Focus vs. Obsession: Why You Should Know the Difference

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In the simplest terms, mental focus is the ability to concentrate on a single task, idea, or solution in a way that will enhance your Focuseffectiveness and productivity at work, at home, and in life.

True focus requires the discipline to avoid or ignore distractions and place your priorities in a way that will produce lasting joy, energy, and effectiveness.

Obsession, on the other hand, is the result of irrational and hyperactive focus. It limits your ability see things around you for what they truly are, and causes you to ignore the things in life that really matter. In essence, obsession is mental addiction; like any addiction, it can lead to a downward spiral of destructive behavior.

Mastering The Art of Focus

In order to master the art of focus in your personal and professional life (as well as avoid both distraction and obsession) you need to know the rules:

Rule #1: Identify Your Distractions

We live in a world of constant distraction. Often, distraction comes in the form of digital media, and the statistics would agree—the average American can spend up to 12 hours a day online using mobile apps, watching television, and listening to music. And while digital media can provide effective tools for information and communication, it can also be an incredible waste of time, and even an obsession for some people.

When is Mental Strength Useful? Get your free e-book HERE and find out

One way to identify digital distractions in your life is to keep a media diary. This self-reported tool measures the frequency, duration, and type of your media use throughout the day. Try your best to stay as close to your normal habits as possible during the recording period. After three to five days, examine your media usage and look for ways to cut down on the time you spend being distracted.

Date Time/Duration Medium Activity
12/13/2013 9:00 AM (1 hour) Television Watched Morning News
12/13/2013 10:00 AM (15 min) Internet Checked Emails
12/13/2013 1:00 PM (2 hours) Internet Facebook, Pinterest

 Rule #2: Prioritize Your Focal Points

Granted, not everything that requires your attention and focus is a distraction: family, physical health, relaxation, studying, working, and worship can all be valuable focal points that will enrich your life and make you a better person. However, while all of these focal points are good, they are not of equal importance or urgency. Investing too much time in any one activity can leave other areas in your life lacking, and is the essence of obsession.

A good way to prioritize your focal points is to organize them on an Importance-Urgency Chart, or a Time Management Matrix (see Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). This tool allows you to plot your focal points according to their importance (measuring the size of the impact of this activity on the quality of your life), and their urgency (measuring how soon you need to turn your attention to this activity).

importantIt should come as no surprise that most of your focus should be dedicated to important activities. For example, while checking emails from work may require your immediate attention, most of the time it is of little importance and should therefore rank lower on your list of priorities. On the other hand, spending time with loved ones is very important, but is not often a matter of urgency or emergency. These activities should rank higher on your priority list.

Rule #3: Maintain Mental Presence

Recognizing what is important in life is one thing, but maintaining mental presence is the tricky part. Your effectiveness in your personal and professional life will be significantly lowered if your mind is always somewhere else. Thankfully, employing a few different exercises each day will help you stay focused on what’s most important.

Meditate: Perhaps one of the most simple focus techniques, meditation requires you to isolate yourself from your distractions, clear your head, and relax your body.

Avoid Multi-Tasking: Nobody can be in two places at once. Avoid taking your phone or computer out when it is not absolutely necessary.

Create a Morning Schedule: A morning schedule that includes exercise, a healthy breakfast, and study will increase your alertness and ability to focus throughout the day.

Improving your focus on what’s most important, or what’s more important and urgent can be difficult, especially when you are surrounding by distractions and non-emergencies. However, if you employ the right techniques, focus is possible!

Joseph Carney is a sports fanatic, and loves writing about anything competitive. He’s also tries to keep up on the latest in health and fitness-related news. To learn more about yoga retreats, and yoga-based vacation spots, he recommends you check out Seek Retreat.

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The Power of Mental Focus For Success

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I think it’s safe to say that we all know that to accomplish any level of success we must have focus. I would say that focus is one of the intense foucs on successmost critical components of mental strength.   To be successful in any area of your life, you must be able to develop a laser like focus for the thing you desire.

If you’re not use to exercising focus don’t be discouraged if you are unable to hold your attention and thoughts on your goal very long at first. There are very few people who can.

It seems a peculiar fact that it is easier to focus on something that we don’t want then something that we do want. This habit is neutralized when we learn to develop focus.

If you simply practice a few mental strength focus drills each day you’ll find you will soon develop this life changing power.

