Do you want to thrive? Use this trick: focus on the details that make a difference.
“Of course, I focus on the details that make a difference, Lisbeth. I’m not an idiot.”
No, you’re not an idiot and neither am I (at least I think I’m not?) but we both get distracted easily by details that don’t make a difference. It’s hard not to get lost in the confusion of our busy lives. With the world pumping out an ever-increasing volume of information in our hyper-connected (yet somehow solitary) experience, the cloud of chaos grows larger and denser each day. We drown in details that don’t make a difference. We suffocate in superfluous statistics. We look for one video on back squats on YouTube, and our kids find us two hours later lost in Usain Bolt races and baby goats in pajamas. (Not that this has ever happened to me … more than 220 times.)
Meanwhile, the path to perfection beckons, whispering in its sexy success voice, and we want to follow but sometimes we just end up kicking in the bathroom door like a group of drunken swimmers in a Brazilian gas station.
Oh wait. Maybe not that bad.
But have hope! There are ways to drill down and improve your focus on the details that make a difference. Let’s talk about a few of them.
You’re doing it right now. (Yeah for you!)
Seriously, reading is a fundamental way to practice focusing on the details that matter—and that includes the act of reading itself, in addition to the information which you are ingesting. Why? Because the act of reading is an incredibly complex act performed by your brain. When you read, you are priming the pump by using your brain in a complex manner, and (depending on what you are reading) you might also be learning about details that can make a difference in your performance and your life.
What’s one of the quickest ways to improve? Get a set of professional eyes on you—whether that’s for performance, nutrition, business, or relationships. An experienced viewpoint can teach you a lot about yourself that you don’t see. We all have our own blind spots, even with video! (Or significant others to tell us what we did “wrong.” Gee, thanks, hun.)
Professionals earn their money by helping us to eliminate the superfluous and focus on the details that make a difference. Sure, pros cost money but hiring a professional is like taking the paid express highway instead of waiting in traffic. You’re going to pay for the service, but you’ll also save time and frustration. Essentially, you might get to your destination long before you would have otherwise, and the road is smoother and less crowded.
ASK YOUR COMMUNITY
Not everyone can afford a coach, or wants to spend the money on a coach. So what’s the next best thing? Asking a trusted compatriot to take a look and tell you what needs fixing. (But don’t ask the creepy guy in the gym who’s leering at your back squat. Well, not unless you want to find yourself on a dubious date at Denny’s on a lonely Friday night.)
But be prepared if you take this community option (especially online), because it can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes crowd-sourcing works for picking up details that make a difference, and sometimes it doesn’t. A friend might be able to give you a great tip (“You’re pulling early on that clean”) but they also might give you a bad tip (“Yank that bar off the ground!”)
Unless you have a friend who is a professional coach and wants to mentor for free, you could run into trouble with this option. Also, remember that friends often focus on the things that might make you happy (like complimenting your lift even when it was Hello Double Hockey-sticks Horrendous), instead of the details that make a difference in your performance. You can’t really fault them (they love you) so give them a hug but keep your other options open.
Some people improve greatly by seeing the details in a video of their own performance. Film yourself in the gym!
But while video can work wonders for snatching or running or other physical pursuits, video isn’t the champ when it comes to nutrition. (“Did you see that video of me eating that donut?” “Yeah, maybe you should have had chicken.”)
Luckily, we have apps and notebooks! Log your nutrition choices in an app like My Fitness Pal and keep track of your workouts in an app or a journal. Data matters. With data collected, we not only can assess results (or lack of results) more accurately, but also the act of entering your data can keep you more focused on your goals and the details that make a difference. (“I have to enter this brownie into MFP? No thanks. I’ll just skip it.”) Even using just a plain notebook can make a huge difference in your outlook and possibly your results.
The internet is the opiate of our age, and we’re all addicted. It’s so easy to lose minutes and hours to the backlit screen, arguing about details that don’t make a difference, when we could have been working on our own details that make a difference.
For example, I happened upon a recent online discussion about the nutrition habits of the Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris. People were specifically discussing an article talking about the food Farris eats. (He’s now a vegan.) Their comments centered on whether Farris was 100% vegan or not. But you know what? His diet classification didn’t matter. Farris was competing in the Olympics, and we were all on our couches, assessing. He was focusing on details that make a difference in his life (his lifting) and we were focusing on details that don’t make a difference in our lives (whether Farris eats like a true vegan). Imagine what we could each do if we focused on details that make a difference! We might not turn into Kendrick Farris, but we might just produce a better version of us—which is what we were after anyhow, right?
But we’re not perfect, so we need to refocus our efforts daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes by the minute or the second. The next time you find yourself drifting again into whether you need a new, jazzier pair of lifting shoes, maybe take a moment and focus on the second pull in your clean instead. Or maybe don’t obsess about buying a lighter set of wheels for your road bike, but focus on losing 10 pounds of body fat, so you can go faster up those hills because your body is lighter.
Think about the best performers you know: the greats in sports and music and art and science, etc. They focus on the details that make a difference. That’s one of the reasons they’re great. If they spent their time on the details that don’t matter, they never would have reached the level of achievement that they have. Michael Phelps not only practiced over and over and over, he also focused on the placement of his hands, his fingers, his everything in the water. Details that make a difference. The great cellist Yo-Yo Ma says that music happens in the space between the notes, too: now that’s paying attention to detail!
Every day presents a plethora of opportunities to track your laser vision onto the details that make a difference. Find them, and work to improve. It takes practice. Luckily, you’ll have plenty of opportunities. Get going!
“A man’s accomplishments in life are the cumulative effect of his attention to detail.” — John Foster Dulles
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