Each month at Balanced Achievement, we explore various personal qualities that are exhibited by the world’s most successful, happy, and fulfilled individuals. In this ongoing series called ‘The ABCs of Personal Qualities’, we not only highlight individual personal characteristics but also explain why they are important and provide definitive steps that you can take to cultivate the given attribute within yourself. Today, we look at the personal quality of Flexible Focus, which will be vital to develop for anyone setting out to achieve the unthinkable.
It was in 1964 when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for his role in commanding the African National Congress’ efforts to overthrow South Africa’s sitting governmental faction at the time, the National Party, which was built upon beliefs of racial segregation and white supremacy. Leaders of the National Party had accused the fiery charismatic 48-year-old civil rights activist for directing bombing attacks on governmental entities and promoting violence within the country. Mandela, who was steadfast in his focus on gaining equal rights for his fellow black South Africans, would go to jail for what many assumed to be his entire life.
While Mandela wouldn’t spend his entire life in prison, he would spend the next 27 years behind bars, much of which was in solitary confinement. On February 11th, 1990, the world waited in tense anticipation of Mandela’s release with fears of protests, violence, and even a civil war. South Africans wondered: What would the now 63-year-old Mandela look like? Would he still approach South Africa’s racial issues with the same fiery approach as before? Would his anger have rose to new levels after spending 27 years behind bars? Would his release lead to violence in the country?
Although there was undeniable potential for South Africans’ fear to manifest upon Mandela’s release, he would come out of jail a different man. The passionately intense ex-boxer that went in came out a contented man possessing a level of newfound wisdom. No, his steadfast focus on creating equal rights for his brothers and sisters hadn’t wained, but he had learned that a different approach may be needed to achieve his lifelong goal. It was only possible by using flexible focus that Nelson Mandela was able to achieve the unthinkable. He famously told us:
It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
What is Flexible Focus?:
Regardless of the field, industry, or profession, it is certain that history’s truly immortal individuals were able to achieve the unthinkable by utilizing the flexible focus. The lives of Walt Disney, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Mahatma Gandhi are just three additional examples that show what is possible when individuals remain unwilling to change their long-term vision but approach their goals with elastic-like flexibility. Without being adaptable to change, yet at the same time committed to success, none of these men would’ve been able to handle the immense failures and setbacks they dealt with on their respective paths to achieving the unthinkable. It was the famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who told us:
A tree that is unbending, is easily broken.”
As history shows us, in comparison to flexible focus there are few qualities that are as important to develop for one’s journey on the path toward achievement. When individuals focus their energies toward a particular destination but remain flexible in how they arrive, their likelihood of success becomes all but guaranteed. Moreover, those who have developed flexible focus are able to find the most effective path toward achievement because an opportunistic mindset naturally arises.
Why is Flexible Focus Important?:
Because setbacks, obstacles, and failure are an unavoidable part of the achievement process, it is only by approaching your most ambitious goals with a flexible and open mindset that success becomes possible. For the once-in-a-generation individuals who have truly changed the world with their commitment to greatness, the flexible focus was undeniably one of the personal characteristics they relied most heavily upon. This means that if you are setting out to accomplish truly extraordinary things, you’ll need to develop the flexibility to overcome challenges and potentially alter your course to reach the intended destination.
Having flexible focus is not only important because it allows us to overcome turbulence along the way, but also because it helps us find new and innovative ways to quicken our journey toward achievement. While it may be possible to accomplish some of our desired outcomes with a stern and rigid mindset, our chances for success become greatly diminished and the time it takes us to accomplish our goals increases. Albert Einstein, a man who relied greatly on flexibility and curiosity, told us:
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.”
A third yet contradictory reason that flexible focus is so important for our success is that while on the path toward achievement, we may discover that what we initially desired may no longer be what we truly want. University students who continue to pursue a degree that they first set out to obtain, although they are no longer interested in that field, will have a painstaking path to achieving their goal and may not find happiness once they arrive. With flexible focus, however, they can realize that their ultimate destination is not the one they initially thought it to be and alter their course towards a destination where true happiness can be found.
Achieving the Unthinkable with Flexible Focus:
If you are currently in the process of trying to turn your most ambitious dreams into reality, it’ll be vital for you to strengthen your ability to focus with flexibility. Fortunately, there are a number of simple practices that you can undertake to naturally promote your flexible focus capabilities and the following four strategies, in particular, will all greatly increase your opportunities to achieve the unthinkable like many of history’s immortal legends:
Regularly Monitor & Evaluate Yourself:
One of the most important steps that you can take to develop flexible focus is to regularly monitor and evaluate your strategies for success and the results of your actions. By sitting down and consciously asking yourself questions such as ‘Is there any way that I can achieve my goals more effectively and efficiently?’ and ‘What would make me achieve my goals faster?’, you’ll begin to discover creative new ways to accomplish your desired outcomes in a more timely manner. Additionally, it is useful to set up SMART goals and regularly monitor the outcomes of your actions based on the results you desire.
Develop an Elastic Mindset:
There are a number of mental qualities that are directly linked to flexible focus and you can systematically change your habits of mind in a way that leads to greater cognitive flexibility. Three perceptual shifts in particular will greatly increase your chances for success. First, you should strive to limit your short-term focus to learning and growing as a person, instead of worrying about when your long-term objectives will manifest, as this will allow you to find joy throughout the achievement process. Second, you should aim to become curious about everything in a non-judgmental and accepting way. By mixing a focus on growth and learning with a curious attitude, you’ll be able to give up the need to be right all the time, which is one of the quickest ways to improve your abilities to succeed. Lastly, one of the most important things you can do is develop the belief that setbacks, obstacles, and failure are nothing more than opportunities to learn and grow. One of the world’s most well-respected leadership experts, John C. Maxwell, tells us:
The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.”
Meditate to Increase Your Awareness & Focus:
There are a seemingly endless number of benefits that come from the practice of meditation, with two of them being an increase in self-awareness and an enhanced ability to focus one’s attention. By becoming more aware of yourself, your actions, and your strategies, you’ll be able to first discover the behaviors and ways of thinking that aren’t producing the results you desire, and then make changes to the problems you find. Additionally, it has been scientifically proven that meditation increases individuals’ abilities to focus their attention in the present-moment, which is unquestionably a vital component of all great achievement.
Exercise to Improve Your Executive Function Skills:
Neurologically speaking, the quality of flexible focus is directly linked to the brain’s executive function processes, which also consist of one’s abilities to plan, organize, and strategize. It is well documented that individuals with the best mental executive function capabilities are more productive, more creative, better at predicting the consequences of their behaviors, set clearer goals, and are able to function better in times of crisis. Fortunately, each of us can improve our brain’s executive function processes, and our flexible focus, by maintaining a simple physical fitness routine. Many studies have shown that by simply exercising for 20 to 30 minutes each day, individuals see improvements in not only all these areas but also in other important life skills such as emotional regulation.
Hopefully, it is now clear to see that regardless of where you are in your life, you have the ability to increase your chances of achieving the unthinkable by developing your levels of flexible focus. Now, to end this article, we’ll leave you with a quote from one of history’s most successful self-help leaders, Tony Robbins, who sums flexible focus up perfectly:
Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”