Intentional Focus

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“There are two kinds of people in the world – those who walk into a room and say ‘Here I am’ and those who say ‘There you are.'” ~ Abigail Van Buren

Looking east this evening at the sunset’s reflection on the Sandia (‘watermelon’ in Spanish) Mountains, I was reminded of the elusive green flash. Green flashes are optical phenomena that sometimes occur right after sunset or right before sunrise. The green appearance usually lasts for no more than a second or two. They were first observed and photographed in 1960.

I say ‘elusive’ because I have witnessed countless sunsets from mountain tops, Key West, and San Diego beaches where I focused on glimpsing a green flash. And once, it presented.

That flash would have been missed had I not been focused; had I not been concentrating on it, exclusively. Yet focusing can be challenging for many people.

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Every minute of every day, thoughts, desires and sensory experiences stream through our minds. Each wants our attention making it near impossible to focus. Our minds (well, at least mine) tend to drift to other matters when we try to focus on one thought, subject or activity. Truth?

In the last 10+ years there has been an unconscious shift from encouraging focus to belittling it. And it often happens without us noticing. As soon as multitasking became the rage, focus was quietly relegated to a space of lesser importance.

I consider focus and concentration, interchangeable. What is interesting (as well as encouraging) is that researchers have found that concentration is driven by interest, and interest is driven by attitude. If your attitude towards a specific person or project swells with interest, intrigue and passion, concentration becomes profoundly easy.

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Lack of focus is a common killer of making things happen. If you want to realize a dream, accomplish a goal or deepen a personal connection, pay attention to your attention. Stop yourself from getting on a wrong train of thought early – before it leaves the station.

We get so busy with our ‘stuff’ that it’s easy to forget others’ needs and our affect on them. If it’s significant to you, consider the value in focusing on the importance of caring and compassion for others, of seeing through their eyes. Be mindful of distractions, the frequency with which they interfere and the impact they have on your focus. Distractions can be stealth-like stealers.

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If you want to manage what you focus on, these three actions might be helpful:

  1. Plan some joy!
  2. Take a break. Boredom and distractions invite procrastination. Find a comfortable balance between the activity at hand and the level of focus it truly requires.
  3. Consider less multitasking. The truth is you cannot see that green flash (or whatever you have your sights on) when you are doing multiple things at once.

79 thoughts on “Intentional Focus

    • Thank you for adding another view to this thread, Malcolm. To Proust, staying focused and appreciating each moment not only enables us to live and savor meaningful experiences, it yields clarity and (to your post) a greater understanding of people, places and all that creates our magnificent world. A personal hat tip to its application and practice in/with nature and the wilderness.

  1. In today’s fast lanes of life it’s so important to make a point of stopping and catching up with friends and families otherwise months and months can so easily pass without intimate friendly chats and joy – Do it, I say, to all Eric πŸ˜€

  2. Plan some joy. Joy can also be found by being mindful of the good things that are always present. So many times we are distracted by the not so pleasant…which is what you pointed out in the beginning. It is all connected.

    • I hear and agree with you, Patrick. Joy can be experienced in so many places and ways. All we have to do it be present and aware. I consciously chose to not weave mindfulness into this particular post even though it is intertwined with concentration and focus. You are spot on, sir.

  3. You are so timely Eric. I was just having a similar discussion with a friend last week. Though your post is more fluid and articulate. It says what I have long believed. I never cared for the push to multi task. Though we all do it , I suspect, from time to time without even realizing it. But making it a ‘thing’ we should all be doing never made sense to me.

  4. I would argue things are always happening, with or without focus. But what you WANT to have happen only occurs when you are focused on what that is. Well, with the exception of a broken clock is right twice a day… sometimes you get lucky. But for the most part, the old adage, not making a decision is making a decision, this holds true for life’s outcomes as well. Not focusing doesn’t stop the world in a spot, waiting until you start focusing again. The world keeps moving and without focus it’s a bit like bellying up to a freaky, spinning buffet table, sometimes you get apple pie and sometimes you get over cooked spinach, but you entered the restaurant wanting pizza. In any case, food is presenting itself whether you focused or not. The problem is, do you want to eat what is arriving? If not, then you need to focus on going to the Italian restaurant down the road that serves that awesome, thin, New York style pizza and really good beer.

    • The first two sentences of your comment hit the nail on the head, Noelle. And then you took me into the realm of buffets, and New York style pizza and good beer. πŸ™‚ I got and appreciate the sensory analogy and had to coax myself back to the message’s intent. Thanks for the freaky, spinning buffet table; I am sure to recall this visual as I reflect on focus, going forward.

    • Born boredom-proof or an acquired gift, Hariod? πŸ™‚ Fascinating to learn what you do professionally. I suspect mediation encounters often yield topical matter for your posts, sans breaching client confidentiality. Thank you for stopping by.

