Let's define grit. Grit is the perseverance and passion to achieve long–term goals. Sometimes you will hear grit referred to as mental toughness. Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that grit is a strong predictor of success and ability to reach one's goals.
Duckworth's research on grit has shown that…
West Point cadets who scored highest on the Grit Test were 60% more likely to succeed than their peers.
Ivy League undergraduate students who had more grit also had higher GPAs than their peers — even though they had lower SAT scores and weren’t as “smart.”
When comparing two people who are the same age but have different levels of education, grit (and not intelligence) more accurately predicts which one will be better educated.
Competitors in the National Spelling Bee outperform their peers not because of IQ, but because of their grit and commitment to more consistent practice.
This short TED talk by psychology professor Angela Duckworth explains the concept of grit and how it helps foster mental toughness in our everyday lives.
How to Be Mentally Tough
Step 1: Define what grit or mental toughness means for you.
For you, it might be…
going one month without missing a workout
delivering your work ahead of schedule for two days in a row
calling one friend to catch up every Saturday this month
Whatever it is, be clear about what you’re going after.
Step 2: Build grit with small physical wins.
So often we think that grit is about how we respond to extreme situations, but what about everyday circumstances?
Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked to grow and develop.
Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be easier to just do nine. Choose to create when it would be easier to consume. Choose to ask the extra question when it would be easier to accept. Prove to yourself — in a thousand tiny ways — that you have enough guts to get in the ring and do battle with life.
Step 3: Build strong habits and stop depending on motivation.
Grit isn’t about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage. It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again.
Mentally tough people don’t have to be more courageous, more talented, or more intelligent — just more consistent.
Grit comes down to your habits. It’s about doing the things you know you’re supposed to do on a more consistent basis. It’s about your dedication to daily practice and your ability to stick to a schedule.
Mentally tough athletes are more consistent than others. They don’t miss workouts. They don’t miss assignments. They always have their teammates back.
Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. They have a clear goal that they work towards each day. They don’t let short–term profits, negative feedback, or hectic schedules prevent them from continuing the march towards their vision. They make a habit of building up the people around them — not just once, but over and over and over again.
Mentally tough artists, writers, and employees deliver on a more consistent basis than most. They work on a schedule, not just when they feel motivated. They approach their work like a pro, not an amateur. They do the most important thing first and don’t shirk responsibilities.
Focus: The Ultimate Guide on How to Improve Focus and Concentration
Focus and concentration can be difficult to master. Sure, most people want to learn how to improve focus and boost concentration. But actually doing it? We live in a noisy world and constant distractions can make focus difficult.
Luckily, this page contains the best ideas and top research on how to get and stay focused. We will break down the science behind sharpening your mind and paying attention to what matters. Whether you're looking to focus on your goals in life or business, this page should cover everything you need to know.
You can click the links below to jump to a particular section or simply scroll down to read everything. At the end of this page, you’ll find a complete list of all the articles I have written on focus.
First things first. What is focus, really? Experts define focus as the act of concentrating your interest or activity on something. That's a somewhat boring definition, but there is an important insight hiding inside that definition.
What is Focus?
In order to concentrate on one thing you must, by default, ignore many other things.
Here's a better way to put it:
Focus can only occur when we