In today’s complex world, there are two very important concepts that bring real progress in life. The first one is called focus and the second one is called pushing yourself through doubt, insecurities and other C.R.A.P. – criticism, rejections, assholes, pressure; but only if you do it at the right time in the right kind of way.
You can find many misconceptions and different views in books and blog posts, arguing over whether focus and pushing yourself are important in life. Thus let’s look at a few different life situations and analyze them to clarify what makes sense and what doesn’t when it comes to pushing and focusing yourself.
In this blog post we will answer the question if you should focus yourself in life or not, or to be more precise when to do it?
Focusing on focus
Let’s start with focus is and what focus isn’t. Focus definitely doesn’t mean stifling your curiosity and experiencing different things in life. It’s also definitely wrong to focus on wrong things in life; it will only make you miserable. It’s also doesn’t make sense to focus at the wrong stage or time in life.
That is why the AgileLeanLine philosophy knows the search mode and the execution mode. In the search mode, focusing is a big mistake. In the execution mode, not focusing is an even bigger mistake. Knowing that, we can say that it depends on each specific situation whether you should focus or not.
In the search mode, focusing is a big mistake. In the execution mode, not focusing is an even bigger mistake.
When you are in the search mode, you’re looking for new ideas, you’re looking for yet unknown connections (that means creativity), and you are looking for things that fit your desired personal lifestyle. To do that, you shouldn’t be focused.
You should be curious to the full. You have to see the world as a playground where you can experience an unlimited amount of things. You should see the world as a blank canvas where you can create new things, experiment and have fun.
If you want to be creative, look for new connections, try different things, see the forest and all opportunities in life, you can’t be focused. You have to be open-minded, you have to see all the things that could be possible but are not yet done.
In the search mode, you are like a child playing, creating, trying, experimenting, learning and finding the right thing. Without any other focus except the goal of finding your fit.
You should only focus when you find your true fit
The situation completely changes when you find your personal fit, when you find the right thing. At that moment, you should focus hard.
Think about an artist who gets a new idea and becomes obsessed with it. Think about an engineer who closes himself into a room, orders pizza for several days and just works on his new masterpiece. Think how all your energy concentrates into building a relationship when you find the right person who is your perfect fit.
The power of focus is enormous. The reasons why are simple. The first one is that you have a limited amount of energy. Let’s say you have 100 units of energy.
If you focus your attention on one thing, you can put 100 units into it. If you are doing two things at once, it’s not 50/50, because you use let’s say 20 units for mental shifting, switching tasks, educating yourself, updating context, managing connections with people etc. and consequently you become less productive. You invest only 40 units into one thing. If you are doing three things at a time you invest maybe 20 units into one thing.
20 compared to 100 is nothing. 20 is achieving something in 2 months, 100 in 10 months.
The second thing is that when you focus, the spiral effect happens. Your focus gets you to first small successes much sooner. It motivates you more. Consequently you want to focus even more. That leads to even more success.
The knowledge you acquire in the area you’ve focused on accumulates and thus you see many new creative options and so on. With focus, you enter a positive spiral that accelerates your success. 100 units of your energy slowly start to multiply until your progress is really fast.
The secret to success in today’s world is speed at which you figure out what works and what doesn’t – for you.
Focus cuts through complexity
It’s pretty obvious that all industries and all different areas we know in life are becoming more and more complex. You need to be better and better to really master and succeed at something. By focusing, investing more energy into one thing and reaching the spiral effect, you can achieve more and manage complexity better. It’s as simple as that.
Lessons about focus you can take from the startup world
- Compare training one time per week to five times per week
- Compare learning how to program for 10 hours to 50 hours per week
- Compare reading 5 books per year to 25 books per year
- Compare saving 10 % to 50 % of your salary over the next 10 years with the belonging yields
- Compare taking your kid to something they like one or five times per month
The good news is that when you find the right thing, there is no question whether you should concentrate on it or not. You become obsessed with it, you want to master it, and you want to be better and better at it. Focus should come as naturally as possible.
When you find your fit, focus comes naturally.
It should, but it doesn’t always. Beginnings are always hard. It’s not that easy to find something so good that you want to focus on it. Thus the first step is usually the hardest.
