One of the misconceptions about focus is that it is simple and it just means to pay attention. In actuality, it is much deeper than that. Learning how to focus involves self-awareness, full engagement, and the ability to re-focus. If someone says, ‘hey, you are not focused, you are not paying attention.’ They do not understand they full breadth of what focusing means. So let’s break it down in what it means to focus:
First, You Can’t Focus without Being Self-Aware
So if self-awareness is so important, then what is it exactly and how can someone become self-aware? FIRST – It is living in the present moment. This is paramount to being successful. If you can be present in a moment, then you have the best chance to be successful right then. You are not concerned about what the outcome will be because you are too obsessed with the process of getting things done right then and there. SECOND – It is understanding who you are. Knowing who you are is not only powerful in itself, but effective in getting you deeply engaged. If you know who you are, then you know you have the ability to be more confident, understand that certain situations may increase their anxiety and hence, have routines that are meant to keep them calm in times of stress.
You cannot and will not be successful unless you have the ability to be in the present and understand who you are. You may have talent, excel at the technical aspect of the sport, but until you can learn to be in the moment and be connected to it [which we will get into shortly], then you are only going to get so far.
You Need to Be Connected to What You Are Doing
Anyone can pay attention. However, in order for you to really understand and then be able to retain the information that is being thrown at you or succeed in a situation that is challenging, you need to be connected to the moment. Connection would be defined as being linked to something. Once you are told something, when something happens, or when it is about to happen, it is one thing to be able to hear it or anticipate it, but it is another thing to being able to connect an instruction or a moment that makes you fully engaged and connected.
Much of being connected has to do with dealing with how you breathe. You can’t be fully engaged in a moment if you are not breathing properly. If you are nervous, your breath will be short. If you are not attentive, your breath will be shallow. But if you are engaged, then you are breathing through your nose, filling your stomach with air, allowing as much oxygen to get into your body as possible, slowing your heart rate, and allowing yourself to focus. And your exhalation is no longer aggressive. It is slow and relaxing, soothing then tension and in your muscles, and allows you to totally be alert and connect to the moment. It is much deeper than just paying attention to someone or some moment. It is about putting your body and mind in the right place to be successful.
You need to know what it means and how to re-focus
Being able to re-focus is truly at the center of being able to focus. When you can re-focus effectively, it also means that you are aware of the situation, the environment, and how you are reacting to it. We are all going to lose focus throughout the day, and in stressful situations the chances for this to happen increase greatly. However if you are aware of what is happening around you and how you are reacting, then you have all the opportunity in the work to re-focus and get back on track.
Here is a good example: If you are in a situation in which things are not going your way, you more than likely will be start to drift your focus to how negative things for you in that moment. You being to judge your ability, and rather than observe and make corrections you begin to tense up and try to force yourself to do something that is not effective. What you should be doing is observe how you are doing and feeling, recognize it anything that is negatively effecting your performance, and re-focus on doing things the proper way. Look at this chart as a good example:
Judging does nothing to help you. But observing and then re-focusing is the best technique that you can use to allow yourself to utilize your awareness and your connectivity to the task in front of you.
The next time that you are instructing someone, don’t go down the “pay attention…listen to me…look at me and pay attention damn it” road. Go down your check list and make sure that your team is ready to learn and in moments where they compete, understand what it means to be fully engaged. And as a player, know who you are, be connected to that moment, and have the courage re-focus when things start to get away from you. If you can do all of this, you will be focused, perform at the level that you want, and the outcome will be even better than what you hoped.
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