Mind & Motion

Where is your focus?

Posted in Fitness Tips by Meghan Pickrell on August 12, 2010

Have you ever been walking down the street thinking about a concern or problem? Basically, you’re worrying, right? You are searching for the answer which doesn’t seem clear. You mull over all of the possible solutions in your head, none of which feel quite right. The more unclear the solution, the harder you think about it until, WHAM! you trip over a crack in the sidewalk, something quite obvious to anyone paying attention…

We are always deciding where to direct our attention. As a teacher one of the most challenging aspects of my job is to engage the client. Otherwise known quite simply as “focus,” it can be difficult to assess if the client’s attention is even in the room. In his book, “Attention Control Training,” Nideffer discusses ways in which our focus can be directed. He breaks up focus into two intersecting dimensions: direction and width. The width ranges from broad to narrow and the direction ranges from internal to external. Your focus could be directed to something broad and internal, broad and external or narrow/internal, narrow/external. When you walk down the street and miss the crack in the sidewalk, unfortunately your focus is internal. You are so much inside of your head that you missed an apparent crack in the cement and gravity reminded you of this defect.

We use all four of the dimensions at different times depending on our task for the moment. When it comes to motor behavior it is interesting to notice how people tend to direct their focus. Sometimes those with a prevalent internal focus can notice so much detail and sensation within themselves that they loose the overarching movement. However, those who tend to be externally focused can loose the specifics of the movement. I find a client balanced when they can direct their attention in all four ways. When I start to notice imbalances I ask questions (sometimes quite literally, “Where did you go?”). For my “externalists” I direct them to something specific about their body. For my “internalists,” I direct them to the environment or the apparatus.

In the context of exercise, when in a broad/internal focus you may be focusing on different sensations within the body such as muscles firing, or imagining how to perform a task correctly. When in a narrow/internal focus your mind will shift to part of the body and its purpose in the movement. An external/broad focus is appropriate when playing sports, watching your opponents or a ball. An external/narrow focus would be helpful when trying to score a goal.

When you’re exercising next notice where you tend to place your focus. See if you can shift it to different areas. All four can be appropriate depending on the task. And remember, for your safety, look out for those nasty cracks in the side-walk!

One Response

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  1. mom said, on August 12, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Very Interesting….focus is important in all activities.


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