      • Dear Eric, I was simply pointing out that in my original comment I said I was a meditator, not a ‘mediator’, as you had misread; hence I attempted to point out your error in my second response at 12.23 p.m. today. πŸ™‚

      • Blushing a bit and smiling broadly here, Hariod. I was simply exhibiting one of my increasingly frequent ‘early onset’ moments. Amazing how the absence of one letter can trick the mind, especially one that was obviously not fully focused. Thank you for clarifying. And a good mediator I suspect you would make. πŸ™‚

  5. I’d never be mistaken for anything more than a “there you are” personality, but everyone I know would probably disagree. Clinging to let’s talk about you, not me, is where my heart of hearts is, but this usually creates a multitasking lifestyle. Caregivers and/or a servant’s heart requires a balance. I am thankful for the actions you provide, Eric, they cause me to pause and give thought which I often need.

    • I sensed you were/are a “there you are” personality, Audrey. Comfortably. You reference caregivers and a servant’s heart; might this be an area in which you work? (Pardon my being curious.) Warmed to learn that the actions to consider that I share give you pause and prompt thought. Mission accomplished, in part. πŸ™‚ Thank you for adding richly to the exchange of minds and hearts here.

  6. “We get so busy with our β€˜stuff’ that it’s easy to forget others’ needs and our affect on them.” — This is the first point in the message I’ve prepared for the kids at youth group this week. Great minds, right? Ha. Totally agree with that statement, and the need to look “outside our own little world” as the song goes. Have a pleasant evening, Eric.

    • I believe there exists a collective of “great minds” Brian, and many of them are present and evidenced in our WordPress community. I’m simply warmed to be a part of this consciousness as well as the potential and actions that we consider – as proffered by other bloggers. Appreciate your omni-thoughtful comments. And a good, soon-to-be, weekend to you!

  7. I’m right with you Eric. It’s about being present and focused in the moment, rather than flitting from one stimulant to an other. We live in an era of sound bite learning and technology demands for our attention. No wonder most peeps are tired.
    Great perspective Eric!

    • “Flitting,” that is a good descriptor, Val. And a nod to (over?) stimulus since it is much of what this matter is about, as well. And those poor Peeps; with Easter impending, not only will many be tired, they’ll be extinguished. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  8. A very accurate post, dear Eric… the advice is much appreciated… Intentional focus might provide rewarding results… creativity fruitfulness guaranteed!… Sending you all my best wishes!. Aquileana πŸ˜€

    • Very knowledgable one, thank you for your thoughts. To your comment, I do believe focus yields rewards and creative fruitfulness. I like your word choices. πŸ™‚ Please accept my warm wishes returned.

  9. I like this! Humans are not meant to multitask, or at least that’s what I always tell myself! I believe I’ve read that it’s impossible for our brains… I know my brain has a difficult time shifting gears. Hopefully the new trend will be to focus. Nice post.

    • Thank you. What you believe and share in your comments is accurate, Mary Ann. It is scientifically shown that our minds cannot multitask. Yet we think we can and do! We simply are not wired (per researchers) to focus, thoroughly, on more than one task/activity/thought at a time. Here’s to your hopeful trend manifesting. πŸ™‚

  10. Have never seen the green flash, but now really want to. Since I try to swim every day, the pool time does give me plenty of time to focus on my thoughts… that and one line from the same song over and over and over… πŸ™‚

    • Ideally, to see/experience a green flash, Shelley, one needs to be positioned so as to see (think clear line of sight) the sun as it rises or sets with an unobstructed view of the horizon. My understanding is that atmospheric conditions have to be just so, too, I hope you do get to see one. And to your comment, what is that “one line from the same song…”? Is it a mantra or affirmation, even if humorous. πŸ™‚

  11. Excellent dear Eric.. I think you know my friend I had already took your advice.. I planned some Joy! and I took a break πŸ™‚ and I am learning to focus more… on me.. lol.. πŸ™‚ Wonderful advice my friend..
    Have an enjoyable week πŸ™‚
    Sue

    • In your case and while it is good to learn that people plan some joy, an earlier comment shared a valuable point, being, that we can also experience joy by simply being mindful in the moment. It need not always be planned. πŸ™‚ I concur with his perspective. Do keep focusing on you. Among many benefits, self-awareness (as you know) can empower us to become more aware and to be consciously in service to others. Thanks for your always thoughtful views, Sue.

  12. I love that picture of sun Eric, I have never seen such a spectacular reflection and never seen a green flash! Does that mean I lack focus?
    I don’t believe in multitasking as I try to give full attention to what I am doing, finding pleasure in those moments…joy trickles in. We often plan joy when we arrange a get together with long lost friends. Thank you dear friend for the reminders. πŸ™‚

    • I believe there is no correlation between your having not seen a green flash and lacking focus, Balroop. πŸ™‚ It is encouraging to learn that you neither believe in nor attempt to multitask. And being in the moment *is* easily when the joy trickles in. Here’s to your joyful moments!

    • A favorite line, Ka, one that I offer repeatedly when speaking and sharing with others is: Aligning with what really matters, matters! πŸ™‚ I love your perspective and words. Thank you.

  13. Thanks for liking my photography post. I’m glad you did so that I could discover your wonderful site! The message in this post goes particularly well with the theme of my blog. Would you mind if I reblogged this post on my site someday?

