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Deliberate Focus: The Indispensable Skill In This Age Of Distraction

Exploring aphantasic-friendly strategies for improving focus and attention

How often do we give our full attention to the tasks we pursue? 

How often do we make the conscious effort to clear our heads and workspaces, and precisely focus our performance on a particular aim?

The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.

Focus has been touted as a defining skill by countless experts and world-class performers. It is a critical component of learning, decision-making, building momentum, and achieving our goals. Without focus, we will drift aimlessly, beholden to the needs and distractions of the world around us, unable to stretch to the demands that lie beyond our current abilities. 

While accessibility to personal-productivity resources and demand for adaptive knowledge workers are both greater than ever, the modern era has also delivered a destabilizing degree of distraction and the insidious gift of immediacy. 

Instant notifications shallow our attention spans. Algorithmically-curated content and advertisements hinder our judgment by exploiting our fears, desires, and biases. On-demand access to entertainment, information, and pseudo-social experiences offers effortless “rewards”, diminishing our drive to pursue more prudent passions. Fulfillment too-often requires us to defer gratification – as was deftly illustrated in the 40-year Stanford “Marshmallow Study”

For these reasons and more, honing our focus in this ‘Age of Distraction’ is paramount. Our psychological well-being, personal development, performance, and aspirations depend on it!

Everyone is capable of focusing. It is something we reflexively do anytime we perceive urgency and importance. Whether facing a possible threat or opportunity, the more urgent or important we interpret a situation, the more dialled in we instinctively become. Yet the real power comes with control, when we deliberately sustain our focus on one thing for extended durations, routinely over time. Like sparking a fire with a magnifying glass, you must channel the concentrated sunlight in one area long enough for it to ignite.

Whether we are developing a skill, hobby, job, or relationship, we must channel our energy with steady-aim in order to fuel explosive transformation. As a nod to the late K. Anders Ericsson, I’ll dub this practice “deliberate focus”.

A simplistic formula for deliberate focus:

Concentration  x  Consistency  =  Deliberate Focus

(Alertness / Scope of Attention)  x  (Discipline x Motivation)  =  Deliberate Focus

Let’s break it down:

  • Alertness consists of mental energy and awareness.
  • Scope of Attention is the measure of how narrow or wide our funnel of awareness is. A wide scope, for instance, could be achieved by relaxing our gaze, allowing our vision to blur, and extending our awareness to peripheral sights, bodily sensations, and sounds in our environment.
  • Discipline consists of the habits we develop and our ability to honor commitments and endure discomfort.
  • And Motivation serves both as the fuel and enthusiasm, helping us emotionally amplify our performance, fully engage our tasks, and persevere when times get tough – this is our WHY!

Now for the kicker. 

Have you ever spent any time researching motivation and focus? 

I have and couldn’t help but notice that so much of the hype and praise surrounds the out-of-reach, evasive-and unattainable art of visualization. Salt in the blind-mind much?! Haha, I only joke! 

While the recent study “Mental imagery as a “motivational amplifier” to promote activities found mental imagery of future activities increased the anticipated pleasure and reward, the results showed no difference in actual pleasure or reward whether or not visualization was practiced in advance. Furthermore, the control group who visualized future activities and rewards did not have significantly higher task completion rates. No doubt, visualization is an effective tool for motivation and can help prime your attention to goal-relevant stimuli, but it is one of many options in the arsenal.

It is our goal at The Aphantasia Network to help aphantasics across the globe realize our full potential. And given our rarity of mind and in number, we may have a hard time finding techniques that fit our mental mold. This is where I throw it to you, the reader.

We want to know, what are your solutions for priming, exercising, protecting, and/or sustaining attention? Surely, we aphantasics have each discovered our own strategies.

Using the tools and techniques you share, we are devising the first Self-Optimization Experiment, intended to help qualify and quantify aphantasic-friendly strategies aimed at improving deliberate focus, attention, and more. By collaboratively testing promising tactics, we can codify reliable strategies for our community to develop this indispensable skill. 

So let me ask you: How do you focus? Join the discussion.

Article Sources

1. Walter Mischel, Ozlem Ayduk, Marc G. Berman, B. J. Casey, Ian H. Gotlib, John Jonides, Ethan Kross, Theresa Teslovich, Nicole L. Wilson, Vivian Zayas, Yuichi Shoda. ‘Willpower’ over the life span: decomposing self-regulation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

2. K. Anders Ericsson, Kyle W. Harwell. Deliberate Practice and Proposed Limits on the Effects of Practice on the Acquisition of Expert Performance: Why the Original Definition Matters and Recommendations for Future Research. Frontiers in Psychology

3. Fritz Renner, Fionnuala C. Murphy, Julie L, Tom Manly, Emily A. Mental imagery as a “motivational amplifier” to promote activities. Science Direct

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tanya September 23, 2020 02:24 pm

I’ve found that for me, discipline is the main issue! And that it is directly linked with motivation – if I got the motivation, I got the discipline

Zach Dobosh October 04, 2020 06:41 pm

Hi Tanya, thanks for taking the time to share your experience. I can relate, motivation has always been my dominant and most relied upon factor for focus. But at the beginning of the year I realized I had curated my life such that I was only doing things that I was motivated towards, which had actually diminished my overall discipline. I no longer was good at sitting down and pushing through on boring tasks that required sustained-hardwork over the long-term to reap any significant rewards. So I decided to put a heavy emphasis on training myself to work hard on the things I deemed important, especially when I didn’t feel like it. My best example is my venture of cultivating a daily writing practice. Sitting down to write is one of the hardest things for me to do. Yet I recognize this as a critical skill in pursuit of my larger goals and I know that I enjoy writing when I actually get into it. It took months of trying to establish this routine and once I finally got into the groove, it became the most rewarding activity of my day… each day. But I’ve also upgraded my ability to generate motivation, learning to ask motivating questions that help realize and internalize the importance of tasks. If you would like to join the Focus Strategy discussion, you can see some of the specific tactics that have shown proven success, scientifically and/or anecdotally, for improving Alertness, Scope of Attention, Discipline, and Motivation. I’d also love to here if there are any strategies you’ve found helpful for motivating yourself!

https://aphantasia.com/question/how-do-you-focus-self-optimization-experiment/

Zach Dobosh October 04, 2020 06:41 pm

Hi Tanya, thanks for taking the time to share your experience. I can relate, motivation has always been my dominant and most relied upon factor for focus. But at the beginning of the year I realized I had curated my life such that I was only doing things that I was motivated towards, which had actually diminished my overall discipline. I no longer was good at sitting down and pushing through on boring tasks that required sustained-hardwork over the long-term to reap any significant rewards. So I decided to put a heavy emphasis on training myself to work hard on the things I deemed important, especially when I didn’t feel like it. My best example is my venture of cultivating a daily writing practice. Sitting down to write is one of the hardest things for me to do. Yet I recognize this as a critical skill in pursuit of my larger goals and I know that I enjoy writing when I actually get into it. It took months of trying to establish this routine and once I finally got into the groove, it became the most rewarding activity of my day… each day. But I’ve also upgraded my ability to generate motivation, learning to ask motivating questions that help realize and internalize the importance of tasks. If you would like to join the Focus Strategy discussion, you can see some of the specific tactics that have shown proven success, scientifically and/or anecdotally, for improving Alertness, Scope of Attention, Discipline, and Motivation. I’d also love to here if there are any strategies you’ve found helpful for motivating yourself!

https://aphantasia.com/question/how-do-you-focus-self-optimization-experiment/

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