The ability to focus is about to become more important than ever.
The world is changing. Within ten years, thanks to new technologies, jobs, livelihoods, and the way we engage with the world will be unlike anything we know now.
As will the skills needed to negotiate it.
In a 2015 report on Australia’s future workforce prepared by CEDA (Committee for Economic Development in Australia) found that 5 million jobs that exist now will be gone in 10 years—most losses due to automation. And to think, we’re already two years down the track.
To remain valuable in our economy … you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things.
~ Cal Newport, Author of Deep Work
You’ve heard the words before … ‘Get on with it! Concentrate.’
The core problem is many of us don’t know how.
We weren’t taught the how. It was just assumed we understood.
You learned how to concentrate or you struggled. Very few schools teach children ‘how to’, even today. Children were—and are—left to fend for themselves on this front. When in fact, learning how to focus allows us to learn those complicated things faster.
Thinking about focus…
Consider the word itself. In a previous post on Affect, I suggested we think of focus as adapting a the prevailing light. Imagine picking up a camera with a long zoom lens. One of those you adjust manually. You look through the viewfinder and the image in front of you is blurry. As you adjust the aperture, the lens draws light, and gradually you achieve clarity.
When I imagine myself adjusting the lens, I really begin to think of focus as a verb—and a process.
Focus as a process.
The act of focusing is about more than just avoiding distractions or allocating time in your calendar ‘to concentrate’. Focus is adaptive. It’s relational. When you focus, you inevitably discover, create, realise or innovate.
Even a simple dictionary search will reveal concentration as ‘the action … of focusing all one’s attention’.
It’s the movement from one space to another that prompts me to get on board with this idea. I began to think of ‘focusing’ as a series of skills and practices, used together, all necessary if you want to adjust the lens.
I began to think of it as a practical model with which we engage—and anybody can learn.
Years of training and coaching others has helped me formulate a model.
The process model has two principle elements:
1) practices related to self-awareness
2) cognitive skills.
Let’s take a look at the first one…
Focus requires a deep self-awareness if we are to apply ourselves and succeed; a willingness to examine our habits and practices; to become familiar with them; to make choices, which help us to manage or work through them.
In his book, Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman says self-awareness fosters self-management. He goes on to say:
Self-awareness, particularly accuracy in decoding the internal cues of our body’s murmurs, holds the key. Our subtle physiological reactions reflect the sum total of our experience … Self-awareness, then, represents an essential focus, one that attunes us to the subtle murmurs within that can help guide our way.
In my experience, our ability to focus is underpinned by five self-awareness practices. Because without them focus is a battle, a never-ending fight to counter distraction. Those practices are:
- Building small rituals
- Familiarisation with your energy rhythms
- The ability to perceive affect, and being conscious of when, why and how you’re likely to be distracted
- A regular reflective practice.
The ability to focus requires space. Self-awareness makes room for that space.
Self-awareness practices clear the way. There’s a second element to consider if you want to focus well.
It’s not uncommon to hear that focus ‘requires training’. But training in what? If we engage in self-awareness practices that clear the path the focus, what’s next? What am I DOING when I focus?
Those next steps come down to activating five skills:
- Being curious
- Asking questions
- Thinking critically
- Applying adaptive reasoning
- Creating something new – Adapting to the Prevailing light. Realise. Formulate. Create. Innovate.
Just understanding the cognitive skills won’t do the job. You need both elements to focus.
Don’t slog anymore.
Take the next step. Stick with me as we continue to unpack these elements. Learn how to focus, and ultimately achieve clarity. Or join the community and download the process model.
Thanks for spending time with me today.
Goleman, Daniel. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.
Newport, C. Deep Work. Piatkus, London. 2016. Ebook.