focus

attention

2019-05-09-attention_v02.jpg

In the past, I’ve made a big deal about focus and how important it is to maintain. I still stand by my words. Or most of them anyway, generally in the same order they were written.

That said, research is showing a particular quality of creative people: something called a leaky attention. I know, sounds kinda messy.

Apparently, the propensity to shift attention often can lead to more creative thought. It makes sense to me;  creativity often means noticing the things other people ignore. And most creatives I’ve met are pretty easily distracted.

Hey what’s that over there?

Whether it’s noticing the sound of a paper bag crunching underfoot, a particular shade of blue painted on the wall, an unusual bug crawling across the table, or the fact that the man in the purple trench coat has been following you for the last three blocks—creatives have a special ability to take in their surroundings and use it toward a creative act.

But there’s a catch, this leaky attention can also become a hindrance when attempting to actually produce creative work, it can distract you from finishing the work itself—or even getting started for that matter. Hey, someone should write a course on how to overcome that. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.

As the Psychology Today article points out:

Artistic creativity is a delicate balance of spontaneity and deliberation. 

I’ve found this to be true in my own life. There is a time to be open, to breathe in the inspiration around you. But once that spark has ignited a flame, you must nourish and protect it. You must concentrate your efforts on building that flame into a bonfire, sheltering it from the winds of distraction. Like a vacuum cleaner, you’ve gotta flip the switch from intake to output. However, unlike my metaphors, fires and vacuums don’t mix. You can take my word on that one.

There are times when it’s best to pay attention and times when you’re better off taking a rain check on it. It takes time and practice to learn the difference. Still, there’s nothing keeping you from trying it now.

But first, I recommend ditching that trench-coated creeper on your trail. Based on his fashion sense, he’s either up to no good or he’s a distant relative of Grimace. Either way, not one to be trusted.

priority word

I’ve heard that the word priority originally didn’t have a plural version. In other words, it just meant the one thing you put above everything else. 

A

Single 

Priority

But today we can’t accept that. There are too many important things in our lives and so we end up with many competing priorities. 

I believe this is, in part, one reason why so many people are so stressed out. Multi-tasking is a cultural mandate, one which is killing us. Trying to keep all those plates spinning at once without letting a single one drop soon becomes a near impossible task and even if we do pull it off for a time, we’re awkward and clumsy about it. No matter how good we are, eventually, one of those plates is going to come crashing down on our heads. Then we get all depressed about it because we couldn’t pull off the impossible. And no plate-ituds are gonna make us feel any better about it.

So yeah, I’ve broken a few plates in my day. 

There is a beauty to single-mindedness: stubbornly placing something above everything else on our to-do list, every time. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13, 14

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Like him or not, you've got to hand it to him, the guy knew what he was about. He had a single, clear goal that everything else fell beneath and was seen in light of. 

I must admit, I’m terribly bad at having a “one thing I do.” It’s an area where I really want and need to improve. Perhaps you do to. But how should we do it? Here’s a simple suggestion: pick a watchword.

After reading my post on FOCUS, my coworker, Colleen, told me her word for the year actually was “focus.” It struck me, this is a great and relatively easy way to center your mind and actions on a singular thing. 

Pick one word, write it down somewhere you’ll see it all the time and continue to reflect upon it. Are the things you’re doing line up with that goal?

Like my coworker, you could have one word for the year, or even for the month, maybe just the week. Whatever the case, pick one which means something to you and helps you prioritize your priorities.

 

If you're wondering, my word is: Onomatopoeia.

Kidding, kidding. I don't even know how I'd live that out, just making strange noises all the time. But I already do that, quite well might I add. No, my actual word, for realsies, is:

Persistent

From dictionary.com

  1. persisting, especially in spite of opposition, obstacles,discouragement, etc.; persevering

  2. lasting or enduring tenaciously

  3. constantly repeated; continued

     

So there you have it, persistent.  

Say, what's your word?

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

F.O.C.U.S.

[original photo by  Alison Burrell ]

[original photo by Alison Burrell]

I’m not sure if she’s the one who invented the acronym, but I saw this from Rebecca Matter, President of American Writers & Artists Inc. in an email article she’d written. When I first read it, I knew it was a keeper:

F.O.C.U.S.

Follow One Course Until Successful

Acronyms can sometimes come off as contrived or hokey, but this one really rings true for me. In a world so full of distractions, I find focus, or should I say, FOCUS (yes, I’m shouting it) to be of greater importance now than ever. 

These days, so many things clamor for our attention, it's stinkin' hard to have stick-to-it-ness, or to follow my wife's sound (and frequent) advice, "one thing at a time, honey."

But how do we do one thing at a time? How many projects have you begun only to eventually lose track of because you lost focus? How many fell by the wayside because you didn’t stay the course? I’ve goat a metric busload of them myself (busload was an auto-correct, but I’ve decided to keep it—no idea where the goat came from though). There is something powerful, sacred even, about maintaining focus—being single-minded. 

There isn’t a person out there who couldn’t benefit from this practice. But why is focus (or FOCUS) so hard? Perhaps our goals aren’t clear enough, or we don’t want them badly enough. Maybe our priorities are a little off. Could be all those advertisements and temptations have gotten the better of us. Whatever the case, it’s time to zero in, to batter (or batten, if you must) down the hatches, to rustle up the chickens, to … you get the idea. It’s time to pick a course and follow it until successful.

Imagine you’re a pilot with dreams of traveling the world. Well, if you’ve got a license, aircraft, fuel and the right skills, you can. What if you’re on the way to London when, halfway through, you decide you’d rather go to Australia. You change course and start going there. But then, two hours away, you decide Tokyo might be more interesting for a first stop, so you redirect once more. What’ll happen if you keep this up? You won’t go anywhere and eventually you’ll run out of fuel and crash into the big blue. The same happens in life: every time you switch gears, you’re exhausting resources while not really getting anywhere. Here’s the thing: like a pilot, you can go just about anywhere, but you can only go one place at a time. Pick your destination and go. If something changes on the way (say the airport is closed due to weather conditions), so be it, but either way, you’ve got to land somewhere so pick a new destination (one nearby) and go there instead.

This practice of focus works just as much in daily life as it does for projects with a longer timeline. We might get halfway through an online article, jump to Facebook to check if someone has liked our status, hop on our email, switch to our favorite game app for a few turns, all while we were in the process of getting dressed for the day. Instead of this frantic attempt at multitasking, let’s move with purpose: pick one thing and do it until it’s done, then move on to the next, with purpose.

Maybe you get caught up on the last part, successful. Everything can’t always end up a success, right? Tis true. Then I suggest you follow the course you’ve set until you reach a natural end—a conclusion. Every good book comes to a conclusion, even if it isn’t a happy one; it’s clear the story has ended and it would make no sense for anything more to be written in that particular narrative. So it is with any task you may take on. You’ve got to stick to it until you have a darn good reason not to. But when the time comes to let go, cut your ties (and your losses) and move on to the next thing. If we allow the things we’ll never finish cling to us, we become like a hot-air balloon with too many sandbags attached, barely getting off the ground. Time to drop them and soar high.

Let’s all work at eliminating distractions and moving onward with FOCUS (sorry about all the shouting, really). Pick one thing and stick to it until you reach the end, whatever it may be. If you do, I know you’ll be surprised at the progress you make, and what you learn in the process.

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, what is one area in your life where you could use more FOCUS? Let us know in the comments below.