When you hear the word concentration, what do you think of? Maybe a goal keeper defending the net on the soccer field, Charlize Theron cracking the safe in The Italian Job, or a high-stakes Sudoku puzzle? It’s true; each of these situations require this challenging and valuable skill. But would it surprise you at all if I told you that these additional scenarios could benefit from concentration: driving to work, listening to your favorite podcast, preparing dinner, or catching up on an episode of Fixer Upper – wait a second! You watch Fixer Upper to unwind? You don’t want to have to concentrate during it? Guess what: that’s how I unwind, too. AND I utilize my concentration skills while doing so. If your mind isn’t completely blown yet, let me explain:
To make it easier, let’s lay some ground rules down for what concentration even is. What does it mean? To put it most simply, concentration is: prioritizing your focus. Are you focusing on the right things at the right time? So if I flip the channel over to HGTV because I’m interested in learning how to gut a bathroom or how many things can go wrong while renovating a house, there are certain things that I’ll want to focus on. OR if what I’m really there for is Chip’s antics, the Gaines’ relationship dynamic, and the before & after shots, I’m going to prioritize my focus in a completely different way.
In a scenario like this one, chances are you’ve already trained your brain to focus on the right things at the right time – meaning, you probably don’t need to practice watching HGTV (however, on the off chance that you do, I’m down to join you for a Flip or Flop marathon). But do you realize what that means? You practice your concentration skills every day, and you may not even know it! Do you know what else is cool? You’re practicing a pattern. And patterns are great because all you have to do is switch out the variables. Watch this:
“When I _______________ I’ll prioritize my focus on ________ and _________.”
“When I watch Fixer Upper I’ll prioritize my focus on Chip’s jokes and the family’s reaction when they see their fixer upper.”
“When I am up to bat I’ll prioritize my focus on my grip on the bat and the ball as the pitcher releases it.”
“When I am giving a presentation I’ll prioritize my focus on eye contact and pacing my speech.”
Now, it might seem obvious that these are the things on which we should prioritize our focus. But do you know when it becomes less obvious? When it’s the bottom of the 9th and I step up to the plate. When my classmate is wrapping up his speech and I know that I’m next in line to go up there in front of the class. It’s in these moments that I could use a reminder. It’s in these moments that I wish I would have filled in the blanks above.
To ensure that you’re approaching and practicing your concentration skills in the most effective way, there are two key aspects to keep in mind:
1. Two or Three. Depending on the task/performance/event, it’s most helpful to pick 2 or 3 things to focus on. Anything more than that and it no longer becomes “prioritized” – rather, it remains a list of things that are important, but your brain isn’t able to sort them out at the right times. These 2 or 3 things will vary from one task to the next. From one sport to the next. From one competition to the next. Consider what the task at hand involves, what the pivotal movements/actions/steps are, and what will benefit you the most to focus on. Write them down.
2. Cues. Once you’ve established what those 2 or 3 things are, you’ve written them down, create a “cue” for them. Assign a word, a phrase, a movement, a sound, to each thing so that when you are preparing to compete, or you lose focus during a presentation, or you find your mind wandering, you can repeat the cue and bring your focus back to the most important things.
The process of enhancing your concentration skills may sound like a daunting task that requires energy and effort and time that you may not have – and it does, to an extent. BUT the purpose of this post is to uncover the fact that you are already equipped with this skill set, you simply need to apply the pattern to the things that could truly benefit from it. What I’m basically saying here is that if you can watch House Hunters and prioritize what you focus on, you can complete any other task/performance with the concentration of a tennis pro. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.