What are the benefits of focus? How does focusing give you purpose in life?
Fostering a more focused mind provides a wide range of benefits. In The Power of Unwavering Focus, Dandapani asserts that mastering focus will help you to: improve your work performance, overcome stress and anxiety, deepen your relationships, live with more purpose, and experience more joy.
Let’s look at the benefits of staying focused in life.
Benefit 1: Improve Your Work Performance
The first benefit of focus is improved work performance. Dandapani posits three ways that improved focus will improve your work performance. You’ll use time more efficiently, use energy more efficiently, and master your skills.
1) Use time more efficiently: Improved focus will save time that is normally used up by distractions. Dandapani states that distractions such as social media, checking news feeds, or simply letting your mind wander when you want to be on task eats up valuable time. By learning to focus, you’ll minimize time spent on distractions and use your time on productive work instead.
(Shortform note: In Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracy argues that, in addition to time lost on the distractions themselves, we must consider the time spent refocusing our mind each time we get distracted. He states that it takes the mind about 17 minutes to re-settle and become fully focused again once it has become distracted.)
2) Use energy more efficiently: Improved focus will allow you to use energy much more efficiently. As we’ll discuss when learning Dandapani’s focusing techniques later in this guide, every time your awareness moves off task, it takes willpower (and mental energy) to bring it back. The more practiced you become in preventing your awareness from wandering in the first place, the less willpower you’ll need to use to stay on task. Therefore, you’ll be able to complete the same amount of work without becoming as mentally exhausted.
(Shortform note: In Incognito, neuroscientist David Eagleman explains how practicing focus can allow you to use your mind’s energy more efficiently. He states that when you repeat an action, it becomes increasingly fixed in your neural circuitry—the pattern of neurons that perform the task. Next time you go to perform the action, your brain can do it more quickly because it’s now using a pre-created, fixed neural circuit instead of needing to build a new one. After repeated use, this allows you to perform the same action using less energy.)
3) Master your skills: Finally, Dandapani explains that improved focus will facilitate greater mastery of any skill. Recall that your energy flows wherever you direct your awareness. Therefore, the more you guide your awareness to the regions involved in using a skill—anything from painting to analyzing a problem at work—the more energy you will invest in those regions. This invested energy grows the strength and capacity of the skill, like exercising a muscle.
(Shortform note: In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin builds on the importance of focus in developing skills. Waitzkin explains that presence—a state of calm awareness and intense focus—is essential for achieving a high level of mastery. Presence not only allows you to stay with a task for longer practice sessions, but it also allows you to respond calmly and thoughtfully to the challenges and frustrations along the way.)
Benefit 2: Overcome Stress and Anxiety
Improved focus also has the power to help you overcome anxiety and fear. Dandapani explains that you experience anxiety because your awareness travels to an imaginary future where things are going poorly. This then causes you stress and anxiety in the present moment. However, you wouldn’t be stressed out if your awareness wasn’t traveling to an imagined future in the first place. Therefore, Dandapani argues, you can overcome stress and anxiety by guiding your awareness back to the present and away from the distressing imagined future.
(Shortform note: In Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman adds an important caveat to Dandapani’s view of anxiety. While Goleman agrees that we feel anxious because we imagine future events going poorly, he argues that this process can serve an important purpose. When you anticipate a challenge in the future, your mind begins rehearsing solutions to better prepare you for the situation. However, he does note that this behavior becomes unhealthy when it becomes repetitive and chronic, or if the mind begins catastrophizing—imagining ever worse and worse situations until arriving at totalizing thoughts like, “I’ll never be happy in life.”)
Benefit 3: Deepen Your Relationships
Dandapani asserts that focus can also deepen your relationships with others. This is because focus allows you to give a friend or loved one your undivided attention. This deepens relationships in two distinct ways.
First, giving someone your undivided attention can make them feel valued. Dandapani states that everyone has a finite amount of time and energy in their lives, making them the most valuable things you can give another person. By giving someone your undivided attention—which requires your time and energy—you show how important they are to you.
Second, by giving someone your undivided attention, you’ll notice more about the other person than you would if you were distracted during your interactions. This will enable you to get to know them better than you did before and lead to a deeper, richer relationship.
(Shortform note: In You’re Not Listening, Kate Murphy provides a different explanation for why giving someone your undivided attention has so much power to deepen relationships. She states that when someone listens with undivided attention, the brainwaves of the speaker and the listener begin to sync up. This syncing enables feelings of closeness and deep emotional bonding that strengthen the relationship over time.)
Benefit 4) Live With More Purpose
Dandapani states that learning to focus will help you live a more purposeful life. He provides two reasons why.
First, improved focus has the power to help you better understand your life’s purpose. To truly gain a sense of purpose in your life, you must understand your deepest desires and motivations—which you can only achieve by knowing and listening to your mind. If you’re always distracted, you’ll never listen to the regions of your mind that hold your deeper motivations in life.
Second, improved focus will allow you to prioritize the activities, relationships, and skills that contribute to your life’s purpose. Recall that one of the benefits of focus is control over your time and energy. This means you’ll be able to invest more time and energy in activities that feel meaningful and give your life a sense of purpose.
Benefit 5) Experience More Joy
Finally, Dandapani reveals that developing the skill of focus will lead to a more joyful life. He stresses that joy isn’t an experience to be chased on its own, but rather a by-product of living purposefully and investing in the people and goals that matter most to you.
Thus, as your focus allows you to understand your motivations and priorities and to direct your energy toward them, you’ll discover that a focused life is a joyful life.
(Shortform note: In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama challenges the view that you shouldn’t make happiness a goal. He argues that the purpose of every human life is to seek happiness. However, he defines happiness as more than just a feeling—it’s a state of being deeply content with your life. In contrast to Dandapani, who suggests that contentment is a natural byproduct of focusing on your priorities, the Dalai Lama argues that you achieve contentment by practicing compassion—an essential part of human nature.)