Success is only assured when you are able to focus.  That’s because you will then be utilizing your mental power for on constructive thoughts and eliminating out all the destructive ones. It is of the greatest mental strength tools, to be able to think only on that which will is supportive and beneficial.

Did you ever stop to think what an important part your thoughts…your focused thoughts, play in your life?

The book “Develop the Mental Strength of a Warrior” shows their far-reaching and all-abiding effects.

Over the next several posts I’ll present some additional mental strength lessons you’ll find very useful. These are exercises that I have thoroughly tested. They will be organized in a way so that you’ll notice an improvement from the very beginning, and this will provide encouragement to continue. They will point out ways in which you can help yourself.

The mind is a wonderful and powerful part of us. But it must be trained, strengthened and developed to be useful. Great things can be accomplished by any one of us, we must however be awakened to the potential that lies dormant in us.

The most talented person in the world could not accomplish much if he lacked focus and effort. Individuals with little talent can often do the work of “superior” individuals when they are transformed by the use of intense focus. Talents people will produce little to no results without focus or the lack of willpower to harness it.

We often accomplish more by focus than by labor; the person that is apparently best suited for a specific job doesn’t always do the best work. More often, it’s the individual that uses their focus on the task at hand that makes an art of both his work and his life.

All your real advancement must come from your individual effort.

The intent of these posts will be to stimulate and inspire you to achieve success; they will bring you into perfect harmony with the laws of success. They will give you a firmer grasp on your duties and responsibilities to yourself and your family.

The methods of intense focus in the upcoming posts, if put into practice, will open up inner resources that will connect you with the perpetual laws of Being and their exhaustless foundation of unchangeable truth.

Since all people are different, some of the post with resonate more with you than others. The intention here for these posts and practices to awaken within your true human potential.

So please, read and study these posts as a means of awakening a burning desire that has been almost extinguished. Let all your actions and thoughts have the intensity and power of laser focused warrior.

To really get the full benefit of these posts you should read them, then contemplate the ideas for several minutes. If you do this you will soon cultivate a concentrated mental strength habit, which will enable you manage thoughts, focus your attention and take deliberate action.

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Developing a Peak Athletic Performance Game

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15 Steps to Mental Strength in Sports…putting it all togetherPeak Performance

OK…you’ve read and I hope even practiced all the preceding mental strength in sports tips…congratulations!

But now what?

Let’s say you have a big game or match coming up…it’s important to you for a variety of reasons and you want to achieve your peak performance, how do you put all the 14 tips together?

This is where the Peak Athletic Performance Game Plan comes in!

You see, if you leave out ANY of the 14 mental strength in sports tips you will NOT achieve your peak performance.

The bigger the game the better chances for mental mistakes.

What’s the biggest mistake you can make?

Bring your goals and expectations into the competition with you, that is, focusing on how important the performance is, what you want to have happen and what you want to accomplish as an end results.

Worrying on the outcome will only get you into trouble.

You’ve done enough of that (focusing on your goals) for months…now it’s time to let it go.  Keep your goals close to you on a daily basis, but on the day of the competition you must have a completely different agenda that has nothing to do with the outcome.

When you focus on your outcome you lose concentration on your execution.

How do you let go of the outcome?

By following this Peak Athletic Performance Game Plan.

These goals are not in a specific order, and they may overlap, because repetition is important to learning.

I suggest you write these down on index cards and review before each event and critique how you did so that you can improve for the next event.

Peak Athletic Performance Game Plan

  1. Focus on what’s important and block out everything else.  What’s important is what you can control.
  1. Stay in the now, stay in the moment.  Take things as they come…one step at a time, one pitch, one catch, one throw…one thing at a time…first things first.
  1. Every time you “time travel” (move out of the now) simply catch yourself and gently and smoothly bring yourself back to the now.
  1. Focus on you…stay inside yourself…play YOUR game, own your agenda.
  1. Use negative thinking and self-doubt as a neutral signal to relax and refocus.
  1. Keep track of your “uncontrollable’s”, now what uncontrollable’s are so that you’ll recognize them when they pop-up and you’ll be able to neutralize them by focusing on something you can control
  1.  Trust and let it happen.  Trust your training, your coaching, and your body and let the performance come out all by itself.
  1. Act as if.  Get in the habit of acting like you’re already a winner.  If things get tough, act as if you’re in control. When you act the way you want to become you’ll become the way you act.
  1. Stay calm, lose and relaxed.  Control your focus and breathing.  Using any of the techniques previously relaxing techniques. Know the difference between good and bad nerves.
  1. Don’t think, just do. You can think yourself into peak performance.  Stopping to think wastes time and energy.
  1. Have fun! Having fun is essential to reach peak performance.  When you’re having fun everything else falls into place.  Have fun first and peak performance will naturally happen.
  1. Stay positive no matter what!  Nothing good comes from being negative.  Maintain a “can do” attitude.

