One of the most valuable skills today is the ability to focus. It improves the quality of your thinking, your conversations and your relationships with others. Being present and concentrating on what is right in front of us can seem impossible. It seems that our brain races off on its own, instantaneously starting a “dialogue” that goes inside our heads, making assumptions about what’s being said, formulating responses and opinions. It’s a natural reaction to agree or disagree almost immediately. It’s quick and it’s efficient and absolutely critical in making the thousands of tiny decisions we face every day. But how do we find that inner focus when we need it? When we don’t want our distracted thinking? When quick judgements don’t lead to the best outcomes?
Here’s a simple process to help you decrease distraction and practice better focus – I call it the FANS approach.
- Focus without judgment. Simply observe what is present, what is right in front of you, without coming to any judgement or opinions.
- Awareness. Observe closely all the details and issues at play and how they connect.
- Narrow attention. Intentionally hone your attention to what the critical variables are that will determine success.
- Story. Create a story or a mental model of the situation, including the variables, next steps, and expectations.
The first three steps seem fairly obvious, but do we take the time to do this? Are we methodical in our focus or just slapdash? And the forth tip is key. It’s a key aspect of sense making. Competent and experienced advisors, including a coach can help you work through mental models to enhance performance and agility.
Studies reveal that people who create mental pictures of a situation maintain focus better and demonstrate greater cognitive flexibility – fluidity in both quick and deep thinking and faster and more accurate anticipation of issues. In today’s 24/7 world, faced with a constant stream of incoming stimuli and distractions, mental models help triage information and offer choices as to where to direct attention. Better decisions can replace indiscriminate reactions….which all lead to better outcomes.
What’s it like where you work? Is it getting harder to focus on what truly matters? How do you maintain focus? I’d love to hear from you.