Cultivate A Narrow Focus To Achieve More

This idea of cultivating a narrow focus is one part of a philosophy, practice, and process of living that enables us to always move forwards powerfully in life. While at the same time being able to fully leave the past in the past because we have done what we have desired to do, fulfilled our ambitions, and learned what we needed to learn from our past experiences, mistakes, failures, and successes. This results in our resolving these issues intellectually and emotionally within ourselves so that we do not carry them within us, where they would otherwise continue to cause problems in our lives and obstruct our progress forwards.

"A Narrow focus helps us to more clearly and deliberately act on what is important in our lives."

Image Source: Pixabay

This practice of cultivating a narrow focus benefits our processes of creativity, learning, and our ability to make progress in our lives, arts, projects, and ambitions. Yet it is more than this. It is a way of looking at and engaging in what we do in a fashion that allows us to learn, create, and achieve more at a higher level, while simultaneously being more relaxed, peaceful, present and passionate.

A Narrow Focus :: Making Great Things Small

Our world is already complex. There is so much going on which is literally impossible to keep on top of completely. Saying that it is ‘impossible’ is not an exaggeration, for there is no gray area: the more we are trying to do, learn, and stay on top of at any one time, the more superficial we become in all areas. Therefore, in order to be effective and productive in our lives, and, more importantly, to be happy, fulfilled, as well as to reach and remain at our creative and intellectual peak, we need to learn how to simplify.

One aspect of simplification is accomplished by making things small with a narrow focus, by breaking down great things into small and actionable pieces. Complexity is inherent within everything because of the totality of information and variables which comprise virtually any subject, art, discipline, or thing that we can place our attention upon. Thus complexity cannot and should not be ignored, but rather embraced. And in order to do so we must refine how we approach complexity, which will ultimately determine how well we deal with it and how we mentally and emotionally respond to it – that is, whether it overwhelms us, or whether we can resolve it almost magically, creatively and productively.

“Do the difficult things while they are easy
and do the great things while they are small.”
– Lao Tzu

These great things, these monumental works, or ambitious and challenging, yet worthy, projects, are going to be vast no matter what you do. You cannot change them, because we cannot make something what it is not. It doesn’t matter what your project is – learning a new language, earning a degree, writing a book, learning an instrument, building a business – these things are all going to be challenging and time consuming no matter what you do, and that is unavoidable. Therefore accept and embrace the inevitable difficulty from the very beginning, because being prepared for it will temper stress and frustration when you meet challenges along the way.

You cannot literally make these projects smaller. However you can reduce them by changing how you look at and approach them, and make the complex simple by breaking it up into actionable pieces. This is the practical value of a narrow focus, which is just a skill, a tool, that we can employ to accomplish great things. You can break up even the most complex subjects or disciplines into topics which, if you proceed one by one, not moving on from a topic until you thoroughly understand it, you can amass great knowledge efficiently, with very little pressure, and without being overwhelmed. For we are usually only overwhelmed when we try to learn, understand, or do too much at one time.

Let me illustrate this principle by applying this philosophy to language learning. Firstly, don’t focus so much on the fact that you have to learn somewhere between 3000 – 5000 words just to achieve a basic level of fluency. Always gauging your progress by how far you have to go is an inane practice, especially when within all arts or disciplines there is literally no limit to how far we can go. Instead take care to remember from time to time how far you have come, and otherwise just focus on what you are learning or working on now.

So instead of always holding over yourself the 20,000 words you will ultimately need to become familiar with to approach native fluency (or the 50,000+ words than you could potentially learn in any language) change your perspective and approach. Focus on the simple, small, and manageable task of learning maybe 5 words a day (and then 5 sentences a day once you have about a 300-500 word foundation of the most common words so that you can then begin learning how to use them, and also learning grammar intuitively through experience, as we all learned language and grammar anyways). This far more narrow focus and very reasonable task, if accomplished consistently, day by day, after only 6 months you will already have around 1000 words in your repertoire which you will know how to use to some degree – thus you will be well on your way to fluency after only 6 months.

Language learning is such a good example because so many people believe that learning a language is difficult because on the surface, and when viewed in the entirety of what you will ultimately have to learn, it appears complex. When in reality, if a language is approached gradually and with the right system, languages are fairly easy to learn. Yet no matter what we do, it will take time.

When we try to do anything all at once, and with the erroneous expectation that we can do it all at once, or do anything great quickly, we make things far more complex than they need to be and, indeed, far more complex than they actually are. We need to learn how to scale our perspective from a broad awareness of a thing or project, into a narrow focus that enables us to isolate and act upon small tasks that we actually can complete to ultimately accomplish that great ambition. For we have the ability to make even the most complex things simple if we just make them smaller.

