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The Opposite of Focus

posted Sep 3, 2011, 4:12 PM by Eric Banks

“Success demands singleness of purpose.”

-Vince Lombardi


They say the first step to freedom is admitting that you have a problem, that you need help.  Well, I’m admitting both, I have a problem and I need help.  And, if you are honest with yourself, you’ll admit it too, you’ll confess that you have the same problem as me.  In fact, I believe most Americans live with this affliction.  What problem, what misery is that, you may be asking?  The problem is the crazy, incessant need to multitask!  Yes, I said it, multitasking is a problem.  You know what I mean.  We’ve all seen it, the crazy driver who is texting, reading the newspaper and puttin’ on makeup or shaving all at the same time.   What about the friend you call up for a leisurely one-on-one chat, but you can tell that, while they are talking with you, they are also playing video games, surfing the net and makin’ turkey pot pies?  Or how about that person who is yelling on their cell while, simultaneously, corralling unruly kids, doing their grocery shopping and calculating their federal income taxes?  Okay, never actually have seen that one, but I can imagine it.  


Most of us wear our multitasking burden like a badge of honor.  The more I can do, we think, the better and stronger of a person I am.  While it may seem as if it is wiser and more efficient to do as many things as is humanly possible at once, it’s not.  Efficiency decreases as the number of concurrent tasks increases.  Don’t believe me?  Try something simple like basic math.  You can add six, three digit numbers pretty easily and without error, right?  Do this while reading aloud or carrying on an intense conversation and see how much more difficult it really is and how many more errors you make.


Multitasking was one of the things I most disliked about my old job.  I was in charge of two (sometime more) areas of the plant, and there were times, most of the time, when I literally had 10 to 15 projects going on all at the same time.  At the same time.  Not cool.   I left that job about 7 months ago, but the infection of multi-task-itis lingers and I feel it in my everyday life.  I get a little antsy if I’m not doin’ two or more things at once (dang it…maybe I have adult ADHD...!?), and until about a week ago, my workday mornings consisted of: watch the news, while checking email, while making breakfast, while making lunch, while reading a devotional.  What?  How?


Well, after much soul-searching and head-banging, I am purposefully working to refocus my energy, my days, my entire life.  I just can’t believe its taken me so long to realize or remember that much more can be accomplished through singular focus, by giving all your energy to one task, and one task only, finishing that task and then moving on to the next objective.   First things first.  This fits right along with my faith, ’seek ye first…’, and with our art.  Every technique must be done with the totality of ones body and mind and heart.  I can’t be doing kata correctly and be thinking about what’s for dinner.  I can’t be executing basics or engaged in kumite while daydreaming about the fun I’m going to have after class.  Total focus is a must.


The importance of learning to focus on one task at one time cannot be over emphasized, but also of great importance is the ability to immediately switch all of that mental energy to the next task as quickly, and as wholly, as possible.  Kata is an excellent way to practice this in a non-stressful situation.  I believe that at high levels, kata, though made up of many parts, should feel and look like one thing.  Once the entire pattern of a kata is understood, you can then begin to work on placing your whole self into one technique, and then another, and then another, until the kata becomes an exercise of moving from one moment to the next moment with total flowing focus.  Don’t let your mind leak as you move; keep the entire stream focused on one technique at a time, and you will begin to gain the power of true focus.  This is emphasized in the study of traditional arts, and if learning to focus is not developed in class, it will not be there when needed most.


Now, I concede that a certain amount of multitasking may be necessary at times, but even then, do what can be done to maintain strong singular attention to the individual tasks.   Some tasks, such as washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen can be done together; I don’t really consider that multitasking.  The problem of multitasking comes up when you begin to wash dishes, cook, clean, and balance the checkbook, etc, etc, etc.


Focus is an important key to living a strong, purposeful, positively impacting life.  So, as I live, and as I train, I’m learning to let go of multitasking more and more each day.   By learning to focus on first things first, on one task at a time, I will be less stressed and I’ll not only get more done, but I’ll do a better job at each task.   I’ll also see a new awareness, enjoyment and strength in my training.  All of this is good, and I look forward to the results, but, yeah…I’ll probably still be surfin’ the net using three or four windows at a time…