Focus, focus, focus are the words echoing across the gym as I call out instructions to my students. In a world of social media, smart phones, pop up ads, and the internet; focus can be a challenge for most us in the world of athletics and business.
One of martial arts core training principles is developing laser focus whether you are breaking a board, executing a punch or kick; one must concentrate on staying present void of distractions. Failure to do so may result in you being hurt or worse losing your life in a street altercation.
Are you having trouble focusing in practice and games? What about in the classroom? If this sounds like you what I’m about to share below will greatly change the way you approach your training.
Let’s first define what focus is. In the simplest terms it is concentrating your energy on one objective where no other option at that moment exists. This is not to say you cannot change your mind later, but to maximize producing favorable results you need to ignore other options for the time being. This allows you the opportunity to accomplish this one task and nothing else.
So how does a world class UFC fighter like George St. Pierre develop such laser focus to perform at such a high level of consistently for years? Remember, as one of the highest grossing UFC stars the demands on his schedule must be grueling: media interviews, meeting with sponsors, movie deals, acting obligations, training, rehabbing injuries, film review, promotional events, and so on. It is obvious that he is a master of focusing on things that are the most important while ignoring what is not. This takes tremendous focus and discipline.
Why Can’t I Focus
For most people they have so many thoughts running through their head everyday making it hard for them to concentrate on which task to tackle first. An athlete worries about how to manage their training, the game day weather conditions, what their opponent will do, or the fear of not performing up to expectations.
In my experience, an athlete who has trouble focusing has not mastered the art of distraction elimination. Traditional Chinese medicine refers to a mind full of racing thoughts as the “monkey brain.” In North America we call this multitasking where one attempts to complete more than one task at a same time.
One of the common things I see in my field are 3-hour seminars where the instructor shows 10 or more techniques to the attendees. I understand that they are trying to provide value to them and don’t want them to feel shortchanged. However, the common complaint I hear from attendees afterwards is they don’t remember anything that was taught to them.
Multitasking does not work period. Focusing all your attention on completing one task without getting distracted by other things does.
Let’s use this example, think of a time when you had a deadline to complete something. That deadline was 3 months away. Most people would not start work on it until the deadline was a week away or less. We procrastinated for months but all the sudden we were under pressure to complete it. What’s happens next? We go into panic mode, and in a rush to complete the task we begin eliminating all the distractions that kept us from starting earlier. Cell phone texts, emails, and checking social media is eliminated. All we care about is getting the job done on time.
You cannot concentrate on doing two things at the same time. As a martial artist, I have proven this to myself. During sparring sessions my full concentration is focused on every aspect of my opponent especially their eyes. The moment their eyes shift away from me for a split second I capitalize on their mistake. I cannot afford to be distracted by someone screaming in the crowd, or a fly buzzing around us. When I capitalize on an opponent’s mistake they go into panic mode fighting to regain their composure. The brain is not meant to multitask so the opponent needs time to recompose. As a competitor, we capitalize on this by turning up the pressure on them while they are under distress. This tests the ability of the athlete to bounce back quickly to refocus. The champions such as Joe Montana, Muhammad Ali, or Wayne Gretzky have developed this success trait.
How to Develop Laser Focus
Focus was one of the biggest problems I had growing up. Financially we struggled to make ends meet leading to one worry after another. The constant arguing between my parents lead to a tension distraction filled environment for a young boy to grow up in.
As an adult, I began reading books on productivity which complimented my training in the martial arts. I applied these principles to everything I do in life from athletics to my business.
Here are my 7 favorites ways to develop greater concentration and focus:
1. Define Your Life Impact Tasks
Most people mistake being busy as productive. For example, I have one student who is obsessed with getting promoted quickly to the next belt. The problem is he never trains to improve his skills. When I ask him to come train he makes an excuse that he trains 6 days a week. I know this is not true because training requires sparring which he avoids; opting instead to do the bare minimum with lesser skilled opponents. He may be in the class 6 days a week but what is he doing during those times to improve his skills, and truly move to a level of mastery in the art?
