by Diane Rogers
Do you love a sense of achievement but hate setting goals?
If the mere thought of a concrete plan brings to mind Teutonic structure—an angular box to your free-flowing creativity—you’re not alone. For some of us, terms like “goal” and “deadline” are monstrous creatures threatening to constrict our artistic breath.
By definition, “creativity” means manifesting original ideas in a tangible, functional form, which means artistic achievement doesn’t happen by magic.
The Problem with Goal Setting
There are as many formulas for goal setting as there are gurus who promote them. For example, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals are designed be motivational because written goals form a concrete objective. Many experts also extol the virtues of visualization, suggesting that detailed mental imagery of your aim (such as imagining yourself typing the last line of your novel) helps you achieve it.
But we all know that even the best intentions aided by SMART goals and visualization techniques don’t always result in finished products. And it can be hard to get bottom of the reasons why.
The Science of Focus
According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, goal or intention setting alone isn’t enough. Accomplishment requires what Goleman calls directed attention or “focus.” It makes sense that the more concentrated our focus, the better the outcome—in writing, in relationships, and in life. However, “focus” means much more than just putting your mind to something. Focus is an acquired skill that helps you domesticate your inner python and achieve your aspirations.
According to Goleman, the key to success in all areas of life requires three aspects of focus: zooming in our inner thoughts and feelings (“inner” focus), zooming out to be present and empathic with others (“other” focus), and using a wide-angle lens to see the larger systems and social trends (“outer” focus).
“Inner” focus refers to self-awareness and self-regulation. Zooming in on your internal world acts as a grounding force. It’s the compass steering you toward your guiding values and principles. Self-awareness creates an understanding of your strengths and limitations. Knowing what you’re good at and what you need to work on gives you a realistic sense of self-confidence. Self-regulation is what helps you manage difficult emotions and muster the positive emotions necessary for staying motivated and recovering from setbacks. Successful writers depend on “inner focus” to keep them on track.
“Other” focus means zooming out and paying attention to those around you. It is the practice of empathy, or being sensitive to others. It means honing in on non-verbal cues and becoming aware of how others feel and the way they perceive things. This skill helps a writer get in sync with her or his audience, editors, and publishing team members. “Other” focus is the foundation of a range of interpersonal competencies required to manage the complexities of day-to-day relationships.
Successful writers don’t work in isolation. They use “other” focus in receiving and incorporating feedback. “Other” focus is also the art of influence, persuasion, negotiation, and collaboration—skills all writers need in order to work collaboratively and to promote their work.
The third type of focus—known as “outer” focus—shapes how writers navigate the external forces in the wider world. “Outer” focus gives you the capacity to anticipate what is on the horizon. It underpins the business savvy writers use to interpret group dynamics, find decision makers, understand economic forces, anticipate market conditions and trends, and sense audience needs. “Outer” focus is the skill that allows writers, among other things, to traverse the complexities of a rapidly changing publishing world.
Creative individuals have an additional kind of focus to contend with. As writers, we sift through reams of information in preparation for our work. While immersing ourselves in a variety of input, we must also stay of open to anything relevant that comes our way. In other words, distraction comes with the territory. Writers function in the juxtaposed (and often schizophrenic) state of selective attention and open awareness. Creative focus means paying specific heed (micro focus) to the creative subject matter, while allowing our minds to associate freely (macro focus) and being vigilant to what might emerge spontaneously.
How to Tame a Python in Three Steps
So, if distractions are everywhere, how can you train your inner python and achieve your 2017 goals?
1. Peel Away Distractions
Goleman’s recipe for success includes peeling away distractions by giving undivided attention to whatever you’re doing. Mindfulness meditation practices teach individuals to refocus attention by first becoming aware that the mind has wandered and then returning attention the original focus. Neuroscience research indicates that enhancing the ability to focus can literally rewire the brain. Regular meditation has been proven to sharpen the brain’s circuitry and enhance its neuroplasticity.
Goleman suggests meditation may have helped improve Steve Jobs (a longtime Zen practitioner) brain’s attention circuitry. When Jobs limited Apple’s product line to a handful of products with a few variations, he created a winning business strategy through single-minded focus.
Did you know you can boost your literary performance by reflecting on your strengths, weakness, and motivations as a writer? Understanding when and where you write best is a simple way to refocus attention. Knowing what is likely to pull your attention away from your work can help you to pare away distractions before they occur.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
Effort is also a vital aspect of achievement. Goleman says the more you focus on your practice, the stronger the brain circuitry becomes and the better you will get at your craft.
It’s not the number of hours that count, but the way you direct your attention to your performance that is most important.
3. Get Outside Help
Writing, like python-taming, is not for the faint of heart. No one said it would be easy.
Having a writing buddy, a writing coach, or an editor is vital to the process of success. External feedback acts as a wide-angle camera lens helping you to see beyond your blind spots so you can lift your game. Accessing help across your literary journey combines “other” and “outer” focus, which can help change the way you see your work and provide additional motivation.
OC Writers Rock
At OC Writers, you’re in good company. Here you’ll find plenty of men and women triple focused on refining their craft in 2017 through getting to work, getting involved, and getting better acquainted with the slippery beasts known as writing and publishing.
How do you make peace with your inner python? What steps have you taken to focus in 2017? Leave a comment and let us know!
After retiring from a corporate career in business transformation and change management, Dr. Diane Rogers brings her expertise in social psychology to classrooms and families.
Her first picture book, Stand Tall, made its debut at the 2008 Seeds of Compassion Conference in Seattle, Washington featuring His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. A week after the book’s release, the State of Washington selected Stand Tall as an official teaching resource for compassionate education. Diane’s other published works include Emerge, A Story of Confidence, and When We All Stand Tall. To find out more, visit www.drdianerogers.com.
A self-professed global nomad, when they aren’t traveling on or jumping out of planes, Diane and her husband Kevin triangulate between Sydney, Australia, Newport Beach, and their sailboat in the Mediterranean.
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