Sharpen Your Focus One Pitch at a Time


image“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” — Bruce Lee

When there’s a lot on the line, I can find myself thinking about the outcome more than the task at hand.

Whether it’s a foosball game, where my teammates are counting on me to score a winning shot, or  I’m hitting a project deadline — focus can be my friend or my ultimate enemy.

Sharpen Your Focus

It all depends on where I put that focus.

In times like these, I have to remind myself that worrying about the outcome won’t help.  I need to make the most of the moment and turn that intensity towards the task at hand — one pitch at a time.

In Overachievement: The New Science of Working Less to Accomplish More, John Eliot, Ph. D. writes about sharpening your focus for peak performance.

Three Epiphany’s from a Heart Surgeon

Eliot shares the lessons from a heart surgeon about thinking in the present:

  • Epiphany Number One: An exceptional performer is absorbed in the moment, no matter what’s at stake.
  • Epiphany Number Two:  It’s important to let results be just that – by-products of what you are doing.  You can’t try to control wins and losses, no matter how important.
  • Epiphany Number Three: No matter how much or how little prior experience or practice you have, no matter what your skill level at the time you are about to perform, you must, for the moment, let go of any inclination to judge yourself.

Never Give a Pitch Away

Eliot writes about how Pete Rose used intense focus on every pitch:

“What does that mean – ‘Never give a pitch away’? 

No matter what else was going on in the game or in his personal-life, Pete Rose, the batter, focused on every pitch that was thrown to him as if it were the only pitch he would see in his life.”

Find a Way to Focus Among the Chaos

It’s not about reducing your workload and having less to do.  In fact, Eliot writes that you can use the chaos of your day to build exceptional focus.

Via Overachievement:

“Many others are so overwhelmed by the chaos of everyday life that they think the only route to true concentration is to have only one thing to do. 

They end up spending too much time trying to clear away the brush of each workday, removing presumed obstacles to concentration, trying to make their workloads lighter, their schedules less hectic. 

But they might be ridding themselves of the very stuff that can help them focus exceptionally.”

Use the Most Specific Task to Narrow Your Focus

Find the simplest, most specific, most immediate task to narrow your focus.

Via Overachievement:

“The trouble is, we tend to think of getting there as requiring a lack of distractions.  I hear it from executives all the time:  ‘I’ve got deadlines out the wazoo; everybody wants something from me; how can I concentrate?’ 

Performing in the present is not about making all these things go away.

Rather, it’s hooking on to one thing – often the most sensory-absorbing thing – and committing all your energy to it.  … But no matter what your field, you can take any job and find the simplest, most specific, most immediate task and use it to narrow your focus.”

Forget Cause and Effect – Performance is Distinct from Outcome 

Your performance is distinct from the outcomes.  Eliot writes that you should keep each stage of your performance independent from the next.

Via Overachievement:

“Learning to be in the present will be impossible without understanding a principle that I have already discussed:  Performance is distinct from outcome.  …making it in the world of high-level performance means not paying attention to the results of every move you make.  Keeping each stage of a performance independent of the next is another definition of “being in the present.”

Treat Every Task You Do as a Separate Performance

Eliot writes that you should treat every task as a separate performance.

Via Overachievement:

“And whatever your job is, don’t bother to think about the consequences, positive or negative, of your efforts.  Just lose yourself in the execution of your strategy for execution’s sake alone.  Treat every task you do as a separate performance.”

Don’t Rearrange Your Work — Rearrange Your Focus

It’s not about re-arranging your to-do lists.  It’s about focusing on the right things.

Via Overachievement:

“Overwhelmed by the details and distractions of their busy lives, most people try to eliminate as many as possible ‘to give myself time to focus on what’s important.’

he typical results is that they waste too much time trying to sweep away the small stuff and still don’t manage to focus, or they get caught up in writing and rewriting ‘to-do’ lists, further frustrating themselves with the volume. 

My recommendation is simple: Don’t rearrange your work; rearrange your focus.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Focus on one pitch at a time.
  • Hook on to one thing.
  • Be absorbed in the moment, no matter what’s at stake.
  • Let results be the by-product of what you’re doing.
  • Don’t judge yourself while you’re performing.
  • Don’t rearrange your work; rearrange your focus.

Use the mess of your day to practice focusing on one pitch at a time.

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  1. Great advice as always J.D., but easier said than done I’m afraid. Right now I should be focussing on Thursday’s exam, but all I keep thinking about is this lousy flu I have at the moment. Sucks…any words of wisdom to set me straight again? 😉

  2. My favorite here is “Find a Way to Focus Among the Chaos”. When I need to focus i “tune” myslef to the “right” wave like a radio dial.

  3. @Louisa – The flu is tough. Here’s the irony. Eliot has stories of how injuries and illness improved performance for some of the best in the world, but I left them out. In one story, Tyler Hamilton finished fourth in the Tour de France with a broken collarbone. He ground his teeth so hard he had to have eleven teeth replaced. Yuck.

    Here’s some key things:
    1. Remind yourself of a past personal win against the odds.
    2. Ask yourself what’s the best you can do for this situation.
    3. Make a mini plan for yourself to stay on track.

    You can change your focus by changing your questions. Don’t ask yourself, “why me” or “why now” … ask yourself, “what’s the best I can do?” … or “how do I make the most of this?”

    If you write down a mini plan, you don’t have to waste your precious cycles thinking your way through your day. Block out a couple of power hours and use them to study, then get your rest.

    Good luck!

    @Alik – I’m a fan of the radio metaphor. There’s so many things we can tune into at any time. I also like a director metaphor – what are you pointing your camera at?

  4. “Don’t judge yourself while you’re performing.” That’s so important. When you let that inner critique speak while you’re performing, it’s obviously going to negatively impact your performance.

  5. I love the concept of focusing on one thing at a time. To me, this is in sync with being aware in the moment. Chaos may surround us, but we can be effective if we can clear our heads and focus.

  6. @Vered – I caught myself again today judging while I was performing. I simply had to remind myself, “one pitch at a time” and it worked like a champ.

    @Stacey – I love the fact that we get to expand or narrow our focus deliberately, regardless of what’s going on around us. I know longer use the excuse, there’s too much going on — instead, I say, what should I focus on right here and now.

  7. Hi J.D. – I like your new writing “style”. I feel you’re sharing more of “you”.

    I used to think I had to have my desk all neat and tidy before I could begin a big project, so I would spend precious time shuffling papers, stacking, and cleaning the surface of my desk.

    Now I have learned to be focused on the task at hand and don’t even “see” the chaos that often surrounds me. I’m a lot more productive and get around to tidying up after I have finished that which needed attention.

  8. @Barbara – Thank you. Your desk scenario is a really good example. Every now and then I fall into the trap of letting a mess distract me, but when I that’s just a sign that I’m not focused enough. When I’m really focused on the task at hand, the chaos disappears and I’m in the zone.

  9. […] reading up on One Pitch at a Time, I realized I have been doing it for the past 5-6 months. Here’s what I do […]

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