The first step on the road to a successful career and happy life is to sharpen your ability to focus
Published in Macau Business magazine, May 2013
By André Ribeiro
You use it throughout your entire life. You are using it right now, as you read this article. It is focus, and focus affects the way you act and react, each and every day.
Being able to focus properly can improve your quality of life – and your career prospects. The benefits apply to everyone but are of particular importance for top executives. That is why focus training is a key component of most executive coaching courses.
Each person has specific patterns of focus. These can be developed to make you more attentive.
The baseline is to first understand what parts of a person’s work and personal life they give most attention to. These are their main areas of focus.
Ideally, focus should be appropriate to the importance of what is focused on. It should be steady and sustainable, but also flexible, so it can respond rapidly to new events.
Let us do an experiment. Look around you and try to detect as many blue objects as you can. Take 20 seconds doing it. Then continue reading this article.
When you consciously choose to focus on something specific, your reticular activation system goes to work. It begins filtering out everything that is unconnected with the object of your attention. The result is that you give more importance to data relevant to the matter on hand, while disregarding what is irrelevant.
For example, when you go outside, you usually pay no attention to the cars parked round about. But if for any reason you become interested in a particular model of car (which you may wish to buy, for instance), you will probably notice every time you see one. Soon you will begin wondering how it was that you never before appreciated how popular that model is. The same thing happens with clothes, mobile phones or any other objects.
Continuing our experiment, do you recall how many red objects you saw when you were focusing on finding blue items around you? You probably do not. This is because your attention was locked on the colour blue. Once you concentrate on something particular, you become increasingly aware of it, while filtering out other things.
Focus also plays a role on a more personal level. By changing their patterns of focus, a person can shift from being depressed to feeling empowered. Focus directs your life because it is the first filter of reality. If you give more attention to what you lack than to what you have, you are probably going to feel miserable. Yet people are often unaware of the importance of focus. And few know how to put focus to best use. The first step is to become self-aware.
At work, your focus affects your performance considerably. Some people focus on what they cannot control or influence. Others focus on what they can have an effect on, making them more productive.
Executives need to understand the importance of aligning their attention with their objectives. Executives must learn which patterns of focus better suit their needs, and how to switch between high and low levels of attention whenever necessary.
Asking the right questions is one simple way to redirect focus. Questions can direct a person’s attention to new areas.
Having focus in your personal life and career helps you move faster towards your goals and attain overall wellbeing.
André Ribeiro is the founder of ExtraCoaching.