“If I were asked to choose one mental skill that distinguishes athletes and other performers who remain at the top of their game, I would name their ability to adapt and re-focus in the face of distractions.” – Terry Orlick, author of In Pursuit of Excellence: How to win in sport and life through mental training
The ability to remain focused, despite extreme pressure, failure, and even apparent impending doom, is what separates a good athlete from a top-performing one. Many parallels exist between peak performance in sports and that in business. So, ask yourself, when the heat is on, do you focus on distractions or do you focus through distractions?
The good news is that the ability to focus and, especially, to regain focus after a major distraction, is a learned, practiced skill. First of all, it takes awareness that you’ve lost focus to regain it. But that alone isn’t enough. Focus takes practice, persistence, effort, energy, and a high level of commitment.
Yannick Noah, a former world top 10 tennis player, was once asked if he could ever see himself being #1 in the world. He replied in the negative, explaining that he knew he didn’t have the discipline – the wiring so to speak – to focus at the sustained high level of mental and physical output necessary to be number one.
Try this exercise: In a darkened room, light a candle. Then, stare at the brightest part of the flame, while thinking of nothing other than the flame. How long could you stay focused before your mind started wandering?
See what I mean?
To strengthen your ability to stay focused through distractions (and thereby strengthen your shot at business success), try these tips:
Practice being aware of:
a) When you lose focus.
b) When you’re able to remain focused on your top priority strategies and their corresponding actions.
- Practice giving yourself permission (and the freedom), to lose focus. Humans aren’t built to be 100%. After all, even high-performance machines fail from time to time.
- Look for the opportunities in every possible situation, no matter how apparently grim. Consider that it’s not about winning or losing; it’s about what you gain. No matter what, you’re going to gain something valuable: Memories you can look back on, the experience of “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” and learning that will aid you in the future.
- Practice getting back on track quickly. This means, when you inevitably lose your focus or even lose your cool, make a game of seeing how quickly you can turn things around. When you’re in a bad mood, how quickly can you change to being in a good mood? How quickly can you shift from being angry with smoke coming out of your ears to being calm, cool, and collected? Is it hours and days? What would it take to get it down to seconds and minutes?
- Practice the candle flame focusing exercise daily. With persistence, you’ll find that your ability to stay focused on the flame will increase and, remarkably, so will your ability to focus on the highest-impact priorities on your plate.
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