Rethinking Focus

My understanding of “focus” has changed during the past eight months as I have been writing the new book, and I wanted to get some thoughts down about this.

I guess the best way to begin is to say that I now see focus as something much more immediate and “within the next 1-2 minutes,” instead of the longer term viewpoint that I held previously. I’m sure there is validity in both horizons, but I’ve never really thought about it as existing in the immediate time. Here’s two examples. In writing the new book, my initial language on focus was that “I was focusing on writing the book.” In other words, the outcome I was focusing on was the completion of the book. What I experienced this time around was that such a long-term focus – even if it was “only eight months” – was far too long. In the daily reality of writing the book, I constantly had to re-frame my focus as “I focus on writing this page,” or “I focus on writing this one paragraph.” It was like putting my head down, getting the page or paragraph done, and then looking up again to see what was next. Trying to “focus” on the completion of the 400-page book was too much and too demoralizing. It needed a much shorter timeframe.

The second example is from running and cycling. I have been stretching the length of my runs this year, and have built up to running 12km – something I try to do three times a week during my lunch break, with a 24-26km bike ride the two other days. In both of these, while the goal is set – “to run 12km or cycle 25km” – focusing on getting back to my office has been tremendously unhelpful. It’s even been unhelpful to focus on the next bend in the road. The distance is too long to think about, so I have been reducing the horizon of focus. Visually I have been dropping my head (or tipping down my running cap or cycling helmet) so what I see coming up is only the next 5 to 10 meters. That’s what I have been focusing on – running or cycling to that point, and avoiding any stones or holes in the road. I periodically look up to check that there are no longer range threats in the way – such as a herd of sheep or cattle – and that I’m still on the right road.

In both instances, what I experienced over the past months is that as long as I was on the right chapter or running the right road, I needed to pull back my focus to a much more immediate horizon. For writing, the next paragraph, the next page, the next two pages. For running, the next five steps, or to the next lamppost. For cycling, what I could see over the next 10 meters. This is what I have been focusing on, because this is immediately achievable.

Does this make sense?

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