When focus is not enough.

Aaron Baw
Aaron Baw
May 16 · 3 min read

The past year, I’ve grown an insatiable, relentless desire to hone in on my ability to focus.

Shameless plug: some people at my university let me take the stage and ramble about focus for 18 minutes. Yes, there is a sense of irony in that I’ve distracted from the main blog post with a video on focus.

If you take a moment to really think about it, focus is a magical thing. Our consciousness is constantly filled with noise — racing thoughts, sensations which cover our awareness, and the environment around us. At any given point, we’re flooded with over a million bits of information — and just a sliver of that, just 4–7 bits, gets noticed by our conscious awareness. While mostly brought on by biological limitations, we can’t really focus on anything more (unless you’re into some serious Dual-N Back training), it’s all the space we have in our working memory.

In many ways, as I ramble on about in my talk, I see focus as a superpower. The abilty to direct our energies to a single point has a compounding effect that can lead to incredible results in a single domain. And while it’s easy to go on about how ridiculously powerful this simple idea can be, I’m learning that it doesn’t quite paint the full picture.

The Governer

In his book “The Seven habits of highly effective people”, Covey outlines this idea of Production vs Production Capability. On the surface, it’s pretty straightforward. Without investing in maintaining your production capability (rest, recharging & rejuvination) your production, will invariably suffer. Finding that balance, between rest, and production, is one of the biggest challenges I face on a daily basis.

Experience tells me that the body likes to lie. Our brains, the protectors of the self, embue us with a desire for comfort that I believe is a largely limiting force. I’m sure mosts have experienced this, whether it be accomplishing some feat we didn’t think possible, or on a much smaller scale — pushing through a workout even when we think we’re too tired to continue. David Goggins likes to call this the ‘governor’; science likes to call it the ‘anterior cingulate cortex’, the part of the brain that regulates how effortful something feels, and is the primary reason we choose to quit.

Training this little thing has been a little bit of an obsession of mine. I love the idea that we are capable of more than we think, and am always on the lookout to find new ways to stretch my mental muscles and develop a better sense of grit.

Balance.

The issue, is that this mindset, can often find itself at odds with the idea of maintaining a healthy production capability. How do you know when you should push? To keep going? To give it your all? Or to reel back, take it easy, rest, and recover for the next challenge. Training the mind develops your sense of focus and discipline, but rest gives you the energy you need to deploy it intensely.

What I see as the key pillars of a healthy production capability.

I know this, deep down, but my behaviour far from reflects this. I’m far more likely to keep operating at 40% until I can’t anymore, than take day off to get back up to 100%.

It’s no wonder that I’ve been sensing my focus isn’t quite what it used to be. I know how to focus, I understand what it takes to remove distractions, to crack down, and to slip into that state. But it’s getting hard and harder as time goes by . Noisier thoughts, less intensity, less desire to keep going — all because I’ve been neglecting that all too important Production Capability.

The key probably lies in balance, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to fit that together with my obsession to keep pushing. If you’ve got any nuggets of wisdom you’d be willing to share, I’m all ears.

Aaron Baw

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Aaron Baw

Long-form tweets. Philosophical nuggets. Extended thoughts.