Working toward your long-term goal with determination involves learning the art of “fully-focusing” on your daily tasks, the uninterrupted connection between two things: You and your directed action toward reaching your goals.
When you are focused in your training as an athlete, or in performing your daily assignments as a business professional, you are totally connected to what you are doing; your task at hand. In the sporting world, focusing means tuning in to your body, concentrating on your coordination and technique with a simple cue or “trigger” such as “fix”, “anchor”, “connect” and “press”, whilst paying attention to your breathing, and rhythm of movement in the present moment. In the corporate world, your focus must be adaptable, like the zoom lens of zooming in and zooming out. For example, you first need a wide-angle perspective to gather critical information from your team to determine the demands of the assignment and then zoom in to your space, directing your attention to your task at hand, blocking out the peripheral to become absorbed in completing your mission.
A lot of focusing practice involves learning to stay connected to what you are doing; exploring the feelings that free you to perform well, not letting irrelevant or distracting thoughts interfere, trusting your body to work naturally without forcing it, and directing your mind or body with simple cues when it begins to tire or deviate from a positive focus on the task at hand.
Keep a blue head
A great example of focused connection in action was shown in the mental strategy employed by the All Blacks to revive their performance following their arguably premature exit at the 2003 World Cup. The All Blacks worked with Psychologist Ceri Evans to understand how to commit their performance and focus intensity but “clearly” under pressure, with the aim of overcoming their choking habit. They devised symbolic labels for two opposing states of mind; a state that directed performance labeled; “Blue Head”, and an opposing state of mind, “Red Head”, that compromised performance.
To elaborate, ‘Red Head’ defined an unresourceful state in which you are off task, panicked, unclear, and ineffective. ‘Blue Head’, on the other hand, branded an optimal state in which you are on task, flowing, clear, and performing to your best ability. Each player spent time understanding their individual circumstances, thoughts, feelings, and corresponding movement patterns when experiencing “Red Head” and “Blue Head” mind states.
In a game situation, All Blacks use “triggers” in the form of simple strategic movements, imagery, or self-commands to switch from Red to Blue. Richie McCaw stamps his feet, literally grounding himself, while Kieran Read stares at the farthest point of the stadium, searching for the bigger picture. Using these triggers, the players aim to achieve clarity and connection with their task in the present moment, freeing them from distracting thoughts about past mistakes or future failures, and ultimately allowing them to take control of their performance.
Here are some tips to improve your focus skills in training:
1. When you practice your skills and drills, focus on being totally connected to your moves.
2. When you don’t feel quite right at any point in your training – Revert your focus on the little steps. Return to basics, follow your plan.
3. If you know there is a hard main set coming up, don’t let your mind race ahead, calm down and focus on your technique in the present set. This will help you to prepare for the tough set ahead and feel in control of your body and movement.
4. Use meaningful reminders or cue words (i.e., “connect”, “smooth”, “steady”, “be here”) that allow you to activate your best performance focus.
5. To reduce over-thinking when you are nervous or distracted – Free yourself to execute your own moves without evaluation or judgment. Just let go and see what happens. Go by feel. Go by instinct. Free yourself to flow naturally.
Put these strategies into action during training and you will find greater enjoyment and motivation in working through the process of training, refinement of rehearsed skills and drills, and mastery of new skills.
Let us know how you get on!
Jay-Lee Longbottom PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment to improve your focus with Jay-Lee at Singapore Sports Medicine Centre!