Monday, 7 October 2013

The Art of Focus

You carry your cell phone around with you 24/7 and are constantly checking and sending texts, trying to catch up with people elsewhere--even as you interact with those around you less and less. You’re studying for your exam and the neighbours are still playing their annoying pop music next door. Whatever, facebook says your friends are partying this evening. You can study for your exam as you wait to get into the exam room, right? You’re walking to the grocery store when you run into that person you haven’t seen in forever! Two hours later you’re done your thirty minute shopping trip and you’re late for that date you had. Uh oh.

Everyday we are bombarded by a myriad of distractions, causing us to be in a constant state of rushed multi-tasking that hinders us from accomplishing those things that matter most. This self-inflicted pressure to be everywhere at once really seems to have become a part of our society, and in some instances maybe having a scattered focus is necessary. But these “instances” are not universal.

Focus, like most words, can mean different things in different contexts; when I use focus as a noun in this blog I usually mean the ability to forget all stimuli and all thoughts irrelevant to the task at hand. If the ultimate goal is the completion of the task to the best of the one’s abilities having a focus like this is absolutely vital.
Wanna become less of a tourist?? Use focus!

Today I’ve put together some tips on focusing from the knowledge I’ve acquired ski racing and from reading Pursuit of Excellence (see below). Although a lot of my tips come from a ski racing perspective, the essence of them can be applied to many other areas of life. Remember, what works for me may not work for you; that’s what makes life so interesting.

Tips on training your focus:
-- Read your way through In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick. It’s a great read and a great way to improve your focus and other mental aspects of performing one’s best.

-- Come up with your own “focus training routine”! What you wanna do is start out simple: make the commitment to take some time once a day or, if you’re kinda lazy, once a week, and practice focusing on different things:
1)You could practice by sitting with your eyes closed and, starting with your toes and ending with the top of your head or fingers, focus on what each part of your body is feeling at the given moment.
2)You could practice by visualizing yourself performing to the best of your abilities (this is like killing two birds with one stone ‘cause it builds your visualization skills too). I visualize myself skiing a section of familiar race course with the absolute best technique and pacing. If I wanna make it harder I imagine possible distractions and then practice overcoming them and returning to my best focus ASAP.
3) Practice using your focus to levitate your X-Wing out of the swamp.
Whatever you decide to do to train your focus, start with a practice time of no more than 10min. It’s really hard to maintain a top focus much longer without your mind starting to drift.

--Practice focusing on particular objectives when at practice. It may not be a race situation but it’s the next best thing.

--Treat every time trial as if it was a race! Use these opportunities to learn about and practice your performance focus.

Performance focus:
So you’re at your performance, you’ve trained your body and your mind and you think you’re ready to go. What can you do to make sure that you’re focus snaps into place when you need it? Well, for starters, you can start by asking yourself this question a bit earlier...

--In the day(s) leading up to your performance make sure to take the time to visualize yourself performing at your best in the environment where your race (or event) will take place. Come up with solid goals and come up with a way of making sure you stay motivated when you’re out there doing what you do. I like to come up with key phrases to tell myself when I feel my focus or motivation leaving me before or during my ski race. Ex: “Relax”, “Time to go!” “Today only happens once: make it count” “Choose to hurt”.
--Race day: Find a way to get yourself in “the zone”, to “find your flow”, to be Zen. I do this by closing my eyes and listing to music, by going over my key phrases (see above) or by praying.
--At the start/during the race:
The most important thing to realize about focus is that FOCUS CAN NOT BE FORCED. Yep, deal with it. With this in mind, the most important thing you can realize at the start gate is that--and I’m assuming you’re passionate about what you do--you are out there for one reason and one reason alone: to revel in doing what you do to the best of your abilities. For me, I tell myself: “I am here for one reason only: to ski on this race course on this day as fast as I possibly can.”
If you’re at the start line on race day and you are focused on end results or on consequences you are almost guarantied to not find your focus. Sorry.

Armed with a strong focus you will be like Aragorn in Lord of The Rings: “A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day!!!!”. With a strong focus you will continue to hold back “this day”.

Dream big, people!!

P.S. Next blog post will be a video blog! Stoked.

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