Over the decades, I have worked with thousands of high-performance clients who have approached me because they are looking to improve their personal performance. They want to “win” – to excel in their sport or profession – and they realize that often they are their own worst enemy! They mentally corrupt their own performance and even though they recognize that they are indeed ‘getting in their own way’, they don’t understand how to stop this process of self-sabotage. It is clear to them that it influences their performance in a negative way, but they also recognize that it sometimes dramatically affects their safety as well.When my high-performance clients visit with me, one of the first things that they ask is “Show me how to focus more effectively, and when I lose my focus, how to get it back quickly?” They recognize that when they are mentally distracted – and many will confess that they are too often distracted – they do not do their best work. When they are not fully focused on the task in front of them, they begin to make mistakes and their performance suffers. Their natural response to the problem is “If I can just learn to focus more, my performance will be better!” But is this really the solution?Consider this question: “If you are focusing on the wrong thing, how does focusing more help you?”Quite simply, it doesn’t…it actually makes the problem worse. The real solution is to focus correctly! You must lean how to control your focus of attention to ensure that it is directed to the right thing…at the right time. This is the mindset that will optimize your performance and bring you the greatest possible success. It is also the core of what “mental toughness” is all about. When someone says “I just wasn’t focused”, what they are really saying is “I was indeed focused…but I was focused on the wrong thing and that is what got me into trouble”.In my experience, most people actually have reasonably good concentration skills. What they typically lack is control — control over how they deploy their focus of attention in the moment of their performance.Rule #2 of the Mental Road simply states: “The mind can only actively process one thought at a time”. The significance of this rule in the performance world is huge however. Here it is: If you are focused on the wrong thing, you cannot be focused on the right thing at the same moment in time. For example, if a driver is focused on (thinking about) the corner he just messed up as he drives into the next corner, what is more likely to occur? There is of course a greater chance that he will mess up the next corner as well! Why? Because his mind is back in the previous corner whereas his car is actually in this corner…and herein lies the heart of the problem.The key then, is to become more aware of how your focus of attention is directed while you are in execution mode and then, to exercise control over your focus of attention so that it is directed correctly…based on the situation in front of you. Learn to ‘eavesdrop’ on your own internal mind chatter and you will automatically become better at controlling your thoughts and shaping your performance. To control your focus of attention more effectively, you first must recognize what an incorrect focus looks and feels like, and then take charge of how you direct the deployment of your thoughts.You can use the analogy of a simple flashlight to understand the issue of control more clearly. Imagine that the beam of light coming from this flashlight is like your personal beam of concentration. You can direct your focus (your beam of concentration) to be on one thought or on another, just like you can choose to shine your flashlight on one object or on another. You can spin the head on your imaginary flashlight to narrow and intensify its beam (like a spot light), or you can spin it the other way to broaden its reach and to soften its intensity (more like a floodlight).It is your choice in the end. You can actively direct the deployment of your focus just like you can control the direction that you aim your flashlight. The problem is, many people don’t exercise control over their own thoughts. They allow the environmental challenges and situations around them to dictate their thoughts and their focus of attention. They become a slave to distractions in their environment and their mental ’flashlight’ jumps around all day long and they end up accomplishing little of significance because their thoughts are scattered and unfocused. The become like the squirrel in the road.You must become the boss of your own mind! The more effectively you take control of your thoughts and direct them “in the moment, on the task in front of you”, the better will be your performance. You are more likely to achieve your competitive goals and you will become a safer competitor!
About Allen Berg
Allen Berg ranks among Canada's top racing personalities. He won the Formula Pacific Tasman Championship, won at Silverstone against Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle in perhaps the greatest year ever in British Formula 3, and qualified for nine starts in F1, a record bettered among his countrymen only by Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve.