Anyone with ambition wil need focus. When a 50-year-old Phil Mickelson won this year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, the win was attributed to his newly acquired ability to focus. He would take a deep breath and stare intently at his target, then approach the ball and let it rip.
There was no doubt that he had recently been trained in some focusing methodology based upon Buddhist meditation famously employed by Tiger Woods. But alas, in his next major, Mr. Mickelson lost that magical focus and before you knew it he missed another cut. So long and farewell, Mr. Phil.
I consider focus as part of the three big hurdles in sports along with anxiety and anger. Poor focus, poor anxiety management and uncontrolled anger all must be managed to reach full potential and get to the winner’s circle. And make no mistake, focus control is every bit as complex as anxiety and anger control and no amount of Zen meditation is going to change that fact.
Focus is the ability to stay on task for an extended period. That takes a surprising amount of energy. It will take me at least two hours to write this 900-word essay as a good example. If I cannot focus for more than 5 minutes, that two hours may turn into two days.
One reason the term café writing exists is because cafes provide coffee, background noise and pastries, all of which enhance the ability to focus by energizing the writer.
To play a good round of golf you need to focus for at least four hours. To play a good PGA tournament you need to focus for a full four days. And that, my friend, is a lot of focus.
Many things get in the way of focus, including fatigue, lack of sleep, distractions produced by other people, boredom, side effects of drugs like marijuana, CBD oil or alcohol or medication side effects from anti-depressants or tranquilizers.
The lack of fans at most professional sporting events has hurt many pros enormously. The pro is used to the eyes and the applause of the fans and this helps them focus a great deal.
There are also underlying less obvious blocks to focus as well. Many learning disabilities are caused by early childhood experiences of family secrets, incest or parental jealousy of the gifted child.
If the child senses family secrets of any kind, they will learn to screen out reality and this means weak focus. If a gifted child makes the parents jealous, the child will dumb down their ability to focus. And incest or any form of trauma means that the child’s defenses become shattered, and they will lose the ability to focus.
Another reason people lose focus is that unconsciously they feel they do not deserve to win. If one has low self-image, this will almost always prompt a person to avoid success by losing focus at the end.
If one internally feels weak, the person will fear pressure which they will not be able to cope with.
Focus becomes a problem when a person has a fear of failure. They understand that the higher they go up, the harder they may fall. They feel a big loss with shatter them.
I call this the Humpty Dumpty Syndrome where “all the King’s horses and all King’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.”
So what things may help focus for the athlete, the businessperson or anyone else?
1) There is truth in this old saying that “nothing succeeds like success.” What it means is that success builds upon itself. Try to observe your success at the beginning of any quest and use this to build momentum. In golf, when you get a few lucky bounces, these can produce momentum so dwell upon your good fortune and embrace it rather than ignore it. Take it as a sign that this is your day.
2) Be like Tiger Woods, who posted his dream on his bedroom wall and looked at it every night. This means that you need to keep your dream in your awareness by having an image of it that you see each day.
3) Have a support team: Every top athlete I work with has a large team of experts around him who keep him on task and who guide and encourage him. Tiger Woods was really the first to do this in golf, but all top athletes have a team they trust. Mike Tyson had Cus D’Amato and it was only when Cus died that Tyson began to have big trouble.
No man is an island and that is especially true if you want to achieve your dream. You may recall that Dante only made it to heaven with the guidance of Virgil and the inspiration of Beatrice.
4) And just like in “The Divine Comedy” the hell and the pain of your unconscious must also be faced if you want to get to the heavenly place of your big dream. As the saying goes, “you may be through with the past but the past ain’t through with you.”
This means that any underlying issue of shame, low image, past family secrets or traumas must be faced before you are free of them. And this takes us into the cumbersome mention of the psychoanalytic couch but who wants to talk about that.
People are reluctant to talk of past pain and bad memories, but as Freud famously told the world many years ago, the pain of the unconscious must be dealt with for the cure to be achieved.
Focus, anxiety and anger are the three handmaidens to success. All three must be harnessed if you are to embrace your dream. And no amount of marijuana, tranquilizer or deep breathing exercises are going to do much good until you discover the source of all these sticky problems.