Remember, to reach peak performance you have to be “out of your mind.”  And by following the above Peak Performance Game Plan and use the supportive 14 steps (in prior posts) you’ll have everything you need to be a mindless athlete.

In the bonuses that come with “Mental Strength Training for Athletes” there are additional resources to help you get out of your mind.

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Learning to Believe in Yourself As An Athlete

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15 Steps to Mental Strength in Sports…

confident athlete

Necessary Roughness

Step 14 – Learning to Believe in Yourself As An Athlete  

Belief is the stuff of Hollywood movies…it’s the stuff of legends. Belief in yourself has nothing to do with your talent and more to do with your perseverance and never giving up!

You can see this belief in moves like “Rudy”, “Hoosiers” and more current accounts can be found on ESPN e-60

When you truly believe in yourself the sky is the limit!

As an athlete you are always limited by what you believe is possible.

Let me repeat that again… as an athlete you are always limited by what you believe is possible.

You see you will act in accordance with your beliefs.  If you think you can only pole vault 14 feet…you’ll only pole vault 14 feet.

Sure, just believing won’t make you jump 15 feet, but it will give you the drive to strive for 15 feet and then you know what?  You’ll clear 15 feet.

You see what happens here is a vicious cycle.  If you don’t believe in yourself you wont put in 100% effort, you’ll come up short and then you’ll lose confidence in yourself and the next time you’ll put in less effort and so on and so on…you get the picture.

The opposite can happen as well.  When you believe in yourself you put in max effort and achieve great results and then next time you do more and pretty soon you’ll be achieving peak athletic performance.

Success or failure at work, school or in sport is not always down to lack of ability or incompetence but simple self belief, says a study that adds that a remarkable difference could result from creating new stereotypes for a team.

To begin, start to question your limiting beliefs and self-limiting inner talk.

Learn to Explain Your Setbacks Differently

Believing in Yourself and Optimism

  • Reacting to setbacks from a presumption of personal power
  • Bad events are temporary setbacks
  • Isolated to particular circumstances
  • Can be overcome by my effort and abilities

Lack of Belief and Pessimism

  • Reacting to setbacks from a presumption of personal helplessness:
  • Bad events will last a long time (permanence)
  • Will undermine everything I do (pervasive)
  • Are my fault (personal)


  • Do you believe that bad events are permanent or temporary? What about good events?
    • Permanent: Traits, abilities, “always”, “never”
    • Transient: Moods, effort, “sometimes”, “lately”
  • Failure makes everyone at least momentarily helpless. But how quickly do you recover? For some people, it is near instantaneous. Others may never recover.
  • People who believe that good events have permanent causes try even harder after they succeed.
  • People who believe that good events have transient causes give up even when they succeed, believing success to be a fluke.

Permanent (Pessimistic)

  • I’m all washed up.
  • Diets never work.
  • You always nag.
  • The coach is a bastard.
  • You never talk to me.

Temporary (Optimistic)

  • I’m exhausted.
  • Diets don’t work when you eat out.
  • You nag when I don’t perform well.
  • The coach is in a bad mood.
  • You haven’t talked to me lately.

On the other hand, people who believe good events have permanent causes are more optimistic than those who believe they have temporary causes.

Temporary (Pessimistic)

  • My lucky day.
  • I try hard.
  • My opponent got tired.

Permanent (Optimistic)

  • I’m always lucky.
  • I’m talented.
  • My opponent is no good.

I’d like to share a great article by Polly Campbell about self-talk that will help in creating a strong belief in yourself.

Positive self talk can help you win the race–or the day Manage your mental chatter, before it manages you.

What are your inner voices saying? You know, the ones. Some days they sound like the paternal Obi-Wan Kenobi booming: “You Can Do It.” Other days the self talk takes on the tone of a whiny child: “I can’t. It’s too hard. I’m not good enough.”

