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Have you ever wondered what it takes to be great? As in, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Rich Froning-great? Okay, maybe your aspirations are not to reach the Hall of Fame, but I’m sure there has been some sort of inkling within you to be really good at what you do, whether it be work, sports, a hobby, or being a parent.
Whenever I work with an athlete or performer (or if am “sport psyching” myself), the first thing I always talk about is Focus. Being able to control or manipulate focus is one of the pillars to greatness. You can be the most talented person in the world, but unless you can prolong your focus through distractions, or keep from straying from your goals, you won’t reach your full potential. You may have the knowledge, experience, or the physical training under your belt, but you need to be able to focus (on the right things).
Keeping focus has become increasingly difficult in this world filled with over stimulation; we are constantly bombarded with information, distractions, and to-do lists; our minds are constantly on-the-go. With all of these distractions, how can we be expected to keep our focus, attention, concentration, and/or awareness? First things first, we must start by understanding the fact that we control our focus and we choose our focus. For example, when I’m swimming, I can choose to think about how heavy my legs feel from the exhausting workout, or I can choose to count my strokes and give myself “focus cues”, or key words to repeat. One choice pushes my limits in the workout, and the other choice drains and exhausts me. If I plan ahead of time and am prepared to choose the right focus when those not-so-productive thoughts creep in, it becomes much easier to, “change channels” and change my focus.
“Where your mind goes, your body follows”, I’m not exactly sure who said this first, but it’s been attributed to yogi, Baron Baptiste. Your thoughts can lead to feelings, which can lead to action (or, inaction). Here’s how thoughts can leave an imprint on your body:
- Worrying so much that you feel sick.
- Stressing out about an exam, interview, presentation so much that you begin to flush,get sweaty, have tightness in your chest, or notice your breath changes.
- Thinking of an upcoming event and feeling nervous (butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, increased heart rate).
Your thoughts can cause a physiological response in the body. What thoughts are you focusing on? What messages are you telling your body? What response are you creating?
Here are a few tools for overcoming distractions and maintaining your focus – regardless of the activity you are pursuing:
1) Breath Control
Deep breathing not only relaxes you, but it also enhances performance by oxygenating the blood and energizing your brain, nerves and muscles. Take deep inhales and exhales when you start to feel anxious, stressed or nervous. A proper breath fills the belly and chest (all the way up to the collarbone).
2) Cue Words
Cue words are focus reminders allow us to SNAP back into the present moment and stay out of any negative thinking patterns.
• Breathe • Relax
• FOCUS • Go!• Push!
- Focus on my game plan
- Let it go
- Be here
- I am just as good as anyone else here
- Stay calm; you’ve got this
- I am totally capable
4) “Tree it/Park it”!
Imagine that anything negative is leaving your body and then focus fully on the step in front of you. By releasing or letting negative feelings flow out of your mind and body, you preserve positive energy for doing the things you really want to do. You can visualize getting rid of negative energy/thoughts by touching the floor, a desk, your water bottle, or even your shoe.
5) Bring Your Awareness to Your Physical Body OR Technical Cues
Usually when we are stressed out we start to hold tension in the body. Scan your body; relax your face, drop your shoulders and take a deep breath. Technical cues can be: “bend your knees”, “quick feet”, “Drop your shoulders”.
Remember: You decide whether you let things distract you, upset you, lower your confidence, or put you in a negative frame of mind. How you respond to challenges is YOUR choice. Control your focus, by paying attention to the right thoughts and the right cues. When you can control your focus, you can achieve great things and be the very best version of yourself.