Extreme Focus

"The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus." - Bruce Lee

Have you ever noticed when you're driving down the road and you look to the right for a few seconds how your car seems to start drifting right?  Think of that example when you think about focus.  Focus on something long enough, and you'll start naturally moving in that direction.  In an article entitled "How to Create the “Extreme Focus” Habit (without Feeling Overwhelmed)" by Joanna Jast, the author has some interesting thoughts on how to create focus.  I'll list a few below:

Take one little step at the time, but in a series.  It’s important to concentrate on one change at the time. But focus is a complex, multi-layered skill, which takes time and effort to develop. How can you move one step at a time?  By creating a series of little steps, which one by one get you to your goal. I’m talking about SJ’s habit stacking idea – building a logical sequence of quick and easy routines, summarized in checklists, completed in less than 5 minutes and joined with other habits.  

So here's how you can develop your laser-sharp focus routines: Pick your cue/trigger smartly.  As you know, habits are formed in a self-reinforcing loop: Cue (Trigger) – Behavior (Routine) – Reward.  In my experience, the biggest enemy of habit formation is… life. Because, when you’re busy, stressed, with depleted willpower, it’s harder to stick to your decision to change your habitual behavior. With my poor willpower and lousy memory, I need fail-proof cues to prompt me to carry out the new routines. If you’re using habit stacking approach, the cue for the first routine is even more important, because the whole sequence depends on it. When it comes to focus, I find environment-based cues most effective. My work requires a laptop/computer, that’s why I chose the action of sitting at my desk/table and opening my laptop as a trigger to ‘snap into focus’. Pick a cue, which is logical, well anchored in your way of doing things, difficult to miss or forget. If you require a certain setup or props for your job, use them to trigger your actions. It may be the moment of opening your laptop, turning your computer on, or grabbing your pen.  I've known pitchers in baseball to use crossing the chalk line.  

If you still find it hard to remember what you need to do before you sit down to work, put it on your calendar. If you schedule your tasks (which I recommend as an effective time management strategy), add a little note to self on going through the checklist, so that when the reminder pops up on your screen (or you check it in your paper diary), you’ll remember what to do. This can help you get through the initial period before your new habit is well incorporated into your daily routine.

Then, create an if-then plan.  Once you know your trigger/cue, create an action plan using if-then logic. Implementation intention, which is the proper name for this strategy, can turbocharge your chances of succeeding at habit building. The simplest if-then plans look like that: If (I see/hear/smell/feel or carry out an action-based cue), then I’m going to (carry out my new behavior). If you’re working on reducing your tendency to browse the Net when you should be studying/working, you can to start with the following sentence: When/if I open my laptop to study/work, I close down my Internet browser and disable the Wi-Fi.  

Design a checklist.  But what if you forget what you were to do and in what sequence?  Habit stacking approach has a perfect solution to it: a checklist. So when you sit at your computer, open your laptop, or grab your favorite pen you may go through the following steps: 
Turn off all notifications on your computer, mobile phone and any other electronic devices within earshot.

  • Put your phone(s) on silent.
  • Clear your desk of unnecessary items.
  • Make sure you have all you need for completion of the task at hand.
  • Write it down – don’t trust your memory. 

Put your checklist somewhere visible: pin it by your desk, stick it to your laptop cover, or computer screen. Every time you go though your routine, check the steps off in your head, aloud, or physically crossing or ticking them off as you go.

Lastly, practice, practice, practice.  Once you know what to do, practice it. Repetitions strengthen the habit loop. The more your practice, the easier it gets.  Don’t forget to reward yourself. Rewards are key in forming the habit – they reinforce the loop. Create a repertoire of small, enjoyable rewards. Try not to rely too much on extrinsic rewards. A good pat on the back, a sense of accomplishment and pride can be more powerful than a bar of chocolate or a round of your favorite game. 

Habit stacking approach eliminates the stress of having to remember what you need to do, and reduces the pressure on your willpower and motivation. You change your behavior one little step at the time. This is perfect for developing good focus habits. Just remember, not to be too eager. Make sure your new routine is well embedded in your daily schedule first, before you add the next one. Keep adding those quick actions, one by one, but be mindful of how much time the whole sequence takes. SJ Scott recommends, you don’t go beyond 15-30min, to avoid feeling overwhelmed and as a result risking not doing it at all.

If you want to be able to snap into focus and remain in ‘the zone’ for as much as you like, don’t procrastinate any longer.  You know what you need to do. One little change at the time. Go on, pick your cue and go from there. The world of laser-sharp focus, turbocharged productivity and success awaits!

In closing, "a habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last we cannot break it.” —Horace Mann”