Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Into Focus

This is the fourth year I’ve taken part in the “One Little Word’ Challenge popularized by writer/artist Ali Edwards. As Ali explains it, “….the idea is to choose a word….that has the potential to make an impact on your life….a single word to focus on over the course of the year.”

I always choose my word, and consequently write about it, in mid-January, once I have a feel for the New Year but still close enough to January 1st to feel like a New Year’s ritual. But I always start looking for my word a little bit earlier. And this year, as I tried to think about it, I found that I kept thinking of the two-word phrase “rabbit holes.” As in “Don’t go down so many.”

This was problematic for many reasons. First of all, it’s two words, not one; but more importantly, it’s a negative, not a positive. The reason it stuck in my mind was not that I wanted it to guide me, as has been the case with past words I’ve chosen – “succeed”; “possible”; “walking”; “radiate” – but that I wanted to avoid it. And choosing a word as an admonition rather than a guidepost just didn’t feel to me to be in the spirit of the One Little Word exercise.

Then it occurred to me what the positive corollary was for the thing I was trying to say. “Don’t go down any rabbit holes.” Too negative. The positive version? “Focus.” Yes, that’s it. That’s my word. “Focus.”

It’s not the prettiest word: not like many others on the extensive list of words that participants in the challenge have sent to Ali Edwards. Her list brims with beautiful, alluring words like “serenity,” “balance,” “joy,” “simplicity,” “breath,” “acceptance,” “resolve,” “intent.” My word, by contrast, feels plain and ordinary.

But it’s “focus” for 2015 nonetheless, because my goal for this year is to overcome some of my distractedness. I’m distracted in tangible and obvious ways, like devoting too much time to social media and email; and I’m distracted in more elusive ways, like accepting opportunities I don’t really want and then having to follow through on them. My mission for 2015 is to pare down the distractions – stop going down the rabbit holes – and stay attentive to that which I mean to do. Focus on food when I’m cooking. Focus on my children when I’m devoting time to them. Focus on writing – and not Facebook – when I have an assignment. Focus on saying “No thanks” when I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do and don’t have to do.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that earlier today, I couldn’t even summon the focus to make a pot of coffee without interrupting myself. I measured the grounds, thinking about how I would write about the One Little Word Challenge, and then got the notion that maybe I could find quotes about focus. In the middle of making coffee, I hurried over to my computer to Google quotes.

It was the wrong thing to do, but it just proves there’s room for improvement. A lot of room for improvement. And the Google search that took me away from making coffee affirmed for me that many finer minds than mine have pondered the question of focus, from Henry David Thoreau to Steve Jobs. All of them affirm its importance; all of them also affirm its occasional elusiveness.

So I have my work cut out for me if I want to learn to be more focused this year. But that’s the purpose of this exercise: choose a word and weave it into your daily life. Focus. Do one thing at a time. Finish what you start. Pare away the extra stuff and avoid the rabbit holes. Like The Little Engine That Could, whose sole focus was on getting up the hill, I think I can. I’ll try, anyway.

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