  14. I am glad I read this post. Though photography teaches me to focus, I lack focus in many of my everyday activities. Multitasking is very detrimental, and women tend to overdo it. A most welcoming read with some very useful pointers. Thanks, Eric.

    • Photographers are, in my eyes, talented and gifted artists. I can sense (almost appreciate) how capturing moments on film or digitally helps to teach and practice focus. After all, if you are even momentarily distracted, you could miss the shot of your life. Thank you, Paula, for your kind comments.

  15. Multitasking is definitely over -rated. I consider myself an avid sunset watcher. You can bet I’ll be watching for those green flashes now that I know about them. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Sounds lovely, JoAnna… an avid sunset watcher. Per comments shared above, it seems many people are of like mind when it comes to the matter of multitasking. My pleasure in planting a ‘heads-up’ seed. πŸ™‚

  16. Reblogged this on Merry Hearts Medicine and commented:
    I believe multi-tasking is a bit of a fallacy that can diminish our joy in life. We are rarely as efficient and effective while spreading out our attention as when we concentrate on one task at a time.

    Developing a focused attention span, self-control, and concern for those around us are all important topics discussed in this post by Eric Tonningsen. It’s a great read I wanted to share.

  17. I have heard of that phenomenon, and have yet to really witness it.
    Focus goes hand in hand with being goal-oriented. If you want something or want to succeed in achieving something, just have that mindset and straight vision of being or getting there at your goal no matter how much maneuver, stops or detour you make along the way.
    I surprised my self having turned to somewhat a goal-oriented person. But still, my carefree habit won’t die. πŸ˜‰

    • Spot on, Rommel. It *is* about mind-set and attitude. And shifts in either of those spheres will often yield the desired outcome or in your words, goal attainment. To your personal experience, I believe many people would acknowledge the value in having some balance between their goals or dreams and their being somewhat less focused or spontaneous. Here’s to your carefree habits. πŸ™‚

  18. I think there are many ways people learn and do things. Some are comfortable with multi- tasking, others not. If I am left alone and motivated, I can focus on one thing and possibly achieve more in a short amount of time. Parents who have more than one child (used to be mainly Mom’s ) have had to drive, work, help with homework, listen to all in equal doses. . . receptionists, Gosh many professions have to be ready to change directions and be flexible.
    It would be ideal to have one child, one task and only one problem arise but Life is messy. I liked a crazy, poignant title for a fairly well written past memoir from Jean Kerr, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. A fairly recent movie with messy relationships was also aptly title, “It’s Complicated.” This post was excellent in developing a cohesive thought, while producing numerous thoughtful, varied comments, Eric.

    • I hear and agree with you, Robin, Differing life demands and circumstances weigh heavily on how people ‘process.’ As with many posts, I’m often just planting seeds for thought and consideration. Yet the recent science behind focus and multitasking is cause for pause. πŸ™‚ Many, if not most of us multitask because we believe we need to to ‘keep up.’ Yet researchers are now documenting that people think they are accomplishing more (and perhaps in quantitative terms they are) when multitasking. Not surprisingly, however, when we focus on more than one task or activity, we become less efficient and our results are often less effective than when we tackle matters individually. I think of this in the Economic terms of diminishing returns (at least qualitatively). Just when we think we are doing ourselves (and others) a service, multitasking outcomes could be a disservice give how results are stretched thin or diluted.

      What is not unique about this topic is that, as with a myriad of subjects, there are differing views and interpretations and those views (and what each person subscribes to) are ultimately dependent on personal choice. I truly appreciate your reading and sharing thoughtful comments. They certainly help to refocus the subject for me and hopefully others who read comments. πŸ™‚

  19. Wise advice in this lovely post, Eric. And so timely for me on this compact business trip right now as I have been focusing exclusively on my tasks for the last several days, and finally taking a small break and catching up πŸ™‚ Greetings from Germany today.

    • I suspect that focusing exclusively on your tasks has yielded favorable outcomes. At least this would be my hope. Appreciate your kind comment, Helen, and wish you an enjoyable (even if it is a mini) break as you catch up. Regards to my birth land, please. πŸ™‚

  20. Loved the opening quote. Also, thank you for all the great ideas to lead a happier, more peaceful life. This was my first read of yours. You got a new follower. πŸ™‚

  21. This is so very true, Eric. When “multi-tasking” came into vogue, I bought into it for a while. Then I came to the realization that things were not getting done in as complete and efficient a manner. I used to work for attorneys and, boy, were they big on it. I think we all (people and work) suffer to a degree because of it. When I focus on something, it’s done so much better and so much faster. Well, enough of that! I guess you can tell I feel strongly about it! πŸ™‚

  22. I believe many of us have been lured into thinking that multi-tasking would be a silver bullet, Linda. I was of that mind and practice until I recently heard someone speak on the topic from a scientific perspective. The research (to-date) makes it fairly clear that what many of us bought into is, in fact, the opposite of what we perceived it would yield. Kudos on your choosing to focus, singularly. πŸ™‚

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