This is the question you need to answer and be extremely clear about. Ask your which tasks you need to perform each day to move you from where you are, and where you want to be. The route must be the most efficient way providing you with the greatest benefit.
Just think of yourself driving from one city to another. You wouldn’t just start driving through the longest route without consulting with your GPS. The GPS tells you the quickest route and time. If there is some construction they provide you with an alternative route. Look at your tasks like a GPS.
I want you to write down 20 tasks you need to accomplish in your sport. Circle the top 5 that when completed will move you the fastest towards your end goal. For example, if you are a hockey player who wants to improve his or her skating you may do the following:
1. Get coaching from speed skating coach
2. Do on ice agility drills
3. Work on skating fundamentals
4. Weight training to improve power
5. Wear a resistance parachute when skating
2. Measure Your Goals
To stay motivated and focused you want to measure your goals to make sure you are on the right track. Like a GPS, if you don’t know where you are going you will get lost along the way. Measuring will allow you to celebrate your small victories reassuring you that you are taking the necessary steps towards your end goals.
3. Commit to the Joy of Practice Not the End Goal
Going back to the student who is obsessed with chasing the belt. He is missing the entire point of practicing the martial arts, and this applies to any sport you play. That is the process of mastering your craft. Too often, athletes are focused solely on what they will get if they reach their goal. Lost in the shuffle is what is needed to get there.
When one is obsessed with the goal it can lead to injury and disappointment if one faces a setback. I’ve witness many students quit the martial arts when they adopt this mindset. One must embrace practice and enjoy the learning that comes along with it. During training there will be many plateaus along the way. You will see improvement one day, on other days you will seem to get worse. It is these plateaus you must learn to deal with as they can leave you disheartened.
When you embrace the joy of practice you learn to figure these problems out. It is here that true mastery of your sport is achieved.
4. Maintaining Daily Concentration
One of the questions I get asked by students is how do I make improvements when there are literally hundreds of techniques in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. My answer is pick one technique to work on each class for a week or two. Put yourself in a weak position against your training partners to practice that technique. The technique may work nicely the first time but most likely it will not go seamlessly. Don’t get discouraged by this. Allow yourself to keep working to fine tune it. Once that has been achieved you’ve now added a new skill to your toolbox.
On the flip side, I once had a student who practice the latest greatest technique he seen on YouTube. He practiced a new technique every class. However, he never became truly good an anything. He had lots of techniques that didn’t work very well and became a master of nothing.
I read an article a few months back on Toronto Raptors basketball star Demar Derozan. His goal for the upcoming season was to improve his 3-point shot. This summer a photo of was taken showing he took 700 shots and made 450 of them in a late-night workout.
So, my advice is to pick one non-negotiable task to work on each day that is essential. It should be the one you need to complete in practice before moving on to anything else.
5. Energy Management is Key to Focus
What time of day do you feel your best? Morning, afternoon, night? Pick a time where you have the most energy to complete your non-negotiation task. There is nothing worse than trying to get through a training session when your energy level is low.
Also make sure you are eating the right meals at the right time.
6. Turn Off Your Phone During Practice
I love my smartphone like everyone else but it is a distraction. I make sure I don’t check or respond to emails or texts till after lunch time. I also schedule a one hour time slot, let’s say 3pm everyday to respond to everyone. The way I see it is if it is really that important they would call me.
The time wasted on social media, texting, and emails robs you of valuable training time and improvement. Manage your time wisely and your progress will accelerate.
7. Take Time to Be Present
Take time to step back for a minute or two. Close your eyes and breathe slowly. Clear your mind of all thoughts, listen to your breath, and feel the sensations around your body. This will get your body connected with your mind.
I always take a minute or two to soak in the atmosphere around me. Telling myself how wonderful life is, to be among people I like, and appreciating all the good things I have. It grounds me, provides me with perspective on what is truly important. As a result, it allows me to remain calm under pressure.
Now that I shared these techniques on focus with you. Go out there, maximize your training and strive to be the best you can be. I will talk to you next time!