make for a difficult and tense ride. More than once I have stopped dead in my tracks after being surprised by an approaching rider. While recognizing these dangers, regardless we went for it. Along the trail and around each turn, machine and man were as one: cutting through the snow with precision, avoiding the tree branches and stumps by millimetres, tuning out every distraction with a singular energized focus on finishing the race successfully. It was exhilarating! Significant risk was reduced because of the intense focus we achieved and maintained. The thrill of reaching the finish line as a team was all the more victorious. 

In life, how many of us fail to achieve success due to a lack of focus?

So how can we become or stay focused to ensure success? 

An article by blogger, software engineer and entrepreneur David Cheong provides these tips:

  1. Having well defined goals. Having goals which are well defined is key. Writing goals down really helps. Whenever I get distracted, I read my goals and I’m reminded of what I am trying to do and why.
  2. Breaking things into bite sized chunks. Having broad high level goals are good but having an actionable plan is essential. A plan can identify how you can get from where you are to where you want to go. Breaking goals into smaller actionable chunks (tasks) is great – it gives me motivation to start and allows me to get things done in one sitting.
  3. Prioritizing constantly. Some tasks are more important than others. Some tasks are more urgent than others. I’ve found that working on urgent tasks followed by tasks which have the greatest impact works well for me – urgent tasks allow me to get things done on time and important tasks allow me to maximize the benefits I receive.
  4. Tracking progress vigorously. Each of us wants to improve our lives. However, it is easy to start with good intentions but more difficult to sustain commitment. By tracking my progress, I can see what I’ve done and can better gauge how much effort is left.
  5. Planning ahead without fail. Concentrating on the remaining effort can help reinforce commitment. Some might think they’ll get discouraged, however I haven’t found this to be the case because my tasks are bite sized and easy to finish. I’ve found it really helps to look at my goals and task lists periodically, so I can assess how much time it’ll take to do something and determine the best time to sit down and work on it.
  6. Rewarding myself when warranted. By all means focus on what’s outstanding, but also take stock of what’s done. I always reflect on what I’ve done, whether it is reading a post I did a while ago or looking at the ticks I’ve made alongside my task lists. Whenever I accomplish a piece of work, I always reward myself. It really does help with maintaining motivation.
  7. Having positive patterns in my routine. Having good habits and positive patterns are instrumental. At the moment, I can consistently get more done. As these patterns continue to establish into a routine, I’m finding that I can better judge the periods of the day in which I really need to focus and work.
  8. Removing distractions as best I can. The best way not to give in to temptation is not to have the option to. What seems to work for me is making the distractions difficult or inconvenient to access. Because it takes too much effort to indulge in the distraction, I find it is less likely for me to give in.
  9. Blocking out some time. Having quiet time, set aside specifically for accomplishing a given task, is very productive. I also tend to be more focused in the morning after a restful night.
  10. Keeping the results clear in mind. Instead of concentrating too much on the task at hand, sometimes I put some attention on the feelings I ultimately wish to experience. By focusing on the results, it is easier for me to maintain my motivation especially when working on things that I am not by nature motivated by.
  11. Enlisting my family and friends for help. Communicate to someone your goals all the time. Not only have they been helpful with gentle reminders whenever they see my behaviour is not consistent with my goals, but they also give me constant incentives to work at my goals and succeed.

"Goals provide the energy source that powers our lives. One of the best ways we can get the most from the energy we have is to focus it. That is what goals can do for us; concentrate our energy. - Denis Waitley

As we move ahead in life, I urge you to focus your energy on greatness both personally and corporately. 

"The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there." - John Buchan