Posted by: Korry | November 28, 2011

The Difference Is Focus

Thanks to my late grandmother, I developed a keen interest in the game of golf. At its essence, golf is a simple game, but stroll out to any driving range on a summer afternoon and there will be countless examples of people who clearly demonstrate how difficult this “simple” game really is.

I consider myself to be an ok “hack” golfer. That means I can play the game and not embarrass myself too much despite only playing a handful of rounds per year. A few years ago, I was flying with a captain who was a very good golfer. He recommended I read the book Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect which focuses entirely on the mental side of the game. Yes, the book admits, you must have a decent swing. And yes, you have to understand basic fundamentals. But even more importantly, you need to be able to focus…and you need to understand what to focus on and when to focus on it!

The ability to focus at such a high level seems to me to be the biggest difference between amateurs and professionals. For me, golf is a release. I play the game to de-stress. I’m not perfect nor can I expect myself to be. I focus, but not as much and not in the same way as a pro. But for a professional, it’s more than a hobby; it’s a job, and his or her ability to play the game well determines whether it’s going to be steak or ramen noodles for dinner.

The pro incessantly focuses on how even the tiniest of details will affect his game. He carefully analyzes every shot, strategically plays the course much like a chess player does a chess board, and constantly thinks several shots ahead. At the same time, he also focuses on each particular shot, down to the precise spot on the ball where he hopes to make contact. The ability to focus at this high level takes years to develop.

Take for example one of my best friends who is an incredibly talented golfer. During one of our recent rounds together, I snapped this picture of him while he teed off. One look at the intensity in his face removes any doubt that he is just randomly swinging the club.

Incredible focus during the swing

He knows exactly how he wants to make contact with the ball. He knows exactly where he wants the ball to go. And he’s probably already thought about what he’ll do if the ball doesn’t end up exactly where he desires.

I notice the same intensity and focus for me at work, especially during a challenging arrival. Just last week, we were descending into Mexico City at night. The city sits at an extremely high elevation of approximately 7,300 feet which means that the aircraft cannot perform as well as if it was at sea level. The airport is also surrounded by a ring of towering mountains and volcanoes. As weather creeps in, as is often the case, the terrain means there are fewer options than would be desired for maneuvering to avoid the weather. If that weren’t enough, the air traffic controllers speak in Spanish to the Spanish-speaking pilots and English only to those who need it, which makes it a bit more difficult to maintain good situational awareness of where our plane is compared to the other planes in the area. And to add insult to injury, the controllers also seem to enjoy changing runway assignments at the last minute. Simply put, there’s a lot going on and not a lot of room for error.

To succeed, pilots have to focus intently on a variety of things at the same time. They have to always think about the “what ifs” so they’re not surprised and flying scared. They have to know their personal limits as well as those of the airplane. And doing all of that in real-time, when decisions are needed in a split second, takes tremendous focus, perfected over years of practice, just as it does for a golfer.

So if focus is one of the primary keys to success in golf or success as a pilot, don’t you think there’s a chance it may also play a pivotal role in success in your field, too? And if so, how can we learn to focus at such a high level?

After recently reading the book Talent Is Overrated, I think the answer is what author Geoff Colvin calls “Disciplined Practice”…but you’ll have to stop back on Thursday to learn more about that!

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  1. […] blog, The Difference Is Focus, I mentioned a concept called “Disciplined Practice” which I learned about in Geoff […]

  2. […] week, I wrote about focus and how it is often the major differentiator between amateurs and professionals. Developing such a […]

  3. […] in these devices. Want to practice a complicated mountainous approach? Just load the approach to Mexico City and away we go. What about multiple crosswind landings that are at the max the airplane is […]

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