Commitment to focus

Predator hunting

Have you ever seen a predator hunting? It’s truly a sight to see. You may want to check Discovery Channel, just to get a glimpse of the experience.

A predator chasing a herd does not, in effect, chase the herd. Rather, after a period of quiet but concentrated observation, it will pounch, going after one specific animal. It almost seems as if the predator has a method to execute the attack run, with a default target and and one or more backup targets in case the default target is not an option. The execution is pure animal muscle memory, executed picture perfect, like a dancer. Of course in reality, the animal goes solely on instinct and reflexes. However, that’s not the point.

UPDATE: I learned about 30 minutes ago there is an podcast with Merlin Mann that follows pretty much the same argument, but expands on it even more. I just listened to (part of) it. You want to listen to this.

The point here is that – even instinctive – preparatory work and a focused execution, with backup plan, even if the animal is not consciously aware of it, results in food on the table. Anything less is likely to result in failure. And failure if it happens time after time results in death for a predator, who needs food to stay strong and hunt another day.

Our failures to deliver

Compare this to us, unfocused and often scared people. We often underperform or fail to deliver the results due to lack of preparatory work and lack of care and focus during execution. We will often put in significant effort with little to no results to show for.

Bottom line? Significant waste of effort.

Longer term consequences? Motivational death and even worse results.

Why we fail

There are a couple of reasons why we can fail. The most obvious one is procrastination. A lot has been written about that specific issue by authors like Steven Pressfield and Merlin Mann. I won’t repeat their words, but it’s more than worth to take the time and read what they have to say.

However, while the root may well be procrastination and the lizard brain, a significant part of the problem is a lack of focus in preparation, execution and wrap-up.

A consistent lack of focus

Paraphrasing David Allen, preparation for proper execution takes more time than you think, but less than you are afraid it will. Proper preparation however takes different time. It’s not “intensive” activity time as such, but intent attention to how exactly you will approach the challenge. Let’s look at what is required.

Some thoughts on achieving focus

  • Your mind needs to go there before your body does: I picture the predator stalking his prey, taking his animal mind through the moves which will put the meat between his teeth. You need to really think through what you want to do. What helps is:
  • Defining clear and achievable outcomes: If you know what to achieve, what the actual target is, you’re less likely to be distracted by other potential targets. Getting distracted is a surefire way to lose focus and lose the prey, the end result to be achieved.
  • You need to show up: Even if you are afraid, even if the adrenaline is pulsing through your body, you need to actually be present to be able to execute. It’s not only about being there, aware and active, although that’s very important, of course. No, it’s also about putting in the effort, executing the first 10 minutes to beat that fear of failure.
  • Be flexible: When executing, you need to be flexible enough to be able to switch targets, to go after a fall-back scenario when the initial scenario does not appear to be achievable. The worst is to block or panic when the primary goal no longer is within your reach. Having clearly defined fallback positions is not giving up, its having good sense.
  • Don’t overthink: There are occasions we paralyze ourselves with our incessant thinking. We doubt, we backtrack, we hesitate, we fail. We don’t trust muscle memory. Quite probably because we did not put in the preparatory effort. But sometimes you just need to let go and let the process take over. But only after having done a proper preparation.
  • Execute a post mortem: This is almost always forgotten, but essential to learning. And it’s what separates us from the predator. After having eaten the prey, after having celebrated the success, dare to critically look back on what went well but also on what could have gone better. These lessons learned need to be incorporated in your approach, they need in turn to become part of your muscle memory.
  • And finally, make sure you do what you love: After all, by making the right choices, by chosing from the heart, you’re less likely to give up or get distracted.

It all comes down to …

making choices and truly committing to them. Are you ready to do that?