No matter which tone they take, those inner voices talk incessantly. And we should be paying attention, because what we say to ourselves has a direct impact on our success – or failure. Plenty of research indicates positive self talk creates positive results. Now an analysis of 32 different studies of self talk in sports, indicates that the specific words we use when talking to ourselves also play a role in how well we perform.

Positive self talk usually consists of words or brief phrases which inspire, motivate, or remind us to focus and keep moving. Phrases like, “Keep your head down,” “Let’s go now,” “Breathe,” help us focus our attention and trigger the ideal (hopefully) response and action for the task at hand.

If you want to improve your technique or hone specific, precise skills you’ll be better off with inner voices relaying technical reminders like “elbow up” or “head down,” says sports psychologist Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, who conducted the study with colleagues at the University of Thessaly. Their findings will be published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

“Instructional self-talk” works better for improving technique. Motivational self talk, a la “you can do it” helps participants succeed (and survive?) in strength and endurance based tasks, according to the analysis. It can psych you up and keep you confident and moving forward.

The right kind of self talk gives athletes an edge over competitors. And, while most of us won’t be competing in the Olympics – though I would be very good in 25-foot-dash-to- put- the-laundry-away-and-get-to-work-event – positive self talk has powerful benefits even when it comes to navigating your daily routine.

When you become aware of what you’re thinking and saying to yourself you can then edit and revise the snarky voices with phrases that empower you or at least help you better manage the situation at hand. The right kind of self talk can keep you from flipping out after a 45-minute wait at the doctor’s office; it can help you deal diplomatically with an ignorant boss; motivate you to exercise; help you diffuse anger when the four-year-old is wading through the puddle of milk he spilled.

My motivating, go-to phrase when I feel overwhelmed by the double work/home whammy? “Come on now, you can handle this. You got it going on.” And my version of instructional self talk? “Just Breathe.” Reminding myself to pause and inhale before I deal with a difficult situation often keeps me from losing it.

Ready to script some of your own powerful self talk?

Here’s how to start.

Notice what you’re already saying to yourself. Most of us don’t give conscious attention to the voices rambling in our heads. Yet, they impact us whether we notice or not. Consciously, tune into your self talk.

Politely acknowledge, then ignore the self talk that isn’t helpful. When you hook into some negative self talk, notice it, and shift your attention elsewhere. Don’t become angry or determined not to hear it – we tend to think about what we don’t want to think about. Instead, let the negative voices jabber in the background. Clinical psychologist Steven Hayes, Ph.D., an expert in language and cognition, likens these negative thoughts to unruly passengers in the backseat of the car you’re driving. Sure, you hear the noise and ruckus behind you, but you keep your attention focused on the road ahead.

Pick your power phrase. Choose words that inspire you, motivate you, make you laugh, or boost your mood: “You da Man” or “You go, girl,” for example. Consciously pick a couple of phrases that feel good – you may even feel a rush of energy when you say them – and practice them out loud in a big, powerful Obi- Wan (or hero of your choice) voice.

Pick a phrase or reminder word to help you focus. Say you’re performing open heart surgery or pruning a bonsai, or training a dog for show, or cooking a new recipe – use your self talk to remind you of your technique or a fundamental and critical skill you need to accomplish the job. When I’m writing an article I often say to myself: “Find your focus.” It reminds me to stick to the main point.

By going through these steps and paying attention to how we talk to ourselves, we can use language that best supports the action we’re after – whether it’s cooking a meal without igniting the house, or presenting the annual report to stockholders, we’re likely to do better and most importantly, feel better about what we’re doing.

In the bonuses that come with “Mental Strength Training for Athletes” there are additional resources to help with creating belief in yourself.

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Imaging Your Peak Athletic Performance

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15 Steps to Mental Strength in Sports…mental imagery

Step 13 – Imaging Your Peak Athletic Performance   

Champions see what they want to happen, while “the also ran’s” see what they hope will not happen.

Either case, both individuals are doing mental rehearsal.  The big difference is, one helps in achieving peak athletic performance, while the other is based in fear and holds them back.

Peak performance happens long before they go into competition.  It starts in the head and finishes on the field.

There has been a lot written about mental rehearsal, so some of this might seem redundant.

There is one point I want to make, at least in the way I coach mental imagery.  Mental rehearsal uses all the senses VAKOG (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory) to experience the peak performance before hand.

Mental rehearsal is NOT visualization. Visualization is only “seeing”, so when you do practice your mental rehearsal include ALL you senses.

