Focus + Mindfulness = Success
An opportunity came up the other night with some of my percussion students to scratch the surface of an important topic: focus and mindfulness. While there were only a few minutes to talk about it, there was a lot more I wanted to say, hence this essay.
This is a book topic unto itself to be sure, certainly within the perspective of building high performing teams/ensembles and also from the standpoint of helping your students realize the absolute maximum of their potential, which the last time I checked, is what teachers are supposed to do. This is true in any endeavor, whether it is academics, sports or the arts.
So what am I getting at? Here it is: Your ability to achieve any goal is a direct function of your ability to focus on achieving the goal. That sounds circular, so let's bring it down to an example.
Let's say you have an academic assignment that should take you 45 minutes to complete. Rather than shutting off your phone, or tablet, or TV and giving 45 minutes of consistent, sustained effort, you let your mind wander. You check your phone. Then you work for five minutes. Then you get a text and you see who it's from. You respond, and that conversation takes you away for 10 minutes. Several other things like this happen in rapid succession, and before you know it, 30 minutes have elapsed and you have not advanced your work at all. A 45 minute task just turned into a 75 minute task. That costs you time and you may be the only person affected by that. Had you applied yourself in the way I'm about to describe below, you could have completed that task in less than 45 minutes, and gained a half hour of time to yourself.
When you are in a competitive team environment, the stakes are a lot higher - because your actions don't just affect you. By allowing your mind to wander, by losing focus on the assignment/performance/task, you are hurting yourself in THREE ways.
First, you are wasting your own time. If you are intense and focused, you can achieve mastery of a skill in a shorter period of time than if you are unfocused and checking your snapchat feed every other minute (or insert the distraction du jour).
Second, and perhaps worse, you are wasting the time of your teammates, who are all at rehearsal or practice or study group to get better - to acquire new skills - to master new things. High performing teams are built on trust, and a common care for one another. Members of high performing teams are driven not only by their own need to achieve and be great, but also by a feeling of obligation to be great for their teammates/ensemble members. You want to perform well so your peers around you look great too. This is a key element that I want all my teams to harness.
Third, by not being focused at rehearsal or practice, you are ensuring that your competitors will gain on you. Because while the unfocused students advance 10% in a week, their competitors who rehearse with discipline, purpose and drive advanced their cause by 15%. With that spread compounding every week, a lack of focus is a sure fire way to ensure mediocrity, or ensure a wide gap between you and your competitors at the end of a season.
We live in an age where both students and teachers are bombarded with information on a constant basis from multiple sources. You have to eliminate distractions. Distractions serve one purpose only - they put you further way from your goal. I assure you 90% of distractions students allow to affect them are self inflicted. If you can train your mind to only focus on the assignment or performance in front of you - and only that - your performance will skyrocket, because you have eliminated the simple mental errors that plague many younger performers.
Another aspect of this is that students must let go of the perceived need or urgency to address things that aren't going to happen for days or weeks. Here is where the concept of mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness, in my worldview, is that ability to focus 100% on the moment you are in, and to not worry about the past or future at any given time. This can take years to perfect.
Repeat this in your head over and over: FOCUS ON THE ASSIGNMENT ONLY. THERE IS NOTHING ELSE. I'm 100% serious. Competitors with disciplined minds defeat competitors who are undisciplined. Every time. Every. Time.
So what are the takeaways for students who want to be part of a high performing team?
1. Act with great Purpose.
2. Eliminate distractions! They put you further away from your goal.
3. Act with Focus.
4. Let go of the perceived need to worry/consider extraneous details. Focus on the assignment in front of you, and only that. You will be surprised how fast you - and the team you are on - start to improve.