Switching from searching to executing is not an easy task. You need to get yourself into a completely different state of mind. And working hard on something, facing all the obstacles, definitely brings to mind the thought that there must be more interesting and easier things to do.
The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. But just because it looks greener, it doesn’t mean that it actually is. In reality the grass is the greenest where you fertilize it the most.
In life you have to focus and push yourself through C.R.A.P. – Criticism, Rejections, Assholes, Pressure. And learning curves.
Regular reflections can help you decide when to focus
As mentioned it's hard to switch from the search mode to the execution mode and vice-versa. That’s why you need regular reflections. That is why you need flows and sprints and self-discipline.
With regular reflections, you can reset your focus. You can consciously decide when to focus and when not. And when you decide to focus, with sprints and flows, you can carry out and deliver results you’ve decided to focus on.
When talking about the search and execution mode, we have to know that the concept is the same in nature. Let’s look at an example. Human nature knows the animal instinct that drives you to find the right mate. It’s a force that pushes you to meet new people, talk with them, flirt etc. I don’t mean to sound too primitive, since it’s not only about brutal animal force – it’s also your curiosity for meeting new people and experiencing new things. But in this phase of your love life, you are in the search mode.
However when you find the right person, love comes into play. Your instinct, thoughts, energy, everything focuses on one person you’ve started to love. That one person becomes your whole world. You get into the execution mode, you want to deliver your best to this one person you love.
Finding the right person does bring focus, but it’s not only sunshine and roses. With every relationship crisis, focus is usually challenged and in those hard situations, you have to decide to either go back into the search mode and find a new person, or to try harder in a relationship and refocus yourself. If you decide to try harder, then discipline, reflection, better communication etc. must come into play. No relationship is perfect, but if there is will, you will also find a way to fix it. If there’s no strong will and passion, it’s probably better to go back to the search mode.
Your skills should be shaped in much the same way. You should be curios, explore different industries and develop different skills where you know you can add value and be good. After finding the right thing, you should focus you attention on it. When deep-diving and becoming better and better at a certain thing, you have to go back and work on broadening your horizons, to not only look at the trees but also the forest. When you think it’s time to totally change your career, you should follow the same process.
Entering the search mode first until you find your fit, then focusing yourself by executing and when you achieve a certain level of depth, finding a balance between curiosity and focus is the key to success.
The local maximum
In mathematics we know the concept of local and global maximum. It's an important concept also for when to focus and when not. The biggest problem with focus is achieving the local maximum when there is a greater maximum somewhere else.
It’s about climbing the wrong hill. You can focus on climbing a hill that seems optimal at a certain time. But what if there’s another hill that’s much higher, meaning what if you could achieve much more if you were to focus your attention on something else.
One of the purposes of the search mode is getting to know the terrain better and drawing yourself a territory before you start climbing the hill. You should be in the search mode the first time you try to do something in life and again when you start to approach the local maximum.
Just before the local maximum, you have to go back into the search mode to find a higher hill to climb.
That’s not always easy, because sometimes you have to climb down before going up again. But this is how we grow, this is how we evolve. You have to always push yourself to new and new mountains in life. Not in a greedy but a balanced kind of way.
To sum up how focus optimally works:
- When you are searching for your personal fit, you shouldn’t focus, but instead be driven by curiosity and creativity. Your goal should be to find the right thing to be passionate about.
- When you find your personal fit, you should definitely brutally focus. Without focus, you don’t have the sharpness needed to really achieve the mastery level.
- When achieving a certain level of mastery, you should take a step back and look at the forest again. Maybe it’s time to broaden your horizons and focus on a new thing. Regular reflections will help you determine whether it’s time to focus even more or loosen the execution mode. That is how you become aware of your local maximum and higher hills to climb.
- After leaving one local maximum behind and focusing yourself on a new thing in life, you should creatively look for new and yet unknown connections between both fields you master (for example, if you are a personal trainer first and computer programmer second, maybe a health app is your new maximum).
- Last but not least is a general recommendation that if you want to focus better in every situation in life, the first step you should take is remove distractions from your life.
With the search mode, you outline your terrain. With focus, you start executing and climbing the chosen hill. The next step is pushing yourself up the hill and when you’re at the top, pushing yourself down and finding a new and even bigger challenge to conquer.
Know when to focus yourself and know when to push yourself.