How To Stay Focused When Losing Focus Can Get You Killed
Most of us spend around half our lives lost in thought, wandering around the nooks and crannies in our mind, mostly oblivious to the real world right in front of our nose.
We miss exits on the interstate.
We walk into rooms with no idea why we did such a thing.
And now we’ve all got smartphones in our hands all day long, digging at them like a squirrel digging for a nut in some long forgotten hidey hole.
“Who was that actress that played the teacher in that Adam Sandler movie?”
“Ooh look, here’s the video of him punching that game show guy.”
“The Price is Wrong, Bitch!”
ADD isn’t a diagnosis. It’s a way of life.
And for the most part, we get by ok without giving the real live, actual world our complete and undivided attention.
But what if our lives depended on paying attention?
For military and for law enforcement personnel it often does. The even have a saying for it:
Stay Alert and Stay Alive
I’ve often heard police work and military service described as months of mind numbing boredom sprinkled with random moments of sheer terror.
The tedium prevents them from reaching flow and getting lost in the actual moment that’s actually happening and I’m sure empires have fallen because one mind wandered at the wrong time.
Modern soldiers are now trained to periodically reacquaint themselves with the present moment by taking an SLLS break.
Stop. Look. Listen. Smell.
Infantry platoons will stop, take a knee and engage their senses moving nothing but head in a circular arc scanning the surrounding area.
My youngest daughter is a lifeguard and lives depend on her teenage brain not wandering. So lifeguards are trained to do essentially the same thing as the soldiers. She has to scan the entire pool every ten seconds in a pattern like she was mowing the lawn. All the way across and all the way back. And she has to move her head. Not just her eyes to keep herself fully engaged.
She hasn’t mentioned anything about smelling.
But soldiers claim that with regular practice all of your senses become heightened even smell. One soldier told the story of being alone in the woods on maneuvers miles from civilization when he stopped for an SLLS break and was almost overpowered by the smell of peanut butter. Peanut Butter.
By following the smell for a hundred yards he was able to sneak up on an unsuspecting sentry quietly enjoying a midnight snack, while I’m sure his mind wandered.
I’ve never been a soldier or a cop, and I’m not much of a hunter anymore, but I’m born and raised in the South so I’ve spent my share of time in the woods. Hunters creep through the woods like Elmer Fudd huntin’ wabbits which is to say not a quietly as we like to think. But something eerie and beautiful happens when we do come to a complete stop.
Eventually, if you stand perfectly still and perfectly quiet long enough the woods come to life. Even though you thought you were completely alone, the area is suddenly teeming with life. All the creatures that had stopped to watch you have decided that you’re not worth watching anymore and go back to their regularly schedule programming.
If you just stop, look, listen and smell you eventually get to see the world as it actually is.
Even if you have no plans on putting on the old ghillie suit and traipsing out into the wild, you can benefit from the occasional SLLS break.
Most modern work can be described as hours of tedium interrupted by moments of slightly less monotonous tedium.
But improved focus will lead to improved productivity.
So every once in a while, reacquaint yourself with the present moment. Try lifting your head from the email. Stop and give the real world a look, listen and a big ol sniff.
You might be surprised to see, hear and smell how it actually is.
Terry Lancaster is VP of Making Sh!t Happen. Speaker. Entrepreneur. And Author of BETTER! Self Help For The Rest Of Us. He’s a husband, a father and a beer league hockey all star, as if there could ever be such a thing.