Previously, we saw that acquiring Patience (Part 1), Hard Work (Part 2) and Practice (Part 3) will improve your training as well as various aspects of your life.
Now in Part 4, we get to the final lesson of Focus, which, when taken together with the other three, can transform who you are when applied.
Lesson 4: Focus
Focus is the key to success
Focus is the ability to concentrate on what’s important and to ignore what isn’t.
Most of our lives are caught up in things that don’t really matter. We waste our attention on all sorts of minor distractions, like mindless scrolling on social media, that seldom provide any real value. Even at work, you commonly notice people defaulting to low-level tasks instead of choosing to do important, high-return actions.
The ability to focus separates the high achievers from the rest of the crowd. In fact, some scientists consider the ability for mental focus to be a predictor of a person’s potential success in life.
This is because your time and energy are limited. So if you can identify what’s important and concentrate solely on doing that, you’d stop wasting these precious resources on things that don’t contribute to achieving your goal.
What you should focus on in the gym, and why
In the short term, you want to focus on the proper execution of the lift – to be precise, focussing on the current rep that you’re doing.
On every rep, there are usually multiple errors occurring at once. Even though there might be multiple errors going on at once, a good coach will choose to fix only one – the most important one at that point of time. He’d give you cue(s) to fix the error and guide you to perform the lift in accordance with how the coach wants the lift to be performed.
If needed, your coach will explain the issue between sets to make sure that you understand what you’re doing wrong, and guide you towards fixing that error. Only when the most important issue is fixed, will your coach go down the list and work on the next most important thing.
Although this might seem like a slow process and one would be tempted to fix several issues at once, it doesn’t work as well as fixing one issue at a time, prioritising the most important one and working your way down. Imagine that you’ve squatting – there’s a heavy bar pressing down on you and your coach is telling you to hold your back tighter, shove your right knee out more, go a little deeper and make sure you’re keeping your weight over the middle of your foot. What do you think the outcome of that’s going to be? The lesson to learn here is to focus on one thing at a time, because it puts all of your attention to it and gives you a much better chance of fixing it.
Over the course of a session, you want to focus on the top one or maybe two errors that you constantly make on each lift. You want to be mentally aware of these issues and work to fix them and ignore (for now) the other errors that are happening.
Why do this? Because focusing on your biggest problems will give you your biggest improvements. Yes, you could fix a bunch of small errors, but these issues aren’t a priority right now – fix the most important issue first, then work your way down the list.
From a bigger picture perspective, focus also applies to your long-term goals. After you’ve laid out your training targets are, make that the only thing you’re working towards and not get distracted by other shiny objects. Want to squat 2x your bodyweight but also want to get razor-sharp abs at the same time? Trying to get both at the same time is setting yourself up to achieve neither.
Constantly changing your goals before achieving them is another good way to not achieving anything and half-assing everything. You’ll up with nothing to show for at the end of the day – that is why no one will remember your name.
Some people have the tendency to change their training goals halfway, because they see their favourite athlete doing some cool new program and want to follow them. Or they take on a silly “challenge” that they saw some fitness influencer do on social media.
Know what your goal is, and maintain your focus on it. Stick to the things that actually work and ignore programs that might look more “fun”.
So let’s take it that your target is to achieve a 2x bodyweight squat. Sounds impossible? You’ll never know until you try and do everything within your control that supports that goal.
Obviously, this includes time spent under the barbell, putting in the work. But it also includes important factors like diet, rest and recovery, and lifestyle choices. It’s like how a successful business is not just about building a good product, but also considers marketing, operations, sales and so on — it’s multifactorial.
Eliminating distractions to win the mental game
In the gym as in life, mental distractions are everywhere.
A prime example would be social media, which has really hurt our attention span. Got time for a break? Take out your phone, and check your notifications. In the middle of some difficult work that you can’t seem to concentrate on? Well, maybe just a quick scroll through Facebook for inspiration…
The thing is, social media is engineered to keep us addicted to it. It triggers the same reward system in our brain as drug addiction and gambling, by making us feel good every time we encounter positive social stimuli, e.g. “likes” on your posts, pop-up notifications, or messages from friends.
In itself, social media isn’t bad. But we just waste way too much time on our phones engaging in low-level interaction that doesn’t actually achieve anything. If instead, we spend those hours focusing on our priorities, we would be far more efficient.
Then there are internal mental distractions, like negative self-talk. So much of training is mental — every time you try to achieve anything outside of your current comfort zone, the anxious inner voice of fear and worry can pop up. Before going for a heavy set of squats, something you’ve never done before, you’re bound to have thoughts like “I’m not sure about this, what if I can’t stand back up and the bar is going to fall on me. What if I get hurt”?
These are perfectly normal thoughts, but they’re not really useful. In fact, they distract you from the main task at hand, which is to focus on lifting that weight in your of you. Place all your focus on that one cue to fix that one problem that you keep doing.
Learning the art of saying no
In the longer term, focus helps you develop the ability to say no.
This is an extremely underrated ability, because any goal worth achieving in life requires long-term dedication without veering off the path and sacrificing certain things. You can’t just say yes to every shiny new opportunity that shows up, because it takes up the precious time and energy that you should have spent on reaching your goals.
In life, there is an opportunity cost for every decision you make. Focus forces you to clarify what you actually want.
Very often in life, you need to choose between something that’s harder to do (but beneficial towards your goals) or something that’s easy and pleasurable (but doesn’t get you closer to your goals). If you plan to skip a morning training session because you chose to go drinking the night before, your actions show that your goal of squatting 2x your body weight isn’t important enough for you to limit your intake or head home early to sleep or say no altogether. And that’s totally fine – you’re an adult and can to decide what you want to do but don’t go around wondering why you’re not getting stronger and blaming everything else but your actions.
To get to where you want to be, the ability to focus has to be there. If we had to break it down, focus is about clarity (knowing what is your goal), prioritisation (choosing the most important tasks), removing distractions (paying attention to those tasks), and saying no to everything else (staying the course).
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” — Bruce Lee.
4 lessons with the power to change your life
If you go through the process of getting stronger with barbell training, if you stay open to what it can teach you, you’ll find that the lessons learnt under the barbell can be applicable to your life.
You’ll learn about Patience, and how to progress systematically and reject shortcuts.
You’ll learn about Hard Work, and the necessary discipline to do difficult things.
You’ll learn to Practice, to consistently commit to excellence in everything you do.
You’ll learn to Focus, to consciously choose and pay attention to what’s important.
And if you can learn all these lessons well, you’ll end up raising the bar (pun intended!) for your personal growth and development.
Life transformation isn’t easy. To make lasting changes, you need to move away from who you are right now. You need to shed the parts of your old self — the habits, beliefs and values that no longer align with your goals — in order to move towards who you want to be.
By applying the lessons that the process of getting stronger can teach you. barbell training can guide you through this transformation,
Over time, you’ll start noticing that you do things just a bit differently from before. You think differently, and you make different choices. You form new habits, you set new standards, and you get inspired by new ideas.
In short, you’re creating a better, more authentic and aligned life.
Who will you become? We don’t know yet. But somewhere along the way, if you stick to this path, you’ll inevitably become a better version of yourself.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article series.
Does it resonate with you? We’d love to hear your opinion. Comment on our Facebook page or tell us in person when you next visit us at the gym.
If you’re new to barbell training, and are curious about what it’s all about, check out our Intro Class.