Mental Imagery

Mental imagery involves the athlete imagining themselves in an environment performing a specific activity using all of their senses (sight, hear, feel and smell). The images should have the athlete performing successfully and feeling satisfied with their performance.

What can mental imagery be used for?

Mental Imagery can be used to:

  • Familiarize the athlete with a competition site, a race course, a complex play pattern or routine etc.
  • Motivate the athlete by recalling images of their goals for that session, or of success in a past competition or beating a competitor in competition
  • Perfect skills or skill sequences the athlete is learning or refining
  • Reduce negative thoughts by focusing on positive outcomes
  • Refocus the athlete when the need arises e.g. if performance is feeling sluggish, imagery of a previous best performance or previous best event focus can help get things back on track
  • See success where the athlete sees themselves performing skills correctly and the desired outcomes
  • Set the stage for performance with a complete mental run through of the key elements of their performance to set the athlete’s desired pre-competition feelings and focus.

Mental imagery should not focus on the outcome but on the actions to achieve the desired outcome.

How do I apply mental imagery?

Golfer Jack Nicklaus used mental imagery for every shot. In describing how he imagines his performance, he wrote:

“I never hit a shot even in practice without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a color movie. First, I “see” the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I “see” the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there’s a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality and only at the end of this short private Hollywood spectacular do I select a club and step up to the ball.”

When should mental imagery be used?

To become proficient in the use of imagery you have to use it ever day: on your way to training, during training and after training. In every training session, before you execute any skill or combination of skills, first do it in imagery. See, feel, and experience yourself moving through the actions in your mind, as you would like them actually to unfold. In the competition situation use imagery before the start of the event and see your self performing successfully/winning.

How can I stay focused?

You have probably seen an athlete become angry at their performance. The situation here is that the athlete is focusing on the mistake (negative attitude), something that cannot be changed, and not on how to improve their performance (positive attitude).

In mental strength “pattern breaking” routines are used to help prevent the athlete falling into this negative attitude. A “pattern breaker” can be a word or phrase used by the coach in training or competition to move the athlete from a negative attitude to a positive one.

Many athletes have a role model who they try to emulate. Providing the role model is suitable then their name could become the “pattern breaker” phrase for the coach to use when the athlete takes on a negative attitude to a task. On hearing their role model’s name the athlete will shift their focus to how their role model would react and assume a positive attitude to the task.

Overtime the athlete will begin to recognize when they are focusing on negative thoughts and use the “pattern breaking” word or phrase (repeating it in their head) to get themselves to switch off the negative thoughts and get back into a positive attitude.

What are the benefits?

Mental Imagery itself can be useful in a number of circumstances including:

  • Developing self-confidence
  • Developing pre-competition and competition strategies which teach athletes to cope with new situations before they actually encounter them
  • Helping the athlete to focus his/her attention or concentrate on a particular skill he/she is trying to learn or develop
  • The competition situation

When combined with relaxation it is useful in:

  • The promotion of rest, recovery and recuperation
  • The removal of stress related reactions e.g. muscular tension
  • Establishing a physical and mental state which has an increased receptivity to positive mental imagery
  • Establishing an appropriate level of physical and mental arousal prior to competition

The “Quick Set” routine

Psychologist Jeff Simons developed a routine that would allow an athlete to achieve an appropriate mental arousal in the last 30 seconds before a competition. The “Quick Set” routine, which involves physical, emotional and focus cues, can also be used as a means of refocusing quickly following a distraction.

An example of this “Quick set” routine for a sprinter could be:

  • Close your eyes, clear your mind and maintain deep rhythmical breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth (physical cue)
  • Imagine a previous race win, see yourself crossing the line in first place and recreate those emotional feelings of success (emotional cue)
  • Return your focus to the sprint start, think of blasting off on the ‘B’ of the bang with the appropriate limb action (focus cue)

“You only achieve what you believe”

I use this quotation when I hear an athlete make a negative statement about their ability and to focus their attention when assisting them to develop mental imagery skills.

The benefits of mental imagery have been outlined and I have found that when an athlete is in a fully relaxed state, they are particularly receptive to mental imagery. The next stage is the creation of scripts to help in developing and apply mental imagery skills.

The reference

MACKENZIE, B. (2002) Mental Imagery Available from:

In the bonuses that come with “Mental Strength Training for Athletes” there are a few relaxation audio’s and mental rehearsal already recorded for you.  If you don’t want to record your own this is a great alternative.

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