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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Relentless Focus

When I was growing up, I was never quite happy with my lot in life.  I was pretty sure I didn't know the secret to success, but I was also pretty sure there were people out there who did.  I became attracted to the early personal success gurus and the books they wrote.  I believe the very first personal success book I read was "Winning Through Intimidation" by Robert Ringer, the 1984 edition in paperback.  The title was a little shocking, but the advice was pretty solid.  Always negotiate from a position of strength, and if you don't have a position of strength, act as if you do. I also learned the three types of people in the business world you need to be aware of:  1) the sneaky liar who says he's on your side, but will stab you in the back the first chance he can make a profit by doing so;  2) the person who will stab you to make a profit, but is upfront about it and will do it to your face given you understand he's a competitor; and 3) the very rare person who makes his profit by seeing to it that you and everybody else under him can make their profit.  As you can see, this book was pretty influential to me.

I went on to get more and more books.  There were more Robert Ringer books, with catchy titles but solid advice, and even business oriented success books, like another highly influential book, Strategy of the Dolphin, by Lynch and Kordis.  This one modeled the world with an ocean analogy; there are carp, sharks and dolphins.  Carp are aware of little around them and are eaten by both sharks and dolphins.  Sharks know very little other than killing and eating carp; they are territorial and play a zero sum game.  Dolphins, on the other hand, will eat the carp, and are capable of killing sharks when necessary.  Dolphins play a non-zero sum game, and expand their territory as needed.

Again, this must have been pretty influential if I can still remember it.

You would think I'd be a millionaire playboy today with all this advice accumulated in my mind.  A veritable Tony Stark, minus the red and gold body suit of armored technology.

Obviously something was still missing.

Nowadays I still follow the improvement gurus today, perhaps moreso since there are so many of them on the internet; Ramit Sethi of "I Will Teach You To Be Rich" fame; Tai Lopez; Jordan Harbinger, Brendon Burchard, and more.  

After a while, they all start saying pretty much the same things.  One of the mantras I hear from personal success gurus, and even highly successful people themselves, is that you need to have "relentless focus" to get where you want to be. Aha! I'm pretty sure I don't have that!  Maybe that's the answer!

It seems so obvious, right?  Relentless focus!  I even put those words up as my computer password to remind me to have relentless focus.  Yet, I'm still not a millionaire playboy, yet alone being in good physical shape.

Another self-help blogger and podcaster, Dean Dwyer, had told a story from his days as a teacher.  He had the good fortune of meeting an award winning teacher who was renown for turning problem students into perfect students.  This teacher pointed out that many young students simply don't understand basic classroom skills that we take for granted; skills that seem self-evident to us.  These kids had no basic understanding of what it meant to "behave", or to "cooperate", or even to "concentrate".  Once they understood what those things meant and how to do them, they became model students.  Amazing!

After thinking about it for a wile, I realized I didn't know what "relentless focus" was!   None of the gurus explain it.  It's self-evident, right?  No, it's not.  When push comes to shove, what the heck is "relentless focus"?

I decided to break this down.  When all else fails, a trip to an on-line dictionary comes in handy.  Reading the definitions, I see "relentless" implies constant, non-stop action.  "Focus" implies attention.  It sounds like I need to pay constant attention to where I want to be in life, that is, constant attention to my goals.  Now let's go back to those irksome students, and ask "what does it mean to pay attention?"  In this case, paying attention to a goal.

"Attention" implies applying the mind and being aware.  It also implies noticing and observing, especially with intention to take actions.  For example, I can say my goals need my attention.

Now it all comes together.  Relentless focus means constantly noticing and being aware with the intention of taking action to achieve my goals.

So I thought about it some more, and started thinking about what I needed to do in various situations to have something I could call "relentless focus".  This is a very good exercise for the reader.  Ultimately, I think the process reveals this main point:
"Everytime (non-stop, or relentlessly) there is a choice, or a decision to be made, you are aware of the decision and the choice is made with attention (focus) to your personal goals and needs and what they require to be done to achieve them." 
This is my working definition for relentless focus, and it seems pretty darn good to me.

So when I grab some junk food, I think that's a decision point I need to be aware of. What's the best choice in light of what my health goals are? Is it the junk food? Is it nothing? Is it something healthy?  Perhaps when I'm surfing Amazon.com and ready to purchase some gizmo or book, I need to be aware of that decision too.  Does this gizmo really improve my life?  Does it help me reach my goals?  Or should I save my money?  When I sit down to the computer I should ask myself, does this time spent browsing Facebook, youTube or other sites improve my position in life or help me reach personal goals?  What should I be doing instead?  These are all examples of non-stop attention, or relentless focus, on how I am achieving my goals.

Now it seems obvious, but it took quite a while to get there. I just needed to think about it a little bit.  Given this insight, I see there are other factors that come into play also.

For one, maybe a person without relentless focus is just unaware they are making decisions all the time.  Maybe they are just following habits.  Habits can be useful when they help you, and destructive if they hinder you.  Habits can hide the decision points so a person doesn't realize there other options to consider.  Dealing with habits has been discussed elsewhere.

It's also possible that a person lacking relentless focus is unaware of his or her behaviors overall.  A person can retreat into their head, being more concerned with internal dialogue than their external behavior.  An internally focused person often allows his or her behavior to become automatic and outside their intellectual control. The behavior just happens; in this case it becomes a bad habit.


It appears to me that this required awareness comes down to mindfulness, a skill that many of us do not learn in today's fast paced society. It's a skill that can be acquired with a bit of practice and is immensely useful in a variety of life's challenges.  Learn to be in the present moment, and observe yourself and your mind.

No success guru ever said I needed to be in the present moment or practice mindfulness; they just said to have relentless focus.  I had to figure out how to do it on my own.  Maybe that's the real secret to success - investing the energy in learning how to perform and use their advice in your own life.

(Credits: Image "Businesswoman Doing Yoga" courtesy Ambro, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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