“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”
Alexander Graham Bell
Focusing is giving one’s complete attention over to an object, idea, endeavor, action. It’s the act of forgetting self in favor of total immersion in the object, person or task at hand. It’s one of the most powerful tools you will use in order to produce, and to produce creatively.
It has an earned reputation for being hard to achieve. We all think that the constant distraction of social media, emails, texts, calls, family and professional demands have something to do with it. And, they do. But even monks cloistered in a silent space struggle. Why?
Focusing is a form of appreciation and, by its nature, is an act of attaching.
Focusing is an act of total immersion. As such, it gradually becomes a form of appreciation and attachment: Focusing → appreciation → attachment → the desire for deeper focusing → deeper appreciation → deeper attachment → deeper focusing and so on.
This is one reason why it’s hard to fake focusing for any real amount of time’. Few can remain attached to and appreciative of something or someone that is not appealing to them
Focusing can lead one into the ‘flow’ or ‘zone’.
Athletes, artists, and actors often report an experience of ‘flow’ or ‘being in the zone’. They become so focussed on the job at hand that they ‘lose themselves.’
This typically occurs when one has practiced and internalized training to a degree that when a person becomes deeply focused on their task, the training and inner knowledge take over.
The experience typically occurs within an experience of mastery. These individuals work hard to master their skills and heighten their capacity for focussing in order to experience the ‘zone’ or ‘flow’. It seems to be something of an altered state, but, is a normal outcome of training and focusing.
- self-consciousness …. self-evaluating. Internal concerns about how well we’re doing are indications that we’ve lost focus. We’ve become distracted by our insecurities and detached from the object of our attention.
- fearful of judgement or disapproval. Concerns about others’ opinions or reactions also bring loss of focus. Remember, focusing is an act of attaching to the object, not to other concerns.
- showing off. Focusing is a selfless act. It requires loss of attention to one’s self in favor of the object of your attention. If you are showing off, you aren’t focusing.
Bottom line – losing one’s attention to distractions or fears is loss of focus.
Focusing is contagious.
One can disrupt a gathering by ‘pulling focus’ and becoming the center of attention. That is typically distracting, and not conducive to creating a focused team or group.
One can also help generate group focusing to by staying focussed yourself. Rather than ‘pulling focus’, your focus on a subject, object, or problem can draw people away from distractions and into your field of focus.
Have you ever experienced a teacher quieting a rowdy classroom with their silence? If they’d attempted to ‘steal’ focus from the crowd, they would likely have created a competition for attention by ‘demanding’ it. Creating and standing in silent focus drew and organized the crowd’s attention. Focus can be powerful.
Focusing may feel dangerous.
By its nature, focusing requires detaching from everything except the object of your focus, including surroundings, other work, other people. This may cause feelings of vulnerability or anxiety.
That’s a phase, sort of like the plane taking off for flight. You’re job is get through it to the other side.
Once you do, you may feel a heightened sense of connection, but that requires passing through the discomfort.
For more insight on how this might work, see the ‘note’ below in the Exercises section.
Focusing requires practice.
Focusing is a skill. Develop it by practicing.
Practice focusing, and practice allowing yourself not to be distracted. They sound the same, but are slightly different.
See exercises in the tips below.
Truly, deeply focusing is a feat.
Focusing is an accomplishment; a feat of it’s own that opens the door to discovery, inspiration, love. Powerful stuff capable of very heavy lifting, focusing is more than worth the energy you give it.
Some may argue here and there about which and what this man invented, but he was familiar with the creative act, and the focus required to get there:
These exercises may help you develop your ability to focus:
- Exercise: This exercise is deceptively simple and hard. Focus on the flame of a lit candle for half hour. The goal is to not be distracted from the flame and not allow your eyes to close for longer than it takes to blink. True masters can maintain clarity and consciousness the whole time; they won’t lose focus and ‘buzz off’ into dreamland. Do this a few times with a real candle and then try just closing your eyes and imagining the candle flame about 10 inches in front of the center of your forehead. Try remaining focused on that imaginary flame for a half-hour.
- Exercise: Find a photograph you like and draw it as a picture. The point is not to be a great artist, but to use drawing to study, to learn to see … to focus. Notice the picture. Look for the details and recognize the subtleties. Ask yourself questions: what are the colors? Any subtleties in the colors? How do they change – how does that deep forest green in the middle of the leaf transition to the light lime green on the edge? What are the shapes? Is that line really straight or does it have a slight curve? Look for details. What is that tiny thing reflected in the lower left corner of the mirror in the background? ….. and so on.
- Exercise: What is the difference between being focused and not allowing yourself to be distracted. The latter does not mean you are doing the former. That said, it helps to practice not being distracted. Work on something in a distracting environment and maintain your focus. Try cooking something you’ve never made, using a recipe, while someone else tries to distract you with conversation. The goal is a well prepared dish and no loss of patience with your friend. Find yourself becoming frustrated? Work on emotional control. Emotional reactions to external stimuli can be a key distraction until one is adept at focusing and can create a zone of solitude around themselves and their work (by physical or mental means). At the same time, your emotions tell you a lot about the object you are focused on. The goal is to focus your whole attention, including emotions on your object.
- A note about the above exercise: This may, but does not have to mean that one is completely cut off from outside life. Actors and some writers allow a character to occupy a part of themselves, to live inside of them. In doing so, they focus their full attention on the imaginary world in which the character lives. For most, their own ‘self’ remains awake and aware at some level. They are, in essence, conducting two trains of consciousness at the same time. One is the more immediate and evident consciousness of the character. The other is their own consciousness operating at a semi-aware level. Let a cell-phone or fire alarm ring, talk from the audience, or have something happen to a fellow actor (not character) and this ‘semi-conscious’ self will rise up and take dominant ‘consciousness’ position. The actor or writer will consider it an interruption, a disruption causing a loss of focus.
- Observe: Watch a child focus on a project. Observe how totally involved they become. Observe what happens when something interrupts them. Sometimes it will appear as if they are coming out of a sleep-like state to ‘rejoin’ the real world. Sometimes they get angry or frustrated. Make note of the times when you feel like that (when you are focused on something) and remember how you got there.
(Find the original article on WikiHow. I wrote as Tradudio.)