There are many important lessons we can take from these studies and apply it to our everyday life. While the list is only limited by imagination here are a few to get you started –
- In social situations, it has been proven that when shy people focus externally on other people in their interactions, their anxiety reduces. Alternatively, when they start to focus internally to their own mental chatter, like what they are going to say next or how they are performing, they become very self-conscious and highly anxious.
- In many therapies, focus plays a big part in helping the client. What a person focuses on greatly affects their moods and behaviors For example, if you are focused on a big exam coming up and your nerves are shattered, then putting your focus into context of the bigger picture of your life and exploring the alternative scenarios that could happen and what you can do about them if they do, can significantly help to reduce worry. So, instead of magnifying your focus down in on a problem, shift your focus outward (externally) and look at what it means in the big picture.
- Even goal setting becomes an issue of focus. What you focus on is what you get. If you focus on what you don’t want, you’ll most likely get more of what you don’t want. But, if you focus on what you do want, then you’ll subconsciously find those opportunities in your world. For example, if you are intently focused on watching your weight, then your emotions, behaviors and moods will be directly linked to whether you gain weight or lose it. But, if you focus on nutrition and healthy eating, then you are focused externally on food and your self-esteem won’t suffer as much
- Focus can also be on a big scale too, and not just zoomed in on a subject. If you are in a certain industry with your work, your subconscious is already tuned in to look for certain clues. It all depends on what your conscious mind spends the most time thinking about. For example, if you are a massage therapist and really enjoy your work, you might walk down the street, see people with poor posture, and know exactly what muscles are affecting them. Other people would not pay any attention to that. Or a story may come on the news about bad backs that will capture your attention while other people would not even hear it. In this way your passion in life becomes an overall global focus, with your conscious mind always thinking about it and your subconscious on the look out to deliver (take note of this point: if you want to become really good at what you do, then that is how you do it).
Focus is essentially like buying a new car. When you first decide what type of car you want and what color, suddenly you begin to see them everywhere. Its as though before they were somehow melted into the backdrop of your daily life, but now that you are focused on them, they seem to jump out.
Basically, it all comes down to how your mind works. Its often quoted that we receive 2 million bits of information each second, but we are really only aware of 7 bits plus or minus 2 bits. This is because your subconscious is very efficient at filtering all that extra information out and only delivering into your conscious attention what you need.
And what is that you need?
That’s right … it’s what you are mainly focused on!
To sum up, here’s what we’ve discovered:
- Evidence suggests that an external focus gives much better results than internal (that is not to say that you should never go internal. One of the great skills we have as humans is our introspection and thinking abilities. What it does mean is that while you should think about things and learn the theory of it, when it comes to practice you should let things go external and trust your body or mind to do what you’ve learnt. In other words, go with the flow.)
- What you are focusing on at a particular stage in your life will become your reality. Focus on fear and anxiety and that will become your reality. Focus on enjoyment, excitement, and fascination, and that is what you will attract.
- What you focus on is what your subconscious will deliver. Essentially, it will find evidence to support your conscious thoughts and bring your attention to it. Therefore, you will ‘attract’ that which you focus on. And not only that, but your thoughts, moods, and behaviors will be influenced by your subconscious mind, because it will try to give you what it thinks your conscious mind wants (remember, your subconscious mind can only communicate with your conscious mind through feelings and emotions).
Therefore, if you want to control your emotions better or gain better results, then shift your focus. It will help you to think, feel, and behave in a totally different way.
So what things are you mainly focused on in your life right now?
To finish off, below is a very interesting extract from Gabriele Wulf’s book “Attention and Motor Skill Learning”, where renowned concert pianist Adina Mornell shares some fascinating insights into the role focus plays in delivering an expert performance. In it she describes all the concepts we’ve looked at above and puts it into a perfect scenario of how an external focus works better when it comes to performing than an internal focus—
“Concert pianists are judged by their ability to give creative and inspired musical performances. The audience expects these professionals to play the correct notes. It is taken for granted that these artists will play flawlessly. Not a thought is given to the fact that this involves executing highly skilled motor tasks with utmost perfection.
In many ways, this is also what performers think–and should think. In order to deliver their utmost, they must remain focused on the musical message, on the emotional qualities of the work, on the overall structure of the composition, and not on the notes. The work that these experts have put in, innumerable hours of training over a period of years, even decades, enables them to concentrate on sound quality and expression, forgetting about technique and difficulty.
Instead of delivering a routine performance fixed by repetitive practice, musicians are able to react flexibly to the environment. They are able to modify tone, tempo, and use of pedal, for example, to adapt to the acoustics of the hall. They can follow a spontaneous urge, deciding onstage to play a phrase with more flamboyance or introspection.
This is achieved by listening to their fantasy. Once the goal is set and the sound imagined, they act. A high-level command is issued, eliciting a set of complex movements. There is no time for thought to be given to the ‘what’ or ‘how’ of creating this desired effect. This is musical expertise.
The mind-set of professionals involves not questioning actions, but rather having trust in their own abilities. No surprise then, that descriptions of optimal performance often include reference to ‘flow’ (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), or to being in the ‘zone.’ Not to be confused with effortlessness, this state involves seamless coordination of intention and execution, in which human ability matches task difficulty and challenge.
From an individual fingertip caressing a key to the entire body movement necessary to creating full sound upon impact–playing the piano means activating mind, body, and soul.
The countless individual actions involved in each and every phrase are simply not readily available to cognition. Without automation of motor programs, this would not be possible. That is why experts learn to ‘let go’ in order to achieve, and why the desire to control can be so dangerous.
In performance, musicians’ most valuable assets can become their worst enemies. The same finely tuned ear that enables musicians to weave intricate musical lines can suddenly pick up a disturbing sound in the hall. The same emotional sensitivity that generates beauty in their playing exposes musicians to vulnerability and self-doubt. In the moment concentration becomes interrupted, for whatever reason, self-consciousness is created. A sudden shift in attentional focus–towards what Gabriele Wulf defines as ‘internal focus’–throws the brain engine into a lower gear with a loud roar and pulls the hand brake, disrupting a fluid glide through the musical composition.
In short, nothing is worse for a musician than the sudden urge to deliberately manage movement, a departure from external focus.”