“Beware of dissipating your powers; strive constantly to concentrate them.”
~Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832, German poet, dramatist, novelist)
A Japanese proverb has it that if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both. This is a good description of the problem of distracted pursuit. Do you know people who do this? Have you experienced it yourself?
The worst thing is not when the rabbits get away, but when you actually pursue and catch one that turns out to be the one that you did not want. Meanwhile your real dream has slipped away. If you are in the wrong job or career, you know exactly what this feels like.
The problem actually lies deeper, in the mind which pursues goals in the first place. Truly successful people concentrate and attract the rabbits to them.
“When you fully focus your mind, you make others attracted to you.”
~ Toba Beta, Betelgeuse Incident
Another Japanese proverb has it that perseverance prevails (Ishi no ue ni mo san nen, literally “it takes 3 years to warm up a rock”). Despite the traditional wisdom that it takes time and concentration to achieve something worthwhile, technology seems to be rushing us in the opposite direction.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, a prominent Neuroscientist at Oxford warned that the Internet and Social Media may be rewiring our brains toward hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder (ADD). Three years on a rock has been super compressed to the 3-second rule on the Internet, the time it takes web surfers to make a decision whether to stay or click away. The question to ask is, are we grounding or floundering when we scatter our attention in this way?
The 10,000 hour rule
Research from both Cambridge and Harvard supports the idea that expertise in any field depends more on years of deliberate practice than on inborn talent. The 10,000 hour rule suggests that it takes about 4 hours a day of deep concentrated practice with skilled coaching over a 10 year period to achieve a level of world class expertise or performance.
This fits the traditional view of discipline in the Japanese arts, where 10 years is actually considered a relatively short time to have practiced a traditional martial or performing art. By that standard, the average person today could scarcely qualify as a curious passerby.
Is Attention Deficit a disorder or a myth?
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), hyperactivity combined with lack of ability to concentrate, is officially ordained as a psychological disorder. That diagnosis has led to the prescription of the drug Ritalin to now over a million children in the United States. Dr. David Keisey, professor of behavioral sciences at the University of California at Fullerton, and author of the bestselling book on Temperament Please Understand Me, wrote an article exposing this widespread practice, The Evil Practice of Narcotherapy for Attention Deficit. This article seriously raises the question that the phenomenon of ADD may be a grossly misconstrued myth, which has led to the untenable practice of drugging hyperactive children into submission, despite serious long-term side effects that could wound an entire generation.
And yet predisposition to ADD behavior may actually be built into our media and lifestyle, where technology and lifestyle choices encourage us to concentrate very briefly on many things at once. Checking e-mail during a meeting, watching TV while eating dinner, or listening to music while falling asleep may seem like perfectly normal behavior. But increasingly this habit of dividing attention between several things at once is leading to dangerous behavior like distracted driving, that is eating, drinking, reading, texting, talking on a cell phone, or even putting on make up while driving. It comes in 3 forms visual distraction: taking your eyes off of the road, manual distraction: taking your hands off the wheel, and mental distraction: taking your mind off of the task of driving. Even though it is inadvisable, and sometimes illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving, it is not uncommon to see.
What to focus on?
A good rule of thumb is to take your To Do List, all of the musts and shoulds and coulds in your mind, and squeeze it for all it is worth. That is, reduce it to size with the 80/20 Rule, by concentrating on the 20% of activities, ideas, and people that yield 80% of the benefits and results in your life. This is easier said than done. Can you really say no to the 80% of the things and people who compete for your time and attention? Can you attend to the 20% that matter most?
One thing that can help you decide and act appropriately is to shift your attention from What you should do, and focus on Why?, as recommended by Peter M. Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline. It is said that if you met Steve Jobs in the elevator at Apple, your answer to his simple question, “Why are you working at Apple?,” determined whether or not you kept your job.
Bringing peace to the monkey mind
According to Wikipedia, the definition of the Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable.” It is an ancient concept, suggesting that it is a fundamental part of the human experience. How we deal with this restless inner state is the key to our happiness and productivity. The scatter brain can never sit still long enough to appreciate deeply or perform at a high level.
A key question to ask yourself is, Where does the Monkey Mind reside? Is it inside you, or built into the fabric of society? Wherever you find it, what will you do to bring it under control? Fortunately, there is a far better and more natural solution than Ritalin, and it is found right in our own bodies.
Dr. William Bloom is the author of The Endorphin Effect, a book which led to breakthroughs in healthcare and personal development. This book shows how visualization and awareness can release endorphins in your body, which will heal, energize, and revitalize your life.
Dr Bloom outlines five triggers that release endorphins, and all of them are accessible to us in daily life.
- Enjoyable thoughts or activity
- Inner smile with whole body
- Deep and conscious rest
- Connection with natural world
- Engage in physical exercise
Endorphins is a natural ambrosia that we can produce with our own bodies, that is highly responsive to our emotional and physical awareness, and which can soothe even the beast that bothers us through the Monkey Mind.
Lastly, as a solution to the problem of goal pursuit in which the divided mind chases after two rabbits and loses them both, the calm mind is able to attract the rabbits by being calm and focused.
“For him who has no concentration, there is no tranquility.”
~Bhagavad Gita (c. BC 400-, Sanskrit poem)
Download a CONCENTRATION MANDALA which summarizes the ideas in this article, and serves as a reminder on how to practically apply the principles.
specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus
column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path
and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life
. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation
, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.