When it’s time to focus, it’s not always easy. Distractions are literally everywhere. Admit it, how many of you are reading this blog right now as a distraction from something else you ought to be doing!? I thought so. Luckily, this blog is all about training you to focus so deeply that distractions are no longer an option (or at least much less of one).
Followers of my work know that when you are having a problem, the answer is almost always to get to the roots and then correct the problem. But the other side of the coin can also play a key role – training and honing the skill you want to develop. Today I will offer you some practical steps on how to strengthen your level of focus and build endurance so you can focus for longer periods of time, because the potential distractions aren’t going away.
Social media is a huge contributor, with instant access to entertainment, news, and “research” or “studying”. Not to mention that true research/study can quickly turn into a distraction. As a trader you may start off researching a potential opportunity and quickly get sucked into a wormhole, reading about market predictions. Or as a poker player you can be watching quality videos/articles and then easily veer into clickbaity entertainment. And those are just the tip of the iceberg!
While distractions are real, you can train your focus so that you are less likely to get sucked in by them. I’ll present some ideas differently here but this is a topic I’ve talked about in both The Mental Game of Trading (Chapter 8) and The Mental Game of Poker 2 (Chapter 5) so if you have the books, you can refer back to them.
When Emotions Cause Distractions
Before you start training your focus, you have to first make sure that emotions are not the primary cause of your distraction. Fear, anger, overconfidence, lacking confidence can all create problems with focus. If you are easily distracted, the place to hunt first is the intensity of your emotions. The Yerkes-Dodson Law, a scientific principle, describes the relationship between emotion and performance. When emotions are too high or too low, you can’t hit your optimal performance.
If emotions are too high, you need to do the work to identify and resolve the underlying flaw causing them. Fear may have you obsessively checking twitter or searching the lobbies for a better game. Overconfidence might make you bored and less tuned in. To build better focus in that scenario, you have to first reduce that emotion and sometimes that’s enough, other times you still need to retrain your mind.
That’s where the Mental Hand History comes in, so you can dig into the issue and uncover the cause. Then use Injecting Logic statements to work against the emotion and develop greater consistency.
If emotions aren’t the cause, or you’ve done some work and seen progress, you’re in a position where you can train your focus. Training is also the way to go when your intensity is low – if you’re bored, procrastinating and low on motivation.
For some of you, you might need to train your focus because you have made a lot of progress emotionally and that progress has changed the mixture of what drives your optimal focus. This is the evolution of your mental game, and something I experienced first-hand with my golf game last season.
Having resolved my problems with confidence and fear, I found myself with too little intensity. I was flat in a couple of big tournaments and I didn’t realize it, until noticing that I was more easily distracted by what was going on around me vs. being completely immersed in my process and the shot. Historically my focus was driven by the nerves inherent in the situation or the tournament. Now that my confidence is a lot more solid, I feel less pressure/nerves and have to generate more intensity on my own, in other words, I need to train it. This is my primary mental game goal for this year for golf.
Training Your Focus
Deepening focus can be approached like training your muscles. First, you must assess your current capabilities. What is your baseline level of focus through the ups and downs you experience over the course of several weeks? Don’t just guess. Track how well you sustain focus, how often distractions arise, how quickly you can recover after being distracted, how many breaks you take, when and for how long. Once you know where you are, you can start training with these practical steps:
1. Take Notes: It’s easy to be distracted by things outside of poker, trading or golf. Before you start, do a cool-down for your life. Take notes about anything that’s on your mind and then put them aside, creating a bubble around poker, trading or golf that allows you to be fully immersed.
2. Preparation: As you turn your attention to your performance, start by getting really connected to your goals, both from an overall perspective and for what you are looking to accomplish today, or in a defined period of time. Determine the time period ahead of time, but be realistic. You may want eight straight hours of intense focus, but is that attainable? Start small and build up.
3. Build Over Time: To train your focus follow a similar process of Injecting Logic for an emotional problem, but tweaked slightly. When you find yourself beginning to get distracted, disrupt the momentum by taking a deep breath, standing up, doing some push ups, or whatever readies you to push yourself. Reconnect to your goals, using them as the force to drive more intensity in your focus.Then push yourself like you would in the gym, increasing the duration and quality of your focus.
You should look to be increasing week over week at a rate of 5-10% a time at most. Ultimately you may want to go from 1 hour to 6 hours, but going from 1 hour to 2 hours is a 100% increase. Be reasonable and work the process the right way so you can sustain your improvements long-term.
Strengthening both the endurance and intensity of your focus is definitely achievable. Follow these steps and strive for incremental progress. Before you know it, distractions will be more manageable and less frequent.