Have you noticed how difficult it can be at times to maintain your focus and attention while training? Your thoughts wander and you seem to have no control over them. Well it turns out there is an actual battle going on in your head for your attention.
The primary criterion our minds use to decide where to pay attention to is relevance. What’s most important at this moment? The problem is you have three different systems all trying to decide what is most important.
The first is habitual reactions. These are ways in which your environment affects your thoughts and behaviors causing you to move like a puppet. An example of this would be a glass with your favorite beverage on the table in front of you. Out of habit you will want to pick it up and drink it. When training what things are you doing out of habit regardless of whether or not it is appropriate for the moment?
The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus. -Bruce Lee
The second is the reward system, basically pleasure and pain, what you like and don’t like. This system is very reactive to novelty and information, think people on their phones. In training you see this in students who always want to see what’s next instead of working the current drill. Their lack of focus creates boredom. What things do you avoid and lose focus on because you don’t like them? What things do you gravitate to and use because you like them even when they are not the subject of training?
Concentration is the ability to think about absolutely nothing when it is absolutely necessary. -Ray Knight
The third is the executive system which is the main stabiliser of attention and works for as long as our initial intention to pay attention to something is held in memory. The problem is obviously the competing intentions from other objectives from the other systems. This is where your real training is needed. You must learn to keep one clear intention at a time in order to keep the neurons firing and you focused.
This was the point of my Nose Tag session at Festival, it was a series of exercises designed to keep your attention focused and on target as distractions are thrown at you. It illustrates the difference between overt attention and covert attention, which I’ll get into next time.
Focus and simplicity…once you get there, you can move mountains. -Steve Jobs