‘People think they have to train hard and feel muscle pain, in order to get results. But the no pain, no gain mentality could actually bring you backwards’ said Zdenek, the personal trainer that helped me prepare for a road bike tour in the Alps last month. One of my personal goals of this year (one of my points on the horizon) was to complete a track of 100 km with 1500 altitude meters. Complete, that was the only goal for now. Next to spending hours on my bike, I was training in the gym to increase strength; so the peddling would go easier on one of the 10% climbs on the track.
Zdenek taught me not to contract my muscles vigorously, but just think about the muscle that I was training at that moment. Not to use force, but to apply focus. That should not only be enough to do the trick, but it also prevents injuries.
‘Great, Suzanne, but I absolutely hate sports, so where does this go?’, I hear you think. Well, there is a resemblance between the lessons in the gym and real life. What I frequently see with clients who are in a situation that brings a high level of insecurity – which is often the case when they are in the middle of (life) changes – that they apply force to bring their life ‘in order’. It’s a default mode for many, and, for a long time, myself included. I remember vividly starting out with excel sheets of listed actions with deadlines to battle the nerve-racking process of buying a house or to compensate the vulnerable feelings I encountered when creating my own website. The approach of force, left me feeling frustrated and tired most of the time. Adding a bit of force to make it to a deadline can help you, but for most of the time I question whether it’s very effective.
Focus, on the other hand, is a far more gentle approach. Focus means you bring your attention to a task or situation. It’s also doing your best, but with awareness. Andy from the app Headspace said it beautifully in one the meditation sessions: ‘The ability to focus is the only way to carry out a strategy’.
So how can you apply focus instead of force in your daily life?
1. Define your point on the horizon and ask yourself with every project, step or action if that brings you closer to this point or moves you further away from it. You could try a holistic approach: saying ‘yes’ to something that brings joy, does not always directly benefit your point on the horizon, but it keeps your spirits up. Which is essential in staying motivated.
2. Focus on the process. If you work on a task, try to let go of the result, impact, or effect it should translate into. When focused on the result you are often applying force: ‘This hás to be finished and needs to be meet these standards.’ If you allow yourself to spend two hours of focused work on it, you’ll get closer to where you’d like it to be. And every minute brings you closer to that point.
3. Practice meditation, or whatever form of concentration training. For my man, Alex, it’s sitting on his bike without music or distraction. For me it’s sitting in silence. For a friend, it’s drawing while her phone is on flight mode. When you take time out to train your brain, it will become easier to rely on focus instead of force.
4. Keep on trying. Distracted? Re-focus. Frustrated? Re-focus. Getting forceful? Re-focus. No one can stay in a continuous state of focus, not even Buddhist monks. They also go in and out of focus, but are just really good at recognising it quickly. And to recognise when you are not focussed is the first step to – yep – focus.
When Alex and I arrived in the Alps the sky was crisp and blue. During the tour, I focused on my legs and breath from time to time, but mostly was at awe with the scenery. I felt good and strong. Half way down the 100-km track, I proposed to continue on the 150-km track. Seven hours, 2500 altitude meters, five bananas, three cups of Coca Cola, three sport bars, and several portions of disgusting sport gel later, we made it over the finishing line.
Without force and with focus I exceeded my own expectations, and above all; I was very much enjoying the ride. From beginning to end.
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