Friday, August 9, 2013

Focus. Concentrate. Pay Attention.

Not too long ago, Iris was visiting with her friend Quinn, an amazing little guy who, at eight, regularly bursts through physiological and neurological barriers that would daunt most adults. Like most days, Quinn was working on honing a newly acquired skill. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he stopped, drew himself up and said, "Focus. Concentrate. Pay Attention."

He continued with his task.

Iris asked Quinn, "What did you just say?"

Quinn looked at her and responded, "Focus. Concentrate. Pay Attention."

He returned his attention to his task and continued refining his new skill.

After their visit, Iris told me about Quinn's prescription to focus, concentrate and pay attention. She decided that it wasn't a bad idea to check in with herself every once in a while to make sure that she indeed was focusing, concentrating and paying attention.

Last night at rehearsal, we worked through new material that was challenging in many dimensions. The harmonies alternated between major and minor tonalities. The tempo and rhythm changed regularly. The lyrics flew by at such a pace that, were you to think about the phrase you just missed, you'd surely miss the upcoming phrase that you hadn't. The pitches stretched our vocal ranges at both the top and the bottom.

There was no one thing about the song that was particularly challenging. The high notes were high, but not out of range. The rhythm and tempo changed, but they were not complex. The tonality alternated, but neither alternative was difficult to sing or play. Every aspect of the song was well within each of our capacities. Nonetheless, we struggled.

During a break, Quinn's words came to mind.



Pay attention.

As we launched into another round of the chorus, I closed my eyes, drew in a breath and let go of everything but the next note. I stopped thinking about getting it right. I stopped thinking about what we'd done or where we were likely to make mistakes. I stopped thinking about the technical aspects of playing or singing. I just dropped into the moment and took each word and note as they came.


This morning it occurred to me that our analyses of challenges and situations are frequently superficial. You encounter a challenge. You assume that the challenge lies in the task or activity in which you encountered it.

Makes sense, right?

Yet the real challenge may have absolutely nothing to do with the task at hand.




It's not about the task. It's not about required skills. It's not about knowledge or expertise.

It's about focus, concentration and paying attention: FCPA.

So then it occurred to me that one might think about FCPA as a skill. It's a meta-skill that spans other skills and disciplines. Yet it's a skill to be practiced and honed like any other.

Thing is, I've never seen FCPA taught in school. I've been told to do it, but I've never been taught it. FCPA shares characteristic with meditation, but meditation is often practiced in isolation, not as an applied skill. It works in the lab or when one has time, but not outside in the moment.

So, how would one go about developing FCPA as a skill?


Happy Friday,

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