It is said that on any given day, one can have anywhere between 50-70K thoughts. Think about that for just a moment, 50-70,000 thoughts per day! If we take 50k, divide that by 16 (avg hours awake per day) and then divide that number by 60 minutes… we find that on any given minute of time, we experience around 50 different thoughts.
So, when you tell me you are struggling to concentrate or focus… That seems pretty easy to understand. Regardless to business, life or even as a triathlete, a lack of focus or concentration will have a negative impact on your performance, even if you don’t recognize it. Concentration is act of focusing, which is a learned skill of not responding or being distracted by stimuli which is irrelevant.
The best performance is “present” focus. When we focus on the past or the future, performance will be greatly reduced (i.e. anxiety, depression). Honestly, there are only two options when it comes to how we handle stimuli. We either decrease or increase our attention to it. Whether one increases or decreases their attention depends greatly on the habits they have created, usually without noticing. It is not if/when we lose focus, it is how quickly we can stop and regain focus that leads us to higher performance.
The key to focus is in selective awareness, that is, knowing which stimuli to attend to and which to ignore. The four main areas of focus include Narrow, Broad, Internal and External.
Narrow – focusing on one single thing with laser beam focus
Broad – Seeing everything including peripheral
Internal – thoughts and feelings
External - object based (the next tree while running)
The area of focus is solely dependent upon the situation. Triathletes tend to focus better in the narrow/external field.
The interesting thing about our focus is we seem to find what we are primed for. What we focus on or seek, we create. This also works in reverse. If I tell you to not focus on the white elephant at the zoo, you will in turn imagine seeing a white elephant. It’s more important to focus on what you want than to focus on what you want to avoid. The question is then, if you seem to break your focus by recognizing something, are you subconsciously seeking it?
It can be hard for triathletes to focus during training and competition due to the long hours spent on both. The reality is we were never trained on how to focus. As if we were left to fend for ourselves. This is your time to put in the hard work. This is where you can go from good to great!
Here are a few things to help build focus. Understand this will be challenging for many. That is why you should WANT to do this.
- Manage your time appropriately. Oftentimes we lose focus because have many things going on at once. Take the time to schedule things out so that you can focus on the task at hand.
- Take breathers from technology. We are in the age of instant gratification and over stimulation. Are you married to your phone or computer? Do you struggle putting it down for a few minutes? Take time-outs from technology each day to give your mind a break.
- Exercise - While sitting, imagine looking at an object (in your mind only) that has some level of detail. You can imagine looking at an apple, watch, a pen or whatever you would like. The intent of this exercise it to spend 5 minutes focusing on it, thinking about it. If you do not have a strong focus, you will find 5 minute to be challenging. Focus for as long as you can on it, in your mind, and as you notice a shift, stop and go back to the object. Practice this regularly over and over until you get to 5 minutes. Once you have accomplished 5 minutes, move to 10 minutes. Continue to push the time as you get better and better.
- Count in your mind from 100 down to 0. This is not as automatic as 0 to 100 so you must think about it. In doing so, count down until you find yourself shifting away. Once you shift, go back to 100 and start over again. You want to be able to get all the way to zero.
- When you are training, you can use words to help focus. For example, when you are running. Continue to say “relax” in your mind over and over and over.
- As you train, lock onto the sensation of your body as it trains. Lock onto how it feels on a physiological (total body) level.
- Focusing is all about self talk, when you are thinking in your head you are really just talking to yourself. You control your thinking which leads you to focusing on your self talk. Make sure it is always positive. Negative self talk is distraction and causes you to lose focus
Whatever it is you are thinking about is your focus. Choose wisely to ensure peak performance. Now, get out there and get to work!