5 Things Trail Running Can Teach You About Focus

[Guest post by Yolanda Facio]

Okay, so you’re probably thinking what in the hell does running have to do with focus, right?  And, you’re probably wondering what trail running has to do with publishing a book! But we all need to practice good focus…

I admit I would have thought the idea of focus and running a bit of a stretch until I stretched and put my sneakers on and well, went for a run.

I live in a beautiful place if you like the desert.  We have really awesome in town parks and I’m lucky enough to live near one.  So I head over to the park, it’s been about two months since I’ve been able to hit a trail and I’m pretty psyched about it.

So I put on my gps watch, and my super fast hat and my super fast sunglasses and my super knobby running shoes…you get the picture…and I head out!

Now the thing about running trails is, well, generally you have to pay attention.  You can’t just go skipping down a wash thinking about how you should have charged more for the last project you did ‘cause it turns out the guy was a real jerk and he definitely deserves the ‘you’re a jerk so I’m gonna charge you 10% more’ fee with interest…blam…thump…thump…thump…schrishhhhh.

Damn it!

I roll over super fast and make sure I’m sitting upright, just in case anyone sees me right? Riiiight…

Alright, so now I’m bleeding from the knees and palms, my glasses are missing in action (they are quite fast and therefore fly far).  I’ve got one earbud in, the other has been torn from my ear and from the iPod…well actually I have one earbud…it is no longer attached to anything.

Hang on…looking around…okay no one’s looking…

There you have it, I wasn’t paying attention… (True story).

So before I crash into anything else, like cacti for instance, I’m going to get on with the focusing part…

1.  Rocks ‘n Roots…pay attention or you’ll fall

Well, yeah… we just covered this.

But I’ll go a little deeper; you have to pay attention to paying attention.  Really.  Most of the trails I run on are rocky and loose, so it only takes a second before I’m off, flying into the dirt.

So, I practice paying attention to paying attention.  I’m running along and if I begin to notice my mind wandering, I literally say out loud…“focus damn it”.  I force myself to pay attention to the act of focusing.

As we go along working our work we tend to fall into the habit of getting too relaxed.  We’ve done the task a million times before so why can’t we just go on auto pilot?

It’s because when we start to cruise we get lazy, and when we get lazy we miss things.  It really is that simple.

So as you go about doing your everyday tasks, remember to pay attention to the act of focusing.  It’ll help you focus better.

2.  Big Picture and Laser Focus

Here’s the thing about running on trails, you have to look around.  You need to take in the whole enchilada.  You need to get your bearings because depending on where your trail is you could get lost.

Then you need to zoom into what is right in front of you as well.  If you don’t get your feet up then you could very easily trip on a big ol’ rock that you thought you saw but then it grew, like right in front of you just grew, and it was suddenly 2 feet off the ground and no way could you clear THAT obstacle…so it’s good to pay attention…

By getting your bearings and then zooming in on the task at hand you’ll have a much better time focusing.  When we fail to take in the big picture and get right to the meat of our project we tend to have to back out several times to get info or tools.

If you are getting ready to work on your next project, whether it’s writing an outline or writing your web page text, first do the big picture tasks.  Make sure you have all the information you need, all the tools you need, a pen, some paper, the stapler, whatever it is, just make sure you’ve got it.  Then get started.  Zoom in on the first item and stick with it until it’s done, move on to the next.  If you need to keep stopping for something you’ll lose focus and have to start again.

3.  Long Stride Short Stride

Staying focused sometimes means changing your stride.  Once you’ve done your big picture, you know where you are headed, then you begin to zoom into laser focus.  You’ve got the upcoming obstacles on your radar and you are doing a good job of paying attention to the task at hand…then you glance back and see the guy with the mountain bike barreling towards you…and you simply side step to the shoulder just past the big cactus you saw earlier.  You shorten your stride because it is super rocky on the shoulder.  Then, as soon as the mountain bike guy passes, you hop back out onto the trail and lengthen your stride.  You get back into the rhythm of the run as you stare at those cute little spandex shorts…

Long strides, short strides.  The whole time you keep at the task, but you might have to make an adjustment or two as you go along.  Because you’ve already got the big picture in your mind, if you have to jump off task for a second or change direction because you have new information, none of this will discombobulate you.  It’s all in the stride.  Adjust, keep moving.

4.  Stay away from the well-travelled path

It may seem easy to go down the same road everyone else is using.  But sometimes having a bit of a struggle can reap the greatest rewards.  You might be planning a new widget and everyone else goes with standard grey.  But maybe you figure some people will be using the widget in the sunshine and it might reduce glare to use a matte black finish.  Staying focused on your customer, on your uniqueness, on your individuality can be difficult when everything else is swirling around you.  Right then you figure, I’ll just go down the easy path…right?  Wrong!

Staying focused on what is important means staying focused on what may be hard.  Look for the smooth path, the one without foot prints.  Look for the patch of snow that no one has walked in before and make your own path.

5.  Fork in the road, which way do I go?

Good question.  As I came to one today, I noticed that going left meant going downhill, good for my legs and going right meant going uphill, bad for my legs.

The thing is, sometimes the hardest choice, the one that requires more focus ends up being the easiest route.  Being focused and staying focused means getting the hard stuff out of the way first.  It also means not choosing what is easy over what is really most beneficial.  It is easier to stay focused when the task at hand is something we’ve done before or something someone else has navigated for us.

I chose left.  It went uphill alright and it was a bit steep, but then it evened out, it was flat and smooth.  It was worth the extra effort.

The Big Close

Whether you’re writing a book, newsletter, article, blog post or just doing the bookkeeping, staying focused and on-track takes a little bit of work.  You literally need to pay attention to paying attention.  Staying focused means practice, but that’s the best part!  If you stick with it you’ll get good at it and even when you start to wander off in the wrong direction, you’ll be able to corral your thoughts and get back on track.  It’s a lot better than bloody knees.

Yolanda A. Facio is an Entrepreneur and Marketer specializing customer centricity.  You can find her at www.MarketingUnhinged.com where she shows you how to “Get The Customer and Skip The Boring Stuff”.  Sign up for the free 10 Minute Marketing Motivator eNewsletter and have some marketing fun! Follow @yolandafacio

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  1. Great post! But — and sorry to be contrarian — what about the rattlesnakes and the bobcats? True story: I was bitten by a rattlesnake once. In a mall parking lot, of all places, lol.
    LaVonne Ellis´s last post ..Guest Post- Seriously- I Just Don’t Care…

  2. Honestly, in 11 years of running trails I’ve seen one dead rattle snake, lots of cotton-tails, lots of coyotes, lots of quail and never, ever a bobcat. That would probably scare the crap out of me!

    • Fortunately we don’t have rattlesnakes near here, not even in the mall parking lot. They can be found in the mountains, but not nearby. I came real close to stepping on a Cottonmouth in the Everglades, though. Talk about having the crap scared out of you!

  3. I am a keen runner and have been really getting into Trail Running recently. It gives me a chance to be alone with my thoughts and I get a great sense of freedom from the stresses and strains of modern life :-)
    Fitness 21´s last post ..26 Extreme-Winter Race Series 2010