Copyright (c) 2011 Willie Horton
Focus is the key to happiness and success. Yet, how often are you focused? And, all importantly, how can you maintain focus. These were the searching questions that I explored with a group of my clients recently. We talked of the parallels that are often drawn between life and sport â€“ and how you only have to turn the sports channel on to see focus in action. Placekickers in rugby clearing their minds before they take that all important penalty; tennis stars steadying themselves before they serve and golfers going through their rituals before they hit their tee-shot. But the analogy is misleading. Because the golfer only has to focus for the few key moments prior to striking the ball â€“ the tennis player has only a few seconds to focus before serving â€“ and the placekicker only takes a few moments to focus his mind for just the few seconds required. And, as we all know, golfers do incredibly stupid things at crucial moments, tennis players serve double faults when they least need them and world cup rugby matches have been lost in those seconds where the ball drifts wide of the posts. If these sports stars cannot adequately focus for a few moments, what chance have we poor mortals â€“ who have to focus all day everyday to get what we want out of life â€“ got?
Well, actually, none! For starters, psychology tells us that the so-called normal adult focuses on pretty much nothing. In fact, we have a whole range of psychological defence mechanisms that ensure that we only focus on potentially life-changing or life-threatening events. And, on the basis that the modern human mind evolved to its current state between 1.8m and ten thousand years ago, the kind of things we are expert at focusing on are man-eating lions and tigers – of little use to us in the twenty first century!
Experts in the art of focus, like Thich Nhat Hanh, tell us that focus is damn difficult and well nigh impossible on a continuing basis. In his book ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ Hanh explains how difficult it is to maintain focus whilst going for a walk – and how ridiculously impossible that is if we’re unfortunate enough to have seomone come along for the walk with us. However, in ordinary everyday life, it’s pretty difficult to get away from people. Our world is full of noise. And then, of course, there’s the ongoing noise in our minds – psychology tells us that we have roughly fifty thousand random thoughts every day.
Psychology tells us that it is a scientific fact that, if you are not focused, you will not experience happiness, peace of mind, contentment or success. And, on the basis of my work with my personal development clients over the last sixteen years, as these qualities of life seem to be high up the thinking person’s agenda, I’ve met a lot of very disappointed and frustrated people. Just like the group of clients that I spent a day with recently – who arrived at the conclusions that the only barrier to their achieving everything that they truly want from life is… you’ve guessed it – ourselves. We are our own worst enemies. We are the sole barrier to peace of mind, contentment, success and happiness.
As a result, you will find people caught in the act of self destruction everywhere you look – you are probably one of them yourself. People who feel that they are inadequate, people who keep repeating the same mistakes (in business, in relationships, in investments) as they go through life, people who want so much from life but do so little about it because they cannot galvanize themselves into action. People who lack focus.
By way of example, have you ever found yourself wanting to say something witty, intelligent or pithy in the course of conversation only to find that you’ve wasted a split second thinking about it – and, in that split second, your opportunity has passed you by? This is a far closer analogy for the normal life than the focus sportspeople we talked of earlier. Life is full of opportunity but we’re too busy thinking useless thoughts – fifty thousand of them every day.
You’ve got to stop thinking about living and start actually living. Focus is your key to extra-ordinary living – the only key you need to open up a world of opportunity, happiness and success. And focus simply means paying attention to what is actually happening rather than being buried up your backside admiring the view and wondering why your life is so full of – well, you know what!
I started this article by talking about a group of clients who had come to the conclusion that they were their own worst enemies. What I should have said, by way of clarification, was that these guys found themselves frustrated that they weren’t focused all of the time! Over their years of practice, they have developed an extra-ordinary level of focus and, as a result, live their ordinary lives extra-ordinarily. They all have balance in their lives, good jobs or fine businesses, happy relationships, good health and peace of mind. It’s just that, having seen what’s possible, they want more!
How have they developed this level of focus? How have they broken the cycle of useless thought and started doing rather than thinking about doing? They meditate. Some of them, who don’t like the word ‘meditation’, tell me they do their daily mental exercises – but it all amounts to the same thing. What you must understand is that meditatoin, first and foremost, disciplines the mind. Go and find out what meditation can do for you.
Willie Horton is author of ‘Normal Crazy People‘, the feel-bad self-help book and ‘To Succeed… Just Let Go’, his highly acclaimed self improvement book. He is creator of Gurdy.Net, the Personal Development Website and works with clients like Pfizer, Allergan, ESB, G4S, Deloitte and KPMG.