The power of focus: success, defeat, success

Early yesterday morning, I enjoyed a jog around the one-mile path at our township park. In the middle of one lap, I encountered a person walking toward me in the opposite direction. This person, who wore all of the suitable fitness attire, was walking a dog, carrying papers, and talking on a call using their speakerphone. It appeared that they were attempting to accomplish at least four objectives all at the same time, on the narrow path we now shared.

As the distance between us shortened, the dog began barking on one side of the path while the leash stretched across to the owner standing on the other side; the owner clutched papers in their other hand and explained the commotion to someone on the other end of their call. After sidestepping all of this, I returned to our shared path where I soon spotted a doggie-doo bag in the middle of the walkway. I assumed the prominent location would remind the dog owner to pick up the bag on their final loop.

Multi-tasking now appears to be a myth, like equating being busy with being effective. “Much recent neuroscience research tells us that the brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously, as we thought (hoped) it might. In fact, we just switch tasks quickly. Each time we move from hearing music to writing a text or talking to someone, there is a stop/start process that goes on in the brain” (Napier Ph.D., 2014, para. 2).

Multitasking simply does not work as advertised. It can make us look bad or negatively impact those around us. The effect of trying to multitask, can be less than ideal on the individual. “That start/stop/start process is rough on us: rather than saving time, it costs time (even very small micro seconds), it’s less efficient, we make more mistakes, and over time it can be energy sapping” (Napier Ph.D., 2014, para. 3).

The person on the jogging path seemed nice enough, but they sure looked frazzled. I imagine that the person on the other end of the conference call wasn’t impressed with the background noise.  Unfortunately, the doggie-doo bag remained in the center of the jogging path, after this person left the park. Jogging past the bag, I began thinking about focus and multi-tasking and I completely forgot what lap I was on!

To be sure, I own my own lapse of focus. All-in-all, I achieved good results that morning. My time in the park included success, defeat (not defeated) and success again. Here’s how:

1.     Success

  •  I was there! You must show up to be in the game. To quote Tommy speaking to Frank Papale in the movie Invincible: “Even if you’re down there for an hour, you’re down there”. (You don’t need to be an Eagles fan to love this movie!)
  • During my jog, I enjoyed focusing on things that I often missed. Along the path, I said hello to a smiling neighbor. I enjoyed the views of a gorgeous morning sky. I also took notice of the sounds of cicadas and birds which I imagined were cheering me on. Finally, while jogging past a playground, I enjoyed seeing two youngsters navigate the monkey bars and hearing them holler, “Mom, look at me!”

2.    Defeat (not defeated):

  • Despite having a clear distance objective in mind, I missed my mark by one mile.
  • Seeing the frazzled, multitasking dog walker, I began to ponder the principles and benefits of focus, so much so that I shifted my focus and lost track of my own mileage.

3.    Success

  • I laughed off the irony of losing my count but felt satisfied that based on the duration of my jog, I completed four of my five target miles.
  • Leaving the park, I enjoyed the sounds of driving on a gravel road, windows down, on a summer morning.
  • My next scheduled jog is a few days away and I plan to remain focused on things that matter, including my lap count!
  • Oh, I almost forgot. I picked up the doggie-doo bag on my last lap and tossed it into the park dumpster.

by Charlie Anderson

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References

Napier Ph.D., N. K. (2014, May 12). The myth of multitasking. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creativity-without-borders/201405/the-myth-multitasking

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