If you aspire to high achievement, focus is a power from which you cannot abstain. Inventing something new, bringing a product to market, and authoring your own destiny are not things that you luck into by chance. If you are to reach these plateaus, you must do it consciously, with full focus and awareness of what your goals require. But what is focus, exactly?
The achievement-celebrating philosopher Ayn Rand offers an excellent definition of the mechanics of focus:
In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.
When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions. But in the sense of the word applicable to man—in the sense of a consciousness which is aware of reality and able to deal with it, a consciousness able to direct the actions and provide for the survival of a human being—an unfocused mind is not conscious.
Psychologically, the choice “to think or not” is the choice “to focus or not.”
If you want to succeed, you need to focus. You need to focus your mind to a “full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality.” One way to begin doing this is to spend some time thinking about it. This seems obvious, but is often taken for granted. How often do you make time to sit down and think about what really matters to you? This is important if you want to achieve a state of focus. After all, you cannot focus without something to focus on. However, you need to be careful to ensure that you focus in the right way.
In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey reveals that there are actually two kinds of focus. The first (the good kind), he calls “proactive focus.”
“Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.”
This is the kind of focus you want to exercise: rational, healthy focus aimed at what you can and should change. The other kind of focus is called “reactive focus.”
“Reactive people, on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern. They focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization. The negative energy generated by that focus, combined with neglect in areas they could do something about, causes their Circle of Influence to shrink.”
Now, let’s compare each type of focus with a practical example. We will assume you are an inventor and you are competing with another inventor for a spot on Wal-Mart’s shelves. Here is how a person applying proactive focus might approach the competition.
“Gee, this sure is gonna be tough. If I don’t land this spot, it might mean going back to the drawing board. However, I am not going to let that cloud my thoughts. I know my product is valuable. I am confident in it. If I really flesh my presentation out, I have a pretty good chance of beating this other guy. Therefore, I’m not even going to think about what if I lose or what my competitor is doing. All I can control is how my invention and I come across to the store reps. Time to get working on it.”
This is the type of focus you want to achieve. Notice that this person has blocked out all kinds of irrelevant thoughts – the downsides of losing, any advantages his competitor might have, etc. His sole concern is making his invention look as good as possible. Now, let’s look at how a person exercising reactive focus might think about the same situation.
“Arg, this is going to be so hard. If I don’t land this spot, it’s game over for me. Why should I even try? This other guy has way more money than me. We can’t all get an inheritance and a huge staff to work with. How can little old me compete with all of that? Ugh..whatever. I guess I’ll go in there and sling mud at the wall and hope it sticks.”
This person is focused too, but on the wrong things. Dwelling on how much money the other inventor has or his huge staff does nothing to move the goal closer to realization. All it does is squander the inventor’s precious energy on irrelevant matters. Meanwhile, the proactively focused inventor is locked in on the things that matter, tirelessly pursuing the best within him and doing all that is within his power to succeed.
This, in a nutshell, is what focus is. It is a state of mind where you resolve to let nothing stand between your ambitions and their uncompromising achievement.
Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of IdeaBuyer.com, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.