Most people consider the problem of focus to be a technical one.
For them, it’s a matter of eliminating distractions, setting goals, following a schedule, or becoming more organized.
There is a lot to be said for these practical solutions. If they increase our productivity, doesn’t that mean they increase our focus?
A DEAD END TO FIND FOCUS?
Many people, hoping to find focus, will implement these solutions only to realize that their focus remains weak.
This is because the technical problems were never the source of the issue. The real solution requires us to acknowledge the connection between focus and determination.
When we possess a certain single-mindedness, our focus is too strong to be disrupted; if we can’t eliminate disruptions, we learn to ignore them.
When we are determined towards a certain task, it may be because we find it intrinsically motivating. We covet its rewards, and we are driven to achieve them. Focus comes naturally.
But what if we don’t enjoy the tasks we need to accomplish? What if they are mundane? Often, we don’t have the motivation to focus on what needs to be done.
Our mindset is the problem here: we may not be convinced that our effort will be rewarded, or we may not be convinced of the consequences of failure. We may be stuck thinking in the short-term.
INCENTIVES AND TRADE-OFFS
In these cases, we need to persuade ourselves of the incentives for what we are trying to accomplish. If there is any doubt in our mind whether our actions will produce the desired results, we need to spend some time being introspective until we can confront and resolve that doubt.
If we realize we were wrong to doubt, we will find ourselves with a new sense of resolve. If we realize we were right to doubt, and that our approach was faulty, we will have to change our strategy.
If, in the end, we decide that the task was not worth our time and effort, fine. But we need to be serious and realistic about acknowledging the consequences of neglecting it.
Most people will be most persuaded by experiences, not facts. If we wish to see the incentives for a task more clearly, we should find a way to see for ourselves what happens when we do or do not perform the task in question. We should consider our past experiences, or the experiences of others.
A realistic sense of the incentives for a task, combined with a clear strategy, may provide the perfect framework for focus.
EXPANDING OUR FOCUS
But increasing our focus towards individual tasks is only half of the equation.
We can also increase our ability to focus in a holistic way, so that we don’t need such powerful incentives in the first place.
Conventional wisdom might recommend good health, lots of sleep, and maybe the occasional sudoku puzzle, so that our mental faculties may be improved.
Of course, this is useful advice. But if we are chronically unfocused, we need to find deeper solutions:
Emotional health will give us new energy towards everything we pursue.Self-esteem will give us a sense of purpose and confidence in our efforts.Self-knowledge will help us set goals that are meaningful and intrinsically motivating.
All of these things lead to (among many other good things) an increase in focus.
INTERNAL VS EXTERNAL
There are many ways we can control external factors to improve our focus. We can remove distractions, make goals, or set a schedule. Interventions like these are accessible and easy to implement.
Despite this, focus is actually a byproduct of determination and motivation. Changing our environment and habits may facilitate focus, but not actually create it.
Instead, a chronic lack of focus is caused by internal factors. We can only target it by addressing our doubt, lack of direction, and self-esteem.
These are long-term pursuits, requiring long-term effort. Nevertheless, they provide a truly long-term solution: the promise of a clear and persistent sense of focus towards everything we do.
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