What is Focus?

Learn the 5 types of focus & attention

We’ve got a lot going on. 

Every minute of our waking lives, were bombarded with an overwhelming array of inputs from all around us. Our senses take in sights, sounds, smells and sensations on our skin. Our brains are packed with thoughts, ideas, impressions, feelings and interpretations of everything we experience. With so much data flowing past us, it’s a wonder that we can focus on anything at all. 

But that’s exactly what our brains have evolved to do. Most of the time, our brains are actually blocking out thousands of things at any given moment so we can be aware of things that are more important…When theres a wild tiger running towards us, were not likely to be thinking about how soft our socks feel! If only there was a way to get that kind of singular focus when it comes time to do homework!

When theres a wild tiger running towards us, we’re not likely to be thinking about how soft our socks feel!

But in reality, focus is more complicated than that. In fact, different situations require different types of focus. Each is useful. Each is important. And each type can be learned, trained and enhanced with exercise.

Sustained Focus

For most of us, this is what we imagine when we think of focus. Its defined as the ability to select from many factors or stimuli and to focus on only one while filtering out others (See tiger example above). Some of us reach this state when reading a good book. Others, when playing a video game. All the noise and activity around you melts away as you perform the task at hand. Often, its easier to find sustained focus when were doing something we like to do. But the real trick is learning how to achieve this “laser focus” when completing tasks that arent as fun or interesting. 

Alternating Focus

Imagine a tennis match. As the first player serves, you might notice how powerful her serve is. In an instant, youre focused on the receiving player and the slight hesitation in her return, which you immediately chalk up to nerves. These are examples of alternating focus. At work, you may need this skill when your boss walks in while youre editing a presentation, or a student may need alternating focus to transition from one subject to another. The ability to shift gears quickly isnt natural for some of us. But thankfully, it can be practiced. 

…a student may need alternating focus to transition from one subject to another

Observational Focus

When you hear the word, “observation,” its common to think of a scientist…perhaps a biologist watching a pod of dolphins. To focus effectively in this situation, the observer should be able to process different types of information without losing track of the whole group. They might note interactions between animals, or jot down examples of behaviors like leaping and diving or catalog the various markings on one dolphin versus another. Of course, paying attention to the lighthouse on the cliff isnt an observation that helps gain insights into the lives of marine mammals, so that would indicate a gap in the scientists observational focus. But as long as theyre able to note changes, identify differences and make predictions on the pod as a whole, observational focus is intact.

Divided Focus

If theres one focus skill that most of us would love to have, this is it. Its what most of us know as “multi-tasking.” True multi-tasking is actually rare…more often, its just very fast alternating focus. Some professional chefs can do it as they prepare multiple dishes at the same time. Many of us “mere mortals” can achieve it in short bursts as we iron a shirt while talking on the phone. But while we may wish we had this skill, getting better at the other types of focus is more than enough to be effective in our daily lives.

Without a doubt, focus is a good skill to have. It helps us get things done. It helps us reach our goals. Unfortunately, distractions are part of life and no one can be 100% focused all the time. But with the kind of training and practice you get with FocusNow and FocusFit, you can learn how to get to a focused state faster, increase your attention span and improve the quality of your focus in just 21 days.

Let’s just hope you don’t run into a wild tiger before then 😉

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