A friend of mine was a Hall of Fame gymnast back in her college days. This came up recently while we were discussing something that’s been in the news a lot lately – the powerful and addictive pain medications often prescribed for severe injuries, or surgery to treat those injuries. The kind that many athletes incur, as well as entertainers such as Prince whose acrobatics on stage can be just as demanding on their bodies, and can cause just as much damage.

That’s not the focus of this column, however. Instead, the focus is – well, focus.

At one point in our discussion, someone in the group asked our friend what her favorite event or apparatus was when she was in gymnastics. She didn’t miss a beat before answering, “The balance beam,” adding that when you’re on the balance beam, it requires total focus. No matter what move or maneuver you’re doing, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re doing it on a four-inch wide beam set high above the ground. That alone requires total concentration, no matter what else you’re doing on the beam.

I think we could all use some balance-beam focus in our lives.

Multi-tasking is the norm in our world today. Many of us feel like we’re being pulled in a million directions at once, and our attention spans are getting shorter and shallower by the day. At the same time, it’s getting harder and harder for us to devote our full, undivided attention to anything for any length of time.

I often find my mind wandering when I’m doing quiet, solitary endeavors like reading or praying. But it can also happen during classes and conversations, and other times when I’m trying to concentrate on what’s being said, but having a difficult time doing so. And when that happens, I know I’m not getting the full benefit of whatever information I’m trying to take in.

I also know what it’s like to be so totally immersed in something, so completely focused on it, that it seems as though the rest of the world doesn’t even exist. This often happens to me when I’m writing. When it does, and I’m in “the zone,” I’m hyper-focused on what I’m doing. Distractions fade into the background, and I may not even be aware of what’s going on around me.

Now THAT’S focus.

I realize it’s all a state of mind, and it’s a very powerful one. The same kind, I imagine, that my friend used to experience whenever she was on the balance beam.

After our conversation that day, I started thinking about how beneficial it would be if we could train ourselves to focus like that at will. I think that’s something I’d like to pursue.

I’m not going to run out and buy a “home version” of a balance beam, if something like that even exists. But I am going to start looking for and practicing exercises that force me to focus. I’m guessing they’ll help me improve my concentration and my attention span. They’ll probably increase my memory and my coordination. They may even help me achieve balance – in every area of my life.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on May 12, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016

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