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Nov 3, 2013
How to Live a Good Life Today:
The Importance of Focus
We spend every moment of every day focusing on something. Sometimes that “something” is nothing, but even that’s something. Over time, these “somethings” collect and form experiences such as events, ordeals, relationships or adventures. Days, weeks, months, years and then decades pass and these collective “experiences” become our lives.
There’s a scattering of metaphysical philosophies that attempts to predict or claim control over these life-forming experiences, but the real source of control – I’ll even call it power – is simple. Spend time focusing on the things that matter and your life will matter; spend time focusing on the things that don’t matter and well... your life will not matter.
Since our ability to focus is a matter of life and death, it’s critical that we strengthen our diluted definition of focus and learn to master it as a skill rather than be controlled by it as if it were an unchangeable genetic characteristic. We do this by first truly defining focus.
Immediate Action Drills: Getting to the Objective
To say that a SEAL platoon can remain focused on an objective is an understatement. Years of collaborative intelligence work and the ultimate, and literal, execution of Bin Laden is a terrific example of their tenacious focus.
When preparing for that or any other type of mission, SEAL platoons relentlessly rehearse what’s called “Immediate Action Drills” (IADs). These are pre-planned responses to the unintended events that will inhibit their ability to reach their objective. I use the word “unintended” instead of “unplanned” on purpose. Unplanned is for the arrogant and apathetic. Unintended is for the humble professional. Imagine if we approached life this way.
Violence of Action - “CONTACT!”
“Contact!” is what’s yelled when a SEAL squad’s objective – approaching the enemy undetected – is interrupted by the enemy’s objective – to never come within a thousand miles of a SEAL platoon.
Immediately, as the name implies, squad members will respond with reflexive but intentional action. Typically this would look like each squad member stepping into his field of fire while simultaneously responding to the threat. They respond with what’s called “Violence of Action.” If you were to witness one of these drills, you would behold a relatively small force explode, in the direction of the enemy, as if they were 10 times the size. Violence of action!
As I mentioned, a SEAL platoon will have rehearsed these drills for every phase of a mission providing them with a “quiver” of IADs, which will allow them to stay on task and complete their mission. We must have a similar “quiver” of IADs for life’s distractions if we are to reach our personal objectives. Let’s take a look at some of the ways we can do this.
“Hey, do you have a moment?” - “CONTACT FRONT!”
There are three fundamental IADs that you need to practice until your reaction becomes instinctual:
- The “Heck no!”
- The “How about this?”
- The “Heck yes!”
You’ll know which IAD to use by asking yourself this question: Does this support my current objective?
The “Heck no!” IAD
What the threat looks like: Anything and everything.
The late Steve Jobs defined focus as "Everything that we say no to.” This is an excellent description, but if you’re thinking that saying "No" is easier said than done, you’re right. It, no kidding, takes practice.
What we should do:
- 1. Ask the question: Does this support my current objective? If the answer is “No,” then the IAD to execute is this one.
- 2. Recognize that what you’re doing wasn’t planned.
- 3. Just stop it. It will feel odd at first, but just stopping is incredibly powerful. The best way to “stop” is to write it down to process later.
- 4. Look at your calendar and reengage in the activity you had scheduled.
The “How about this?” IAD
What the threat looks like: Someone is asking you to do something right now that they think is aligned with your job or your personal objectives. Typically these are the things you had failed to plan for.
What you should do:
- 1. Ask: “Does this support my current objective?” If the answer is, “Kind of,” “Maybe” or “It’s my job,” then the IAD to execute is this one.
- 2. Ask yourself, “Does this need to happen right now?” If it doesn’t need to be done right now, capture it in your notebook and schedule it for later.
- 3. Since most distractions come from others asking us for something, you will probably need to schedule some time with the other person to sit down and learn more about what they’re asking. This will stop a lot of the “willy-nilly” requests people make of you.
The “Heck Yes!” IAD
What the threat looks like: The rare occasion when a human, including yourself, asks you to do something that completely supports or contributes to your current objectives. This situation is as unlikely as a sailor catching an ocean current flowing in the direction of his intended port. On occasion this happens and we need to catch these tides when we can. The primary reason we say “No” to everything else is so that when it comes time to say “Yes” we’re not all bogged down in useless minutiae.
What you should do:
- 1. Ask: “Does this support my current objective?” If “Yes,” then...
- 2. Ask again: “Does this support my current objective?” If still “Yes,” then...
- 3. Ask again: “Does this support my current objective?” If still “Yes,” then and only then do you say “Heck Yes!”
- 4. Go to your calendar and take the block of time that you had committed to what you were doing and move it forward to an open space.
This action alone will eliminate 90% of future distractions. Distractions are mutated forms of what was left undone.
It's important to recognize that the best way to deal with distractions is to prevent them, and the best way to prevent them is to have plan for them.
This week I want you to keep a journal. Every time that something takes you off task, I want you to write it down and put a small checkbox to the left of it. Sunday night before you go to bed, take out your journal and review all of the items you captured. Then enter the items you can expect to occur again in your calendar. Repeat them daily, weekly, monthly or annually as appropriate. Chances are more than 75% of your life is unaccounted for and you’re getting distracted because you’re trying to stuff 10 pounds of “shifting levers” in a 5-pound bag.
As these things occur, post your comments and see my responses below. What distracted you and did you schedule for it in the future?
About Eric Davis
Eric Davis served our country as a U.S. Navy SEAL and decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror. Eric has been recognized as one of the premier sniper instructors in the U.S. military and has served as a Master Training Specialist at the SEAL sniper school. Davis is also the host of The Loadout Room, author at SOFREP, a GovX "Insider" and founder of the human performance company Average Frog. Follow him, and all his exploits, on Twitter @EricDavis215