Just prior to the official start of 2015, I had a conversation with a colleague of mine. I asked him what his over-arching goal for the new year would be. He paused, thought about it, didn’t answer, and promptly put me on the spot by asking the same question. I answered that my goal for 2015 would have something to do with the concept of focus. I have been painfully aware for a few years that my ability to focus (on work, reading, training, etc.) was diminishing. Badly. I’ve become the guy who skims Facebook posts and only reads the first line of e-mails. Over the past few years, I even lost the ability to read short magazine articles. Upon further examination, I came to the startling realization that I hadn’t actually finished a book since the fall of 2012. The fall of 2012! As in September of 2012, which (not coincidentally) was the last time I successfully performed well in a 100 mile running race. The inability to focus has also clearly seeped into my ultra-running training and racing. Pathetic.
Where has my focus gone? Apparently out the window. My brain has bounced from one idea to another and one social media account to the next. As I’ve progressively become aware of this, my solution has been to limit the streams of input, which I think is a good plan. Less Facebook. Less blogs. I love XC Skiing, but cannot follow the sport (as a fan) like I used to. Honing in on the 2 or 3 nutrition blogs or podcasts that I like the most (instead of my favorite 15) has been another strategy of mine. As I turned my attention to my goals for 2015 and ‘focus’ became a clear front-runner for priority status, I crafted the plan to limit (completely) my exposure to news, media, politics, and ESPN. Between a few blogs, the NPR app, the SportsCenter app, and ESPN podcasts I was pouring hours of my week down the drain, all while complaining about my lack of time and ability to focus. So I turned off all of that noise for the month of January and shifted my focus to stoking the fire of passion for running. This was a strategic plan to feed my love of the sport and get me back into the groove of running while rekindling the fire that used to burn so brightly. I turned my attention to several YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, and Instagram posts from the most influential in the sport.
Then I noticed I was starting my morning runs a bit later each day as I spent too much time on those streams of content. This is where it gets complicated. I decided to ax Facebook from my phone, but I simply shifted my focus to Twitter. Axed that. Turned my attention to Instagram. Same result. Axed it. You’d think that would’ve done it, right? Nope – I started pouring through the activity feed on Strava. More wasting of time. The straw that broke the camel’s back? Once I axed Strava from my mobile device, I had nothing else to look at on my phone and I began to read the podcast descriptions for each of my 8 podcast subscriptions. Yikes.
What am I running from? What are we all running from? Why are we so afraid of silence, quiet, and a calm mind? Big questions with profound answers, and this post is not meant to address those. For now, I merely intend to address the simple concepts of reducing distraction and sharpening focus. Reading books offers the reader the ability to practice patience, delay gratification, and focus the brain for longer periods of time. I hope to build more patience and focus by simply reading real books again. It’ll all be there when the apps get turned on again, but for now I have chosen to read a book – an actual (physical) book – cover to cover. My plan is to read at least 2 books (completely) before putting an app or two back on my phone. Yes I will still be on social media via desktop usage, but mindlessly scrolling through news feeds on my phone will have to take a back-seat to focusing my brain and building patience through reading books. Social media (mostly) has proven to be a wonderful and powerful tool, but I’ve come to the realization that I don’t actually know how to use it properly. Here’s to building focus and calming the mind. Thanks for reading. DC