While working on my second book, Playing on Higher Ground, I’ve been researching the Performance Psychology literature on present moment focus (PMF) for one of the chapters.
What I’ve learned, in simplest terms, is that outstanding focus leads to outstanding performance.
This isn’t breaking news, yet, when’s the last time we set out to develop greater focus in order to perform better in life or sport?
Another way of asking this – when’s the last time we recognized and did something about all the distractions hindering us from mentally being where we need to be when we need to be there?
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing with you what I’m learning about being present and some keys to developing greater present moment focus (PMF).
To focus means to give your full attention to the exact task in front of you.
To fully focus is to truly focus.
You’ve been reading this email for less than a minute but has your focus already drifted to something else or has it been fully devoted to each word to the point that you could recite the definition of focus you just read in bold above without looking?
Learning Point #1 The present moment is always happening in the eternal now. The question becomes… how often are you here for it?
In order to be present you must first appreciate that it’s happening and then have the intent of being here for it
Sounds too simple, right?
Well, simple doesn’t indicate easy.
Here’s a first draft excerpt from Playing on Higher Ground where mentor Marcus Mack is teaching college athlete Jacoby Johnson how to become more present. Pay special attention to the paragraph highlighted in blue…
“Jacoby, how are you?” Mack said in his familiar comforting voice.
“I think the better question of late is where am I?” I joked. “Today, my mind was in a million places except where it needed to be out there on the mound. I’m still having trouble playing in the present moment. I understand the concept but sometimes I find it hard to put it into practice.”
“You used a good word there – practice. What does practice mean to you?”
After some thought I offered, “To do something over and over again?”
“Practice implies regularity. It means to intentionally apply what you’ve been taught on a regular basis until it becomes habit. You might know what it means to be present but now you need to make a practice of being in the now. The more you do the more proficient you’ll be at staying there.”
“How do I get present?”
“The present moment is an eternal now. It’s always happening. You just have to make a practice of being here for it. The first step in being present is having an awareness of whether you’re here or not and then intentionally bringing your focus back to the present when it drifts. When you acknowledge the present moment and appreciate it’s value you’ll find yourself wanting to be here for it more often,” Mack added.
I grabbed a piece of paper to scribble down some notes even though this first step seemed almost too simple. “Can you give me an example? I feel like I’m typically present.”
“Being present physically takes no effort. We are where we’re at. It’s choosing to be here mentally that takes effort,” he explained. “Let me demonstrate. All I want you to do for the next fifteen seconds is listen to my words as if listening intently to what I’m saying would give you the secret to throwing a perfect game.
Concentrate on every word I say as if memorizing my words and being able to recite them back to me would earn you a million dollars. You’re already more present and focused than you were five seconds ago. Just by being intentional about focusing on my words you’re already learning to appreciate and value the present moment. And relax…”
He was right. There was a difference between listening and listening with intent. It was as if there was an amplifier on my phone flooding out all distractions and allowing me to digest his every word. I wanted to learn the secret to throwing that perfect game and earning a million dollars. “I see what you mean. Having that intent magnifies the moment in my mind. By the way, is there really a secret to throwing a perfect game?”
Did you find yourself getting sucked into the highlighted paragraph as Mack asks Jacoby to listen with intent? Did you find your focus naturally getting sharper?
If you did, you might’ve noticed yourself slowing down and digesting each word. You might’ve heard a voice reading to you which might’ve had the additional benefit of blocking out any distractions attempting to steal your focus.
That’s being present.
Why is it so hard? Because being present takes effort. Yet, as we continue to make a practice of being present it will become easier to devote our full attention to the task or person in front of us and block out any distractions. More on distractions next time.
KEY #1 to developing present moment focus:
Recognize and appreciate it’s happening and have the intent to be here for it
Challenge: Set 3 reminders on your phone for 3 separate times throughout the day you want to be reminded to check in with you to see where your mind’s at and to pause for 15 seconds to take 2 big cleansing breathes in through the nose down into the belly and slowly out through the mouth.
Breathing happens in the present. Doing this will remind you to be here now. Do this a little a lot and you’ll be well on your way to developing greater present moment focus.
Presently dedicated to your thought life:)
PS…Homework – think about a time when you were totally immersed in an activity. What was it like and what lead you to be engulfed in the moment? Also, think about a time you were totally distracted…like when you read my emails:) what’s it like to be completely distracted and what lead to you being distracted? We will cover these topics next time:)