Focus: Tips from a Top Gun

Pilot Focus

It doesn’t matter what field, industry or sport you operate in, your performance relies on your ability to focus. A fully focused connection with your performance enables you to perform to your best, to learn, to correct and to stay engaged. Whatever the activity, task or event you are engaged in, if your focus is not of the right quality, or it shifts onto external factors, or it allows thoughts of failure to invade, your performance will suffer.

It can be a real challenge for a person to discover the right intensity and direction for their focus, and it can be even harder to achieve that focus on a consistent basis. Thankfully there are ways it can be done. There are many examples of people achieving great performance levels by developing great focus control. Here is one such example…

Chris Hadfield is a Canadian former fighter pilot, test pilot, engineer and a highly respected astronaut. In an interview with sports psychologist Prof. Terry Orlick he revealed his unique insights into the importance of focus and how to develop it.

When you’re flying an airplane at 500 miles an hour, there’s all kinds of things that don’t matter, and there’s a few things that really, really matter. What’s in front of you for the next kilometre really matters because you’re going to be there in a few seconds. The whole rest of the world doesn’t matter; what’s going on with your car or at home, or what just happened 30 seconds ago, or whatever. What really matters is what’s going to have the biggest impact on you in the next 30 seconds. In a high-performance airplane things happen quickly, especially when you’re flying down low or flying with another aircraft. So you need to completely compartmentalise and just be ready disregard things that don’t matter and worry about them later. Even though it may be life or death, for now it doesn’t matter and you can’t pay attention to it. You need to focus fully on what is in front of you right now.

There are times when if you don’t focus right down to the critical items right there, you don’t give yourself a chance to succeed. So you’ve got to learn to put things into their boxes and drawers and compartments to be able to succeed. I think I learned to focus that way incrementally over my whole life. I was a downhill ski racer as a teenager, and there’s a lot of focus required for that. In downhill racing, you have the next 30 seconds to do it right – either you’re getting a medal or you’re falling and maybe breaking your leg. So that’s a good opportunity to focus. You can begin by doing it on a very small scale. Focus for this length of time to get something done that’s difficult. Challenge yourself to do something that you can just barely do, and then learn how to focus on it until you can do it well. Then slowly expand that*.


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Image credit: Marines

* Orlick, T. 2008. In Pursuit of Excellence. Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics p.192

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