Intense Focus, Is It Internally or Externally Motivated?


How do we create an environment and a schedule to help us focus on the most important activities to create success in business and a happy, healthy, fulfilling life? Schedules, to-do lists, planners and calendars are all tools that will help us once we get the basics right, but without sufficient motivation to focus and the environment to nurture it, they won’t work.



Before we can create the environment, we have to understand our motivation. Why do we need to focus? What do we want to achieve.

That motivation can be external – pulling us to focus our energies on something that needs attention right now. Like a very sick child or a tree falling on our house. Events like those concentrate the mind. Solutions must be found urgently. Distractions do not get on our radar. Procrastination is not an issue.

Those urgent, serious events are easy to define. A child with a fever, in a hospital bed. A smashed roof, unsafe house and an entrance blocked by branches. The outcome is simple to imagine and believe. Our child fully recovered, back home, without further suffering or complications. The tree removed, our house repaired.

I have experienced the desperately sick child, my elder son as a toddler going into convulsions in my wife’s arms on the way to hospital. Specialists shaking their heads uncertain of the problem, not sounding optimistic, eventually discovering it was tick bite fever. An incredibly quick recovery once the correct medication was started. My younger son badly burned as a toddler two years later, thankfully also a full recovery with minimal scarring. I know what it is like to focus on nothing but my children’s recovery.

Focus is automatic. We do everything we can to remedy the situation as quickly as we can. We take our child to hospital, demand specialist attention if necessary. We call our insurer, find somewhere to spend the night, get quotations for removing the tree and repairing the house. Select contractors to do the work.

In both cases, we do all that is necessary as soon as we possibly can. We don’t put it on a tomorrow’s to-do list or fit it into next week’s schedule. We change or abandon next week’s schedule so that we can focus on finding the best care for our child or getting our house repaired. We don’t put it off while we check emails or update Facebook.

Single minded determination to get results. Pure undiluted focus.

Critical events in our business or professional life, losing a major client for example, can also pull us into focus very sharply, however that tends to be because we have not been focusing on the right things before. Now we have to react to events. In most cases, if we had been focusing on the most important things we would have had a plan to handle the situation. We would be proactive not reactive.

How can we motivate ourselves to apply that same intense focus to less urgent and less discrete issues. How do we push ourselves into focus without the pull effect of the dramatically urgent cases like a sick child or damaged house? Urgency is a major motivator, we will tend to focus on anything urgent whether it is important or not.

In this post, I wrote about the importance of goals and the WHY of your mission. If you are not committed to why you are doing something, it is very difficult to focus on the steps to do it.

If you have the WHY, WHAT and WHO clearly worked out, you are committed to your mission and determined to achieve your goals, the next major obstacles to focus are distractions and procrastination. Two sides of the same coin.

Unlike some other writers, I am not convinced that procrastination is mainly due to fear of taking the next step, fear of taking unfamiliar action or fear of failure. It can be any or all of those. But frequently it is simply a result of distractions, failure to prioritize, bad habits and plain inertia.

One of the keys to being able to focus on important but not urgent activities is to insulate yourself from distractions. That may include physically insulating yourself, by working in a place without phones or internet access for a certain period each day. By going away to a cottage for a few days. By getting up an hour earlier each day to work on an important project before the day’s distractions can reach you.

The next post will look at more ideas for removing distractions and using schedules to help you focus. Before that, think of periods in your life when major events forced you to focus exclusively on solving one challenge or overcoming one obstacle. Were distractions a factor then?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.




graphic courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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  3 comments for “Intense Focus, Is It Internally or Externally Motivated?

  1. Roberta
    October 11, 2014 at 8:34 am

    The more you write on this topic and the more I think about this topic the more I am beginning to think that a lot of being able to focus is due to parental upbringing. Part of it is personality and another part is personal skills. But I am starting to think a lot of it is how I/children are raised.

    When I was a child in school we had to finish school homework before we could watch TV. And it could not be sloppily done. I remember I had to focus on homework and get it done and done right before I could watch my favorite shows. On a night when there was nothing I wanted to watch it took me longer to get homework done. No focus.

    So part of it is having a goal, and the other part of it is practice. Part of it is also self discipline. And that is the part that is missing for many people these days.Parents today do not teach their children self control or the necessity to focus to get a job done right. And a lot of self-discipline has to be taught.

    Just an idea.

    • October 14, 2014 at 8:21 am

      A very good idea too, Roberta. I also believe that the lack of self discipline as a result of the so-called “enlightened” modern education system is the cause of many problems in society. Not just a lack of focus but also, crime, lack of determination and family breakdown.

      Now this new idea of the Nebraska (I think) education people to have neutered (sic) terms for boys and girls by referring to them as penguins will confuse children even more.

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