Do you like that headline? I stole it from CBS. When I saw the headline there, I clicked immediately. I didn’t like the post, but it got me thinking.
Why does anyone want focus? People probably click the headline because we associate focus with success. Of course, I come from a family full of people with Aspergers, so we associate focus with letting the bathtub overflow. But I know that focus is not just the result of obsession and absent-mindedness. It’s also the result of expertise. I have written posts on expertise 10,000 times, but in case you forgot, here’s a link about how everyone should specialize. And if you are sick of me talking about this topic of expertise, here is a new angle. It was fresh to even me, so I bet it will be fresh to you.
But we are not talking about expertise. We’re talking about focus. And after I clicked on the link to 4 secrets and was disappointed by all four, I started noticing that I read about peoples’ secrets for focus all the time.
For example, here is a piece in Vanity Fair about Barack Obama. It’s such a great profile you just have to go read it. There are tidbits about how he picks the people he plays basketball with (if they go easy on him, they’re out) and how he took down the decorative plates in the Oval Office (“I’m not a plate guy,” he says.) There’s also something about how he only wears blue or black suits. Obama says:
“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
So there you have it. The most powerful man in America focuses by not varying his clothes. Which has, by the way, been proven to work for many people. Steve Jobs comes to mind. But I have to say that I not only have a limited clothing pallet, but I often do not change my clothes. And, again, being focused for normal people just looks more and more like having Aspergers for Aspergery people.
I think focus is more complex than that, though. We think of it as getting us what we want. I know that’s not the scientific definition. I’m not even going to link to a scientific definition because that’s how much I don’t care. What I’m interested in is aspirational focus. Which is, I think, why I was so eager to click that initial link.
In case you’re wondering what my blog editor contributes, (since, if you have read even ten posts on this site, you know he’s not interested in proofreading) he does send me really interesting articles. This is one he found about focus. Well, it’s not all about focus. But check this out: If you clench your left hand before you do a penalty kick, you’ll kick better. Because of focus.
The left brain is the distractor part of your brain and the right brain is the focus part of your brain so squeezing your left hand is something to distract the left brain from distracting the right brain. Or something like that. Go read the article. Especially if you play soccer.
But it applies to everything: you need to distract the part of your mind that’s wandering. I felt this when I was playing volleyball. I was simply unable to focus hard enough on the game. My mind wandered.
You need to keep your mind on what you want or you won’t get it. I am very achievement oriented. I care about focus because I want to be a high achiever. I want to get what I want. So to me, aspirational focus is putting tactical measures for big-picture goals on my daily to-do list. Otherwise I’m just doing stuff like answering email and signing contracts and talking on the phone about stuff that’s not at the top of my list. Here’s a link to when I was learning about Getting Things Done. And here’s a link to me not getting things done.
And I’m over that now. I just need to focus on writing blog posts, because that is what makes me happy. And earning money. Because otherwise we’ll starve. Well, and I also have to focus on my kids. I mean, I am homeschooling now. Not that I’m teaching them anything. We are not actually doing school in homeschooling. But someone’s gotta at least be there to keep them from killing each other every time they fight, which is like, I don’t know, every second.
They have good focus when they are fighting.
They also have good focus when they are playing Minecraft. Because it’s creative. And I have good focus now. Because I love writing so much. And you know what I’m thinking? That focus is about really driven by creativity. And the four secrets to being creative are:
1. Drink alcohol at work. The Economist, which is the most expensive subscription I’ve ever paid for, so it has to be right about everything, says that drinking makes people more creative at work and that it’s not a coincidence that the only place where there’s alcohol in the company fridge is Silicon Valley.
2. Experiment with drugs. I am fascinated with drugs. But I am mostly too scared of them to go off-label, so for this link, it’ll have to be to the post where I want to experiment by giving pharmaceuticals to the cows. Drugs give a different view, and often they make you more creative. They fuck you up, of course, but so does going to work and having no focus. So it’s a Catch-22.
3. Meditate. I have written a bazillion posts about that you should meditate. And I still don’t meditate. However I’ve also written a baziliion posts about how you should have a clean desk. And I have a spotless house, desk, everything. I just throw everything out, really. And the principle is the same: clutter distracts from creativity. So clear house, clear mind, it must all mean good focus.
4. Pick small goals. There is good research about how to meet big goals. The research is not actually about focusing on the goal. It’s about focusing on the process and getting your stuff done each day. Which is so not glamourous that you can already see why I think the Economist is worth the money, right?
I think the real thing about focus though, now that I’ve written a whole post about it, is that we don’t want focus. We want something else. We think focus is the way to get there. But actually, I think it’s more mundane than that. Focus is the result of the mundane tasks. The biggest secret of focused people is that they don’t think about focus. And they’d never click that link from CBS.