This is part of our Rich Habits series, by best-selling author Tom Corley. Be sure to check out all previous habits we’ve covered!
Most people are completely oblivious to their own behaviors, habits and thinking, as well as the actions of others and their surroundings. Study after study has been conducted regarding this, and a phrase has since been dubbed to describe it: In-attentional Blindness. The main cause of In-attentional Blindness is the conscious brain’s inability to multi-task – to consciously do two things once. We are only able to consciously focus on one thing at a time. Everything else simply fades away, ignored by our conscious mind. Our brain’s Reticular Activating System (RAS) blocks all sensory input, other than that input needed to complete a task or to help us with something we are intensely focused on, such as a goal. This RAS will only deviate from this filtering function when something unexpected or novel comes to its attention. While this might appear to be an inherent deficiency, it isn’t. The power to focus and ignore almost everything outside our focus is why humanity has been able to send a man to the moon, build the Brooklyn Bridge, split the atom and achieve so much more.
The Ability to Focus So Intently on One Thing is Our Strength
It is the reason why famous, successful people like James Cameron (director of the Terminator movies, Titanic and Avatar) Jim Carrey (famous comedian/actor) and J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter author) can lift themselves out of incredible poverty and magically transform themselves into self-made millionaires. All three, at one time, were so poor their home was their car. Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals hold on to the belief that it is virtually impossible for a poor person to break free of poverty and become rich. Any individual who accepts this belief is unable to use the power of focus to rid themselves of their adverse financial circumstances. And that is unfortunate, because the power of focus is a great escape hatch. It can lift almost any individual out of the direst of financial circumstances. Successful people understand that you cannot achieve any goal without intense, uninterrupted focus. Most unsuccessful people, however, spend a vast majority of their time multi-tasking, which only distracts them from performing important tasks. Those which you should be doing every day that move you one step forward in achieving some goal or life dream. Successful people understand that in order to accomplish important tasks, they need to isolate blocks of uninterrupted time during their day to engage in intense focus. They know that distractions pull you away from your most important tasks.
The Two Types of Focus
Let me expand a little on focus. There are two types at play:
- Forced Focus
- Unforced Focus
Forced Focus relies on the new brain, our conscious brain, also known as the neocortex. With Forced Focus we rely on willpower, which has a short life – usually two to three hours at a time. Using willpower to focus our attention on something rapidly drains the brain of glucose (brain fuel), so the brain does not like using willpower. It prefers emotion power, which is released by a much more powerful type of focus called Unforced Focus. Unforced Focus does not rely on willpower, the energy source that comes from our new brain. Instead, it relies on emotion, the energy source that comes from our old brain. Unforced Focus occurs when we pursue something we are very passionate about and which stirs our emotions. It enables us to learn at an accelerated rate because it enables us to engage in extended periods of uninterrupted focus. New knowledge and new skills are easier to obtain when we are in the flow of Unforced Focus. Unforced Focus is the most intense type of focus you can have. Edison had it, Tesla had it, Einstein had it and Steve Jobs had it. People who are able to tap into Unforced Focus can work on something with laser beam attention for long hours, days, weeks and even decades. When you are in the presence of Unforced Focus you know it, as you are unable to pull yourself away from an activity. The key to turning on Unforced Focus is the pursuit of a dream or the goals behind a dream. Successful people are better able to harness this than others. Unsuccessful people do not pursue goals, a purpose or a dream. As a result, they are never able to take advantage of the incredible power of Unforced Focus. They have to rely on willpower-driven Forced Focus and are literally using only a part of their brain.
Successful people understand that in order to accomplish important tasks, they need to isolate blocks of uninterrupted time to engage in intense focus. Unsuccessful people, however, spend a vast majority of their time multi-tasking, which only distracts them more.