4/15/21: Building a habit for quickly regaining focus
Jon and I discussed how to use purposeful practice to achieve mastery on the latest Go Be More podcast.
The four key elements of purposeful practice are improving specific skills, intense focus, immediate feedback, and getting out of your comfort zone.
This week's Think Better Newsletter looks at how a simple technique for building better habits can also be used to regain focus.
My best event was the 10,000 meters, 25 laps around the track. It fit my strengths: finding a pace, feeling my rhythm, and locking in.
But it also presented a challenge in that 30 minutes is a long time to stay focused.
When I ran my best, I was focused and engaged throughout. When I lost that focus, I would not only vary my pace up and down, but I would spend mental energy chastising myself for not being more focused!
There's one more challenge with the 10k. The longer and faster you go, the harder it gets to do math! If your splits are off from your initial plan, trying to calculate where you are mid-race can become distracting.
Somewhere along the way I learned that my strides were a consistent predictor of my pace. 24 strides over 100m was about 4:40 mile pace, for example.
Knowing this gave me the ability to simply count my steps to check my current pace. I started doing this in practice and then eventually built it into races.
I created a routine for myself: When I hit the backstretch, I will count my steps for 100 meters. I did this in tempo runs in training and for the first 20 laps or so of 10k races. (The last mile I put more emphasis on competing.)
But I found it very useful for another reason. Counting my steps also nudged me to think about my form and my stride. I ran a little smoother, more efficiently.
This simple habit gave me my pace without doing math, it improved my form, and most importantly, if my mind was starting to wander it triggered me to re-focus each lap.
In BJ Fogg's book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything, he recommends a simple system for building any new habit into your lifestyle: "After I do ____, I will do ____."
For example, "After I go pee, I will do two push-ups." Or "After I wake up, I will say, 'Today's going to be a great day.'"
The trick is to find something you were already going to do (pee, get up), and insert a tiny new positive behavior (two push-ups, a positive statement) into that pre-existing routine. By hijacking an existing routine, you make it easier to adopt the new habit.
Here's one I use today to stay hydrated: "After I send an email, I will take a sip of water." I send emails all day. So now I keep water at my desk and I take a sip before moving on to the next task. I'm using an existing routine to help me hydrate better.
The same approach applies to running and focus.
"After I crest the hill (or turn a corner), I will do 5 quick steps."
"After I pass someone or get passed, I will say my mantra."
"After I hit the backstretch, I will count my steps."
There are many aspects of practicing and racing that are always going to happen. You will always crest hills, turn corners, pass people, get passed, or if you're on the track, hit the backstretch.
Use those times to insert a tiny habit that triggers you to focus.
After you read this post, will you build habits to improve your focus?
Go Be More,
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast
"Where focus goes, energy flows." -Tony Robbins
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