The “I can’t focus” Syndrome

One of the most common challenges raised by business owners and other people pursuing a venture is the “I can’t focus or do things consistently” challenge. This is another variation on the classic problem of not being able to get to the gym often enough.

The common solution? Discipline. This word is often linked with the ability to focus or to do things consistently to reach a goal. It’s not a bad definition. It just doesn’t tell us what discipline is for or the many ways discipline goes wrong. In addition, we carry childhood baggage associating discipline with a form of punishment. It’s why going to the gym, writing on a blog regularly, or doing your marketing can feel like a form of punishment.

Discipline has a higher and far more powerful meaning. Consider the discipline of medicine or the discipline of masonry. In this case, we are referring to the accumulated knowledge and skills obtained over generations of inquisitive scientists or stone craftsmen.

Seen in this light, we can find some clues as to how and why people focus. On the radio, I was listening to an interview with internationally renowned chocolatier Bernard Callebaut. It turns out that he is continuously evolving his recipe, trying different cocoa beans, different formulations, adding or removing ingredients. He does so because it is his craft. He does so to create better chocolates and (I would assume) to elevate his skill. Focusing is a by-product of the desire to do better.

Although the disciplines of chocolate-making, medicine, and masonry are all very different in its output, the learning process is much the same: develop understanding, practice well, learn from others past and present, experiment and test, take on progressively more difficult challenges. Discipline is, at its core then, a continuous process for figuring out what is helpful and what isn’t.

How the boundaries of “helpful” is defined makes a big difference. Let’s say that you had difficulty getting to the gym. The reasons you give might be, “I don’t have time.” or “I can’t get up in the morning.” However, the underlying cause could be a lack of a good reason for exercising in the first place. Perhaps you don’t know how to exercise. It could be that you haven’t had a lot of practice doing things without being told to do.

The problem is most people (including me) don’t understand how they develop good habits or disciplines. We’re use to someone telling us what to do. So when someone comes to me and says, “I can’t focus”, what I really hear is “I don’t know what the discipline of discipline-making is.”

Medicine didn’t sprout from one person’s head in a moment of inspiration. It took a long time to figure out how disease is transmitted or that vitamin deficiency is a different form of illness. Likewise, it takes time to figure out how we work and what keeps us focused or not. Maybe you need to sleep earlier, or you need a partner to train with, or you need a compelling reason, but that is up to you to figure out.

Try this exploratory question. What if you viewed the work of “making yourself” as a craft? What if you are in the process of shaping and molding your own thoughts and feelings? Then, like Mr. Callebaut, you would be patient, be focused, and be endlessly curious in the pursuit of a better self.

Chris Hsiung
U Venture
Better Life… Better Business

Sing the song in your heart…

A coach is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

The original quote was about being a friend. Nevertheless, the essence of the message is the same. We need influences in our life that remind us of the best of who we are because it can be so incredibly difficult to stay motivated, to stay focused, to stay true in the midst of chaos and even in the midst of opportunity.

I left behind my old job title of software developer to claim the new title human venture coach, one who attempts to connect the best of human and life learning to individuals. This road has led to rich new experiences, new learning, and new opportunities. One such opportunity was the possibility of taking on the role of business coach. It was the perfect job with incredible people and incredible new learning possibilities. For awhile I seriously considered it.

But then my coach sang my song back to me, and I realized I had no choice but to deny that opportunity.

I have more to go on my journey! As I and other dreamers work to build a human venture institute, I realized that this is something I cannot help but invest my heart and soul into. Other opportunities can wait for this moment. Perhaps I will go back to them. Perhaps not.

Ever have moments where you feel as if you can’t quite find what that song is? Does the temptation feel overwhelmingly comfortable? This might be a good time for someone to sing your song back to you.

How to develop consistency of action

It’s surprising how difficult it is to develop a new habit, but learning how to do it well is a skill well worth developing. Literally anything important that we aim to accomplish in the future requires creating the habits today.

