Passion and focus are spoken about all the time. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing, or it’s not right for you.” All the heroes of our time – mostly in tech – are known for their relentless focus on their passion. It probably culminates in the now near-mythological figure that is Steve Jobs.
I am highly distractible, but when it came to something I consider important – I’ve always been the kind of person who locks on – and that’s it. A certain degree of fanaticism was involved in many of the projects I pursued. When I was a medical student, the rest of the world didn’t exist outside of medicine. When I did HIIT, I really did it – stars in my eyes and all. Even this – I said I would blog every day.
In my experience, it’s a double edged sword. Focus is always avoiding the completeness of the present moment. We trade awareness for a hope of a better future. It’s still puzzling to me how one can be purely mindful and make plans, but our culture certainly tells us to make lots of them – and don’t forget the assorted to-do lists to go with it.
Even forgetting about mindfulness, focus is dangerous: focus on the wrong thing – and it’s a real problem. I’ve obsessed about the things that most girls obsess about: boys, weight, nice things. I am in my 20s, so it’s quite forgivable. Still, having the kind of personality that locks onto things, it’s tough to get out of a focus-rut once you are in it. It’s not OCD, but the word tormenting seems appropriate. My only medicine for this has been mindfulness – or a rude awakening from the real world. I much prefer the former.
For those of us who are super-focused, or those reading all of this advice to be laser-focused and wishing that they could be like that, remember that it comes at a price.
2 thoughts on “The dangers of laser-like focus”
Yep! There is definitely a certain type of person who becomes highly distractable when they’re not engaged, but then locks on to something that seems valuable to them. That’s my personality type, too. Amateurs sometimes call this ADHD, but people who actually have studied ADHD can distinguish between them. Nevertheless, self-awareness when you have this kind of brain is a very valuable thing. Am I focused on the right thing right now? Why does this topic capture my attention? If you can do it consciously — mindfully! — then it becomes a superpower. But like in all the superpower stories, you have to learn to master it.
I agree: I don’t think it has much to do with ADHD, but I understand why people think it. When we get excited about something, we get really excited. A lot of philosophers say that it’s important to not get too off-centre.
I think it comes from certain emotional habits: a lot of people get positive feedback from their emotions. For example, “I am happy, therefore, everything is well. Therefore, I will be even happier”. Or, “I am unhappy. The fact that I am unhappy means everything is going badly. I feel even worse.”
It’s far more adaptive to have negative feedback loops like in almost all physiology