The concept of focus is often explained by our experience with photography. Whenever we try to take a picture we always worry about focus. Misleading by implying that focus is both easy and singular. Especially now that auto-focusing is a common feature.
Focus in life is much different than in photography. While it always leads to a singular item, that item or focus could change throughout our day depending on what we are doing at the time. It may depend on the day of the week it is. Or even, what is essentially pre-determined by our calendar appointments.
The opposite of focus is distraction. Described best when overwhelmed by many things concurrently. Some of our choosing and many that are not. Those of our choosing might include watching TV while trying to finish a work project. Checking social media or playing a game on our phone while in a meeting. Or even thinking about the challenge, event, or a person that made you mad or sad or fearful while trying to do your work.
Examples of stuff that distracts not of our choosing, the text, email or phone call we get. The person that stops by our office to discuss a problem on the spur of the moment. A health crisis, an accident or unexpected death. The multiple doctor appointments that now must be made because of a recent diagnosis. An event at work, while out of your control, you now must manage and work through. A parent, child, spouse, or friends needs can abruptly change your day as well.
Life is full of distraction. Unexpected occurrences. Surprising human behavior. Together with a technological revolution that has simplified, as well as amplified exponentially, the ability to distract. Like a Trojan horse, technology’s promise of helping has carried with it the surprise of immediate and continuous distraction.
Many try to be helpful by shouting that we must eliminate distraction. It’s a perfect solution for it leads to focus. Under the guise of being productive, prescriptions for eliminating distraction seductively sound easy. Once you understand that life is full of distraction, accepting the possibility of eliminating it seems foolish. Revealing to us its empty promise. Wasting our energy and time, just like when we try to be perfect, instead of just doing our best and moving forward.
Trying to eliminate distraction is tiring and demoralizing. You can never achieve this. It’s impossible. We first must accept this in order to move on.
A huge part of focus is not how to eliminate distraction but rather figuring out how to regulate it. Working much like a thermostat instead of an eraser. For a thermostat balances our surrounding with the right amount of cold and heat for the weather we are experiencing. The same holds true for distraction. Balancing the distractions (& interruptions in our day) with our need to focus on a singular item that is important to us and for a better future.
The difficulty in balancing or regulating our distractions is that there are two parts that need to be addressed. The first is what singular items do we need to complete. Where should we focus for our greatest impact? The second is developing an awareness of what distractions regularly surprise us in our daily lives. (Once we are aware of them, we can then find ways to manage our days to accommodate both things we need to focus on, as well leave time for our distractions.)
In life, we get to choose what to focus on but first must find it within an infinite canvas of possibility. We feel our distractions long before we see them. Stress, having an overwhelmed feeling of too much to do, and the feeling of helplessness precede any understanding of how to manage all of the different distractions in our lives.
In photography, the problem is much easier. Our distractions are clearly displayed on our phone or camera before we take a picture. The one or two things we will focus our camera on is also clearly in front of us. Making the balancing of distractions against focus much more discrete, finite and easier for us to balance and execute successfully.
In life, neither what to focus on nor what regular distractions keep us from focusing are easily apparent to us. They are never static. Life and distractions are fluid and ever changing. What to focus on is many times weakened by not knowing why we want to focus on something. Trying to move past a dream or an aspiration into something concrete that will improve our life or situation if we can achieve it is much more difficult than it sounds.
What regularly distracts us can also be a challenge. I know of many people who love distraction and the drama it creates. For others, our lives are much too busy for time to reflect to understand our distractions so that we can plan our focus around them. Not understanding the value of focus limits their ability to more fully evolve and grow as a person because of all of life’s distractions.
The key to finding focus is to answer this question: “How do we plan our day or week to accommodate both focus and distraction?” Exercise in the morning before our day starts to get it in before distractions (life) overwhelms us? Hold meetings on only Tuesdays so that you can get more done during the week? Limit answering email to specific hours in a day? Shutting our phone off at dinner time so that we can have a meaningful conversation with our family? Arranging for a date night each week for time alone away from our children?
There is a need for both self awareness and discipline in order to improve our focus. A common quote heard is “nothing easy has any value”. Discovering the secret of focus and then applying it in your life is definitely not easy therefore making it something of great value once found.