The Focus Tool: Attend, Avoid, Access

How to get your brain working the right way to produce results

April 23, 2019

If you are feeling distracted and like you need to get focused, you need the right tool to help your brain work better. You need to rewire your brain back to how it is supposed to work.

By default, our brains don’t function in the most useful way possible. We fall into old patterns, begin worrying, and fear sets in. If you’ve ever talked yourself out of doing your work, you know this is true…

The focus tool works like this:

  1. Attend – you attend to, or focus your attention on something super specific
  2. Avoid – you deliberately avoid doing other things
  3. Access – you access the relevant information to make progress

1. Attend to a specific result

Attention and attendance are closely related. Attending is about showing up. Whatever it is that you are trying to do or accomplish, you must attend to what that is. In other words, you have to go to that place in your brain. It is easy for us to attend to the WRONG things and be driven by what is in front of our face or what is bothering us. But if we want to accomplish our big goals, we have to go to that space.

2. Avoid distractions

To keep our attention fixed, we must actively avoid information and activities that are not relevant to the goal. In other words, we must make a decision to say “no” to interruptions and other “emergencies” that show up. If you don’t decide ahead of time to actively avoid anything that’s not directly related to the result we are working on, we will get caught up in whatever someone else is deciding is important.

On the practical side, this means closing your email application and not checking it for hours. It means leaving your phone in a different room with the ringer OFF. It means isolating yourself from activities and conversations that will pull you off track.

3. Access key info

The third part is to access the relevant information to make progress. In front of your face or at the top of your mind, you must remember or access what is going to help you keep going.

Some of us work well with a deadline to motivate us. “Access” in this context looks like keeping that deadline front and center while we work on the project.

Some us work well with some kind of visual prompt. “Access” in this context looks like having a real picture of what you’re trying to create in front of you while you work.

Brain science: executive functions aren’t default

This is my take on how psychologists and neuroscientists talk about how the brain works. Henry Cloud uses the terms attend, inhibit, remember to describe the same thing. The key is to remember that our brains naturally deviate to a “fear” mindset where we are not operating at our best.

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