The moral of the story behind the turtle and the rabbit race should be less “slow and steady wins the race” and more “slow and steady develops great habits which can then help you win races”. This lesson is becoming harder and harder for our society to learn because we are use to getting everything quickly. A few keystrokes will get us the information we need. A bit of money will buy whatever you need.

But relationships cannot be bought or developed instantaneously. Our bodies can’t be transformed on a dime. Nor can our ideas be forced to drip from our minds and take shape without incubation.

So are you trying to develop a consistency of action? Here are a few tips I’ve found helps:

  • Be clear about the capacity you want to develop and the habit needed to develop it. The habits for developing a healthy body are clear, but what about the habits for a healthy mind? What done consistently over time will actually generate results?
  • Be specific and concrete about the habit. If it’s reading a book, then what kind of book? How many pages will you read? What notes will you take?
  • Make it easy and convenient to do. I leave my guitar at the top of my stairs so that I see it every day. When I need a short break, I pick up the guitar and practice a few chords.
  • Initially, don’t be too concerned about quality. Just do something, anything. Get in your 15 minutes of working out even it’s jumping jacks in your basement because you don’t have time to get to the gym. Force yourself to write just a single line in your blog even when you can’t think of anything.
  • Know that anything we do will initially feel difficult to do, but once the habit is developed, it becomes easier to do. Our unconscious is not developed in a day!
  • When the habit becomes routine, try to one-up it so that it is a little more challenging. When twenty push-ups become easy, reach for thirty push-ups. When calling three people a day about your business becomes easy, try doing it in less time.
  • Be accountable to someone, something, or some idea. Coaches hold accountability, but so do friends or the dream inside you that you remember every day.

These are just a few tips. How do you develop consistency of action every day?

What enables us to change our behaviour?

  • Awareness of behaviour we want to change
  • Awareness of what triggers poor responses and why
  • Reframing experiences
  • Pressure from our peers
  • Encouragement from our peers
  • Pressure from cultural norms
  • Encouragement from our cultural norms
  • Confidence in own ability
  • Willingness to find a better way
  • Comfort with uncertainty
  • Linking habits and conduct with outcome
  • Hitting rock bottom
  • Understanding of how success is achieved
  • Sleeping, eating, and exercising well
  • Self-reflection, self-Awareness
  • Letting others tell us what to do
  • Practicing the new behaviour
  • Remembering what is important in life
  • Self-scrutiny applied with kindness
  • Encountering a deep injustice
  • Stepping back and seeing the bigger more meaningful picture
  • Knowing how to change self from past experience
  • Choosing to take responsibility

What have you found that works?

Where is your final frontier?

Every child grows up dreaming of a frontier that they will explore: a dark forest, an abandoned house, or a secret tunnel. These dreams might be captured in the old Star Trek flying at warp speed into deep space, or stepping into a saloon in the Wild West, or diving in the depths of The Abyss.

dragonWe grow up on myths and fairy tales now even though there must have been a time when the frontiers were clearly marked on a map: “Here There Be Dragons!”

Nevertheless, that part of us that refuses to stay put, that yearns to test our strengths against that of the unknown lives on and must find expression. A child cannot grow without testing his or her limits. An adult stagnates when experience becomes routine and predictable.

Today, we can travel to foreign countries with relative ease or be flown to the tops of mountains or be plunked into the middle of a rain forest. Exciting experiences to be sure, but the frontier does not exist only abroad.

The frontier exists within us too.

It is easy to succeed in this world without ever knowing who you are, what fears limit you, what blindspots you possess, or even what you are capable of.

What if you stopped and took a look around. What do you think is important and needs doing? What makes you think that you can’t do anything about it? What do you tell yourself? What is the boundary you put up? What would it be like to play a little bit beyond that boundary?

Give it some serious thought. Where are your final frontiers? Isn’t it time for an expedition?