I believe that one reason that people fail in many different tasks is not that they are unable to focus, but they tend to focus on the wrong things. I have been a victim to this as well, not only in triathlon, but also throughout various parts of my life. I think that the biggest mistake that people make when focusing is focusing on the OUTCOME or the RESULT instead of the PROCESS and the steps that is takes to get there. This mistake can be made in many ways.
One way that I personally suffer from is thinking too far ahead and not Focusing on the current task or situation. In triathlon, I do this by thinking about the run when I am 100 yards into the initial swim.
How does worrying about having legs to run a half marathon help my swim stroke? Will it make me go faster? Will it make those 56 miles on the bike any easier? Will I actually even run faster when it finally arrives?
The answer to all of these questions is an unquestionable "NO!"
In fact, all that worrying about the end result or the future does is make the current work that I am doing much worse. What I have learned is that when I start to worry about the future parts of a race, I lose sight of the task at hand. For me during the swimming portion of a race, which is already my worst discipline, it means forgetting to do simple things like breathing. This has led me to panic and slow down in multiple races.
So, did thinking ahead make me finish any faster? Doing this only hindered me both mentally and physically by both wasted thoughts and energy that could have been put to better use.
In the picture to the right, Mark Allen, the eventual winner, had lost to Dave Scott multiple times in Hawaii. However, in 1989, he came in with a new focus and plan. This plan was to trail Dave Scott the entire day starting with the swim and ending on the run. Mark had seen Dave win this race many times and figured that if he could stay with him then he would put himself in the best place to win this race. He did not worry about the end result, he focused on the task of staying with Dave. He won for the first time. It works.
This can be applied to running as well. Will thinking about the 12 miles left to go in a half marathon or even the 25 left to go in a full marathon make them go by any faster? Not even a little. Trust me. If anything, it will only make you feel more tired in the current moment. Does that mean you ignore the fact that you have those miles to run? Also, NO. In order to have a successful race, you need to have a plan going in an simply check off that plan as the race goes on.
For example, my race plan for the Hot Chocolate 15K was simple. First 3 miles- Comfortable, Second 3 Miles- Find my planned pace, Final 3 miles- Give everything I have left in the tank. If I was worried about holding back so that I could give more at the end, I do not believe I would have had the race that I did. You can read that report to find more about what was going through my head during that race.
This can also be applied to many other situations in the real world as well regarding work and education, but I will let you decide how it can be applied to your own situations. However, I would love to hear about it.
The second way in which FOCUS can apply to both triathlon and everyday life is the concept that every workout/task should have a focus. This is another area in which I have struggled in the past. Before hiring a coach and talking with her about monthly, weekly, and daily focusses, I used to believe that in every workout that I should be pushing myself to the limit of my abilities, or I was not going to ever improve. My FOCUS was to PR every workout and every race with no regard to what I was actually doing to both my mind and body. I was physically exhausting myself and mentally pushing myself to a point of disappointment that was hard to get past.
What I have learned in this short duration with a coach is that sometimes the focus is to push the pace, threshold, etc., but sometimes, the focus is to keep a low heart-rate and simply enjoy running, biking, or swimming. If you do not give yourself a chance to appreciate the everyday joys in the sport, then you will burn out faster than you can think.
The summary of this for me is that learning to love what you do and staying focused on the NOW will ultimately lead to the most success in any situation.
When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. - J. Wooden