David Lim draws lessons from archery on the art of focus.
Recently, I attended an archery course aimed at bringing beginners at the sport up to speed on the equipment, rules and safety aspects of competitive archery. Like many of you, I had hitherto only been exposed to “archery” at a child’s level – loosing off arrows at a carnival stall using the most primitive sort of bows. The programme began with safety aspects, showing gory pictures of people impaled with their own arrows and such, as a result of carelessness. We moved on the to different types of equipment, scoring and the parts of the bow which we then had to assemble ourselves – making the first hour of the programme like drinking from a fire-hose. It was a lot of information to absorb and act upon.
So this brings us to a big daily issue of focus. In archery, like much of our daily professional lives, we have plenty to think about while preparing to fire off an arrow. We also have a lot of other things that we think about that are completely unrelated to that specific task.
And the beauty of archery is the sport’s ability to help you focus on what’s needed to loose the best arrow at a target 30 metres away, and what not to do.
The process (quite apart from the safety calls and procedures that precede coming up to the shooting line); requires several stage: taking the stance, nocking the arrow in the bow, aiming, drawing the bowstring and then releasing the arrow to find it’s mark.
To improve your focus on anything, you might want to consider:
1. Removing unnecessary distractions: whether it be fellow archer, the construction site noises at a distance; traffic. And by ‘removal’ I mean by finding a mental state that zones out these noises to a point where you are not thinking about them consciously. Now while removing distractions like the constant need to look at your mobile phone every 10 minutes may be easier to perform, removal of mental distractions is a step harder. One way to make it easier is to be aware of your surroudings, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, so that you can mentally then put them in your mind’s background rather than in the foreground. Next, you can focus on the squirt of dopamine, the pleasure hormone that your brain produces, when you hit the target well. Anticipating that will help you focus on doing only the required to achieve the goal
2. Build muscle and mind memory: As a beginner in any sport, the hardest part is trying to achieve the goal while worrying about the adequacy of your stance, posture, hand position, breathing, as well as releasing the arrow. Over time, more and more of these become embedded in our muscle memory so that we become unconscious in our competence. Our conscious thoughts then can focus on the key aspects of performance, aiming and hitting the target. Like the response of a New York taxi driver to a tourist’s question: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer in this old joke is “Practice, practice, practice!” Indeed, the more we practice something we like doing the more proficient we become. Think of a job-related skill that gets better with practice; for example presentation skills. You get to a point where you are so polished presenting some content that you can effortlessly ad lib some value-added information, or segue a joke into a specific part of the content; thereby enhancing your authenticity to the audience.
3. Be present: Focus improves immensely when we choose to stay centred in the present; only focusing on that bow-sight, our breath and the moment we release the arrow. Choose to think about just on the tasks in the next few minutes or seconds. Choose to do the same on a number of your daily activities and see what improves as result.