Have you noticed how hard it can be to focus when you absolutely need to complete something? In a 24/7 world of information flow, distractions pull at our attention. Many of my clients struggle with staying focused just when it counts the most. And yet focus would seem to be automatic, like conversation or driving.
Birds do it. Bees do it. All humans do it, but not always well or for long. Focus is a primary ability of all living creatures, built into DNA as a necessary skill for thriving in nature. When humans pay attention and focus fully on a task, they learn, understand, and act decisively.
Human beings, although blessed with smart brains, aren’t always good at focusing attention and overriding distractions, often with dire consequences. With practice, however, focus can be improved using the FANS method.
- Focus without judgment. Simply observe what is present.
- Awareness: Observe all the details and issues at play.
- Narrow attention. Hone in on the critical variables that will determine success.
- Story: Create a story or a mental model of the situation, including the variables, next steps, and expectations.
In all of nature, focus is an instinctual reaction necessary for survival. See food, eat food. See threat, fight or flee to avoid it. However, the modern thinking brain, the neocortex, allows us to see, feel, process and decide where to focus attention and how to take the best course of action.
Focus on the wrong thing, an accident ensues. Let attention wander, take a wrong turn. Forget to call a client or listen well, miss a sale and lose that bonus.
To become genuinely productive in today’s world requires seizing control of focus. With full attention to focus, mental resources get used most effectively.
At the opposite pole, most of the mistakes adults make are caused by loss of focus and attention. Dramatic cases result in passenger jet disasters, train derailments, and massive recalls of food or vehicles. Individual mistakes can cause personal tragedy, loss of opportunity and disappointment.
Beyond the mistakes, losing focus simply means less productivity, understanding, and enjoyment of everyday human activities. In sum, paying attention is critical to all learning to adjust actions and to achieve desired outcomes. Focus is a skill particularly important to busy managers and leaders who must be available to staff yet get work done.