Narrow Your Focus to Change and Grow

The first principle of a narrow focus is making the complex things simpler by breaking it into pieces. This next principle of achieving more with a narrow focus is in how we approach those individual pieces.

We have a tendency to make things difficult for ourselves because we try to do too many things at the same time. We start new projects before we finish the old ones. We start new chores before we finish those we already started. We move onto the next ‘thing’ – the next subject, art, practice, or task – before we even got deep into the first one, until before we know it we are strung out all frenetic, frazzled, and stressed trying to juggle tens balls in the air without even being fully conscious of how we allowed ourselves to arrive in this state in the first place.

It is all so superficial, because people bounce from one thing to the next without ever actually getting deep into any one thing. And we wonder why we do not change, why we don’t feel fulfilled, and why we seem to go nowhere, when the reason is simple: because we in general we seem to rarely stay with anything long enough to really learn and embody it, and to allow it to change us.

This understanding and uncomfortable truth for many of us is at the core of this philosophy. We need to retrain ourselves to approach things differently in order to begin making real progress in our lives, and to remain in that upwards cycle of progress, growth, evolution, creativity, and learning for the rest of our lives – and in all aspects of ourselves and what we choose to do. That is the ideal I have dedicated my life to and have achieved to some degree, and which I desire for all people. For I believe that this state of perpetual growth, progress, creativity and learning should be a fundamental desire of all people, because if that is not what we are working towards, then what is the point of all of this? What is the point of going through life and doing anything?

Once again I will use the analogy of language learning to illustrate this concept. In reality, until you reach basic fluency in a new language (which I consider as a degree of understanding the spoken language, along with a basic ability to express yourself – to say what is on your mind, to ask for things, to express a simple thought or feeling, in short, to make yourself understood however simply your point is made), until you reach this basic level, you have nothing. Literally nothing but a collection of memorized words which by themselves cannot be used for or to do anything.

This point applies to everything. Yoga, martial arts, dance, art, music, understanding of any subject within the realm of science or history: until you reach basic fluency, the first stage of being able to express yourself or in some cases to express what you know, then you haven’t really achieved or learned anything. You have not really grown or changed yourself in any significant way because that knowledge is not yet internal. You have just filled up your cup, without actually amalgamating and internalizing all of that into who you are. (Which is what I consider as a core element of the true meaning of emptying your cup: “forgetting” what you know because it has become unconscious knowledge, unconscious skill, so that you are clear and open to taking in new knowledge and ideas.)

This is why we require the ability to apply a more narrow focus. Because without it we cannot get more deeply into things, to the point where on the one hand we can change things in our lives and make progress, and on the other hand so that we can allow them to change us little by little.

We need to allow what we learn, what we do, and our arts to influence us more, to change how we think and feel, how we express ourselves, and also how we relate to the world so that we can learn and grow. But to do so in such a way that the changes that occur are born of self-knowledge, insight, passion, and discovery. As opposed to being contorted and hardened by the bitterness, negativity, and failure which are the marks of one who has not figured out how to express the truth of who and what they are in the actions of their lives. Then we can begin to discover and express ourselves in new ways, yet in the ways that are genuine and true to who we are at our core.

In short, narrowing our focus is about finishing and resolving what we place our attention upon. It’s not just about ‘getting things done’ or ‘learning faster and more efficiently’, or ‘dealing with complexity’ – although it enables us to do all of those things. It is about personal growth, progress in what we do, and continual refinement of ourselves and in our lives as we consistently remove obstacles and clutter so that we can liberate ourselves from suffering in endless repeating cycles of the same obstacles and mistakes. It will not help you remove difficulty or challenges though, because that is not the point. Challenges and obstacles are how we learn. Instead it will give you the tools to tackle them more efficiently and grow.

By always starting more projects than we have time for, and not finishing a project or a task before we move on to the next one, we do a little bit of everything without ever actually finishing anything, and without going anywhere. The end result being that we make no progress – we do not grow. This means that we never move onward and forward with a genuine sense of finality in our hearts where we know that we have finished what we started, learned what needed to be learned, accomplished what we set out to accomplish, and so finished that phase in our lives so that we can move on freely to something else, something new. Onto the next stage, with no lingering, nagging, attachment to that thing left undone. In short it is the ability to grow an evolve as human beings consistently and stably in the direction of our dreams, and the full expression of ourselves as spiritual beings.

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