“Concentration comes out of a combination of
confidence and hunger.”
Success isn’t hocus pocus, it’s focus focus – that’s how one motivational speaker whimsically describes the ability to bring intense, single-pointed mental energy to a task. When it comes to focus – during practice or when under pressure – no one knows more about it than athletes. And they have a lot to teach us as writers. Here’s the good news: according to peak performance coaches: the power to summon up talent and skill on demand isn’t innate – it’s an acquired skill.
Training the mind to be totally focused in the moment isn’t easy, but that’s exactly what outstanding athletes are supremely skilled at: they are able to screen out external “noise,” manage pressure, and bring laser-like attention to their task. They also know the importance of preparation and practice in building the confidence that fuels concentration and improves performance.
How do we strengthen our concentration muscles? First, by committing ourselves to work that challenges and engages us. Second, by practicing the skills we want to sharpen – whether improving our ability to create a sense of place or juicing up our dialogue. Third, by restricting distractions such as email and tweets, which can easily erode our focus.
And finally, by training our “opportunistic emotions – the emotions of fun, gratitude, hope, and optimism. These upbeat emotions make it easier to zero in on what’s happening in the moment – and also boost our powers of concentration. In contrast, responding to pressure or events with downbeat emotions, such as anger, frustration or fear can actually impair our ability to concentrate. So watch your self-talk and take a tip from the Blue Angels. When they hit stormy weather, these flying aces don’t call it “turbulence” because this word has a negative connotation – they’ll simply say, “looks like we have texture up here.” Turbulence vs. texture: what a difference a word makes!