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Why Focus is a Superpower

There´s a story about when Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and Warren Buffet, the world´s most successful investor first met many years ago. They were both attending a private meeting of business people where each participant was asked to write on a card a single word to describe what they believed was their single greatest ability. When the answers were revealed they had both written ‘Focus’.


Wired to Win

Do you use your brain for a living? If you do, then you are not alone. For the first time in human history the vast majority of people working in the developed world depend heavily on their brain power to earn a living.

For centuries the focus of work was on agriculture and basic services, tasks that required physical effort above mental. With the arrival of the industrial age, and mass production techniques, work was also physical, in many cases requiring even less mental effort.

Fast forward to today to our technology-driven, information age and we see that the focus of work has shifted significantly to a services-centric, knowledge-driven economy where the movement and management of information is at the core of almost everything we do.


The New Reality

In this new, (its only been around for the last 2 decades), 24/7, always-on, information overloaded world, the ability to focus is the critical success factor in getting things done. While that may sound obvious, there are two key challenges that prevent most of us from being more productive.

The first is our environment and how we cope with it. We are constantly bombarded with demands on our attention in a non-stop fire hose of digitally delivered distraction that pulls at us from early morning to late into the night.The second challenge is how our brains are wired to avoid boredom and seek out novelty.

Despite this, many of us believe we know how to focus. But do we really? Here´s a quick test. Stop reading this article now, pick a subject, any subject, and with eyes open or closed, focus on that, and nothing else for the next 45 seconds. Ok go.

Did you try it? How did you get on? If you are like most people you will have found that after a very short while, for some as quick as 4 or 5 seonds, their mind wandered, often for quite a while before even noticing. This is the nature of the untrained mind. To actively wander and look for novelty and multiple stimuli. When it comes to work, we pay a very high price for it.



Focus can be Trained

Understanding the nature of how our minds work is fundamental to understanding how it is that we can go to work, be incredibly busy and challenged for 8 hours or more, and then, as we drive home, struggle to identify what we actually got done today. Run a pattern like this over a period of time and we understandably get frustrated and stressed while failing to achieve the goals we had set ourselves.

Like all other skills, focus is one that needs to be trained. The simple fact is that if you have not cultivated and practice regularly your ability to focus you will find doing important work that requires continued attention challenging.

Focus is a superpower that ensures that effort and hard work deliver the desired results. The good news is it is a superpower available to everyone.

Stephen Stynes is a senior facilitator with Potential Project, the global leader in corporate based mindfulness training. Working with some of the world´s leading companies, their programmes provide mind training that improves productivity, resilience and overall wellbeing to leaders, teams and individuals in companies around the world. 

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