Hocus Focus?

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Performance, Purpose & Direction

There is nothing magic about high performance.  The best performers I know have a number of characteristics in common; one of them is the ability to concentrate.  When I say concentrate, I mean paying attention to the right thing at the right time in the right way.

The “right thing” is pretty straightforward.  It is the most important thing that will help someone, or an organization, achieve the most important outcomes or objectives.  The “right time” is similar, when to pay attention is critical when it comes to prioritizing and sequencing.

So that leaves in the “right way.”  Years ago Psychologist Bob Nideffer observed in the performance of athletes that there are different types of concentration or attention styles. As he continued to study the attention styles of athletes, he realized that attention occurred in different forms or channels and that ability to use the right channel at the right time made the difference in high performance. To explain these differences he used two axes, broad/narrow and external/internal, resulting in four combinations:

1. Broad Internal:  conceptual, strategic, analytical

2. Broad External:  awareness of the environment or surroundings

3. Narrow Internal:  problem solving, mental imagery

4. Narrow external: physical execution and follow-through

Each of us tends to prefer one channel over the other even though we use all four at different times.  You probably had a sense of the one or two styles you most prefer as you read through the abbreviated list.

A great example of concentration styles is a safety issue that has gained much attention in the last few years – texting on the cell phone while driving.  The most important channel for driving safely is external awareness.  Because we cannot tune into more than one channel at a time, just like the radio or TV, any other misplaced concentration style can be detrimental, even deadly.  Texting requires narrow focused attention, both internal and external. The person who believes he or she can quickly switch between styles and safely operate a vehicle is gravely mistaken.

There is nothing magic about high performance (I think we can also add safe performance to that statement).  It’s a matter of deciding what’s the most important thing you need to focus on to achieve the results you want and having the ability to use the right concentration style at the right time.

Incite:  When in doubt, ask yourself “Why am I doing what I’m doing right now?”


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