The art of focus – a crucial ability | Christina Bengtsson | TEDxGöteborg


Translator: Hiroko Kawano
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven In the fall of 2005, I find myself at the Military
World Championship in shooting. I’m in the lead in the final, and I have one shot left to shoot. The target is 50 metres away, and the ten is 10.4 millimetres. What is it that determines
if I shoot a nine or a ten? Is it the physics, the technique, the relaxation or the breathing? No, those are abilities
that everybody at that level has been training for years. It’s all about the thoughts I think
and why I think them. This is what focus is about. When I was 23 years old, I felt that I had a kind of capacity,
an inner drive and an energy that I didn’t really know how to handle. And it frustrated me, not knowing what to do
or where to go in this world. I was completely lost. And the only solution I could think of was trying to become best in the world at … something. I had no idea in what. But I decided to become
a world champion. I was quite athletic, but my helpful brother pointed out that I was too old to become
a world-class sprinter. So I choose shooting. This determination brought me
into the military arena, and since that very day,
I started my practice. Thousands of hours were spent
on the shooting range. I ate on the range. I slept on the range. And still today, I can remember that smell
of lead and loneliness. I travelled all over the country,
competing, for three years, but I lost over and over again, not getting any reward or recognition. In my world, I was programmed to win, but I didn’t. And I couldn’t understand
how it could be so incredibly difficult. It was only my perseverance
that kept me going. In this very moment
at the World Championship aiming at the target
with these irritatingly tight margins, and these nervous thoughts
running through my head, this potential triumph could
easily become yet another fiasco. But then, suddenly, I saw, and I focused on, a beautiful autumn leaf
playing in the wind. I give this leaf my full attention. And suddenly, I am completely calm. And the world champion title is mine. (Applause) This was – This action was a deliberate choice and the result of
persistent mental training. Because this leaf relieved me
of distracting thoughts and made me focused. And the phenomena of focus
interested me more and more, not only in peak performance
but also in the longer perspective and in life in general. I studied this vital capacity, and what I saw was that the human mind struggled with focus on three distinctive ways. First, our minds are often
full of disturbing thoughts, often worried about
not being good enough. Second, instead of working with
what we already know, we are constantly focused
on what we will achieve. And third, we are frustrated for not having time. So, how can we help ourselves
with these problems? Well, before we can discuss that, we need to find out what focus is. In today’s overflow,
with new waves and trends, the ability to focus has been
somewhat overlooked despite its great value. It’s, however, a particularly
complex function of our intelligent brain. So, let me simplify it for you. The pre-eminently thinking human beings, all of us in here, I guess, have the ability to think
forward and backward in time. And we often go down
the alarming path of thinking, What happens if … ? What happens if I shoot a nine? If I forget what to say
having a presentation? If I don’t finish my report on time? If I start losing followers
on social media? If life doesn’t turn out
the way we had anticipated? Or we worry about why it didn’t turn out
the way we wanted it to. Can we then, at moments of need, free ourselves from these disturbing
and worrying thoughts, a kind of undemanding present arise? Because it’s in this undemanding present
that we are focused. It’s here that we perform and function
exactly as well as we are. So, standing there,
shaking with nervousness but giving that leaf my full attention, this is what happened. So, focus is simply
about choosing the right thought among thousands of thoughts. Now, how do we get focused? Well, firstly, regarding
the disturbing thoughts. We need to learn to notice
disturbing thoughts and to distinguish them
from not disturbing thoughts. A not disturbing thought
is something completely neutral, like a lamp, a chair, a belt, a toaster or an autumn leaf. Because as the brain, in broad terms,
only can focus on one thing at a time, a not disturbing thought knocks out all the disturbing
and worrying thoughts. And this is enough to reach
that inner capacity we in fact already possess. Second, regarding how we constantly
focus on what we will achieve. In the performance-based
society of today, we often lose focus because we constantly strive
towards the new and better instead of finding our inner power and constructively working
with what we are best at at each given moment. Because if we always think about the goal, about what we want to achieve, about where we want to go, about who we want to become, our focus is constantly on the future and not on the work
that needs to be done now. So, removing the goal now and then
is not as crazy as it sounds. Well, scary at first. I mean, where we’re going now? But that is how focus ends up on who we are and what we have instead of chasing after
what we are not and do not have. So, focus is not about becoming
something new or something better, but simply about functioning
exactly as well as we already are and understanding that this is enough for both general happiness
and great achievements. Third, regarding frustration for not having time. We live in a time with
endless possibilities around us, and this seems to have created the notion
that life must be lived intensely. We try to exceed on all arenas
at the same time, and one’s self-confidence
ends up on all that we do instead of placing focus on one thing and doing this really, really well. Our focus shatters into a thousand
little must-dos and must-haves, and time is somehow eaten up. But the principle is quite simple: The more possibilities,
the more there is to refrain from. Today is no longer about prioritizing but about prioritizing away. Imagine yourself
sitting at your desk in the morning and making a must-to-do list. Now challenge yourself
and make a not-to-do list, and your brain will
automatically shift in focus. Also, it’s funny, despite our unique
ability to think long-term, we want immediate response on our efforts. Posting a picture
on social media, for instance. We live our life with short-term focus, and we are losing the ability
to build our own self-esteem without constant feedback from others. So, how do we find a long-term focus, that focus that moves your life
in the right direction? Achieving long-term focus requires that we learn
to direct our attention inwards. To that what I call our inner core. To that which doesn’t need
a constant response. Because it’s here, and perhaps only here, that we find genuine
contentment and satisfaction with who we are. So, why is all this
so important to us all? Focus is important because several essential abilities
are linked to this innate skill. The ability to listen,
to learn, to empathise, and not at least, to steer our self
and our life in the right direction. And as the pace in our society
will increase even more, it will require quite a lot to navigate
in this new unpredictable era, with a constantly growing roar around us. And you know what? We must control the intense society. The intense society must not control us. And for this, we need to stay
sharp and focused. But do you know what I’m worried about? I am concerned that our ability
to steer our focus with our own power is something we are about to lose. I’m worried that we, in the future,
will see two groups of people: those with the ability to co-exist
and handle the intense society, and those who will become more or less
slaves under the same possibilities. Although we as adults are struggling
with our focus more than ever, we still have a sense
about what focus is. But what about our coming generations? What if our generation is the last one
with access to this life-affirming tool? Here, we own a responsibility in ensuring that this ability
is maintained in the future. Because focus, this vital force,
is what brings out the best in ourselves and in others, something our world
so greatly deserves. Now, finally, embrace the ability
you have within yourself to be able to see the value of a small autumn leaf
playing in the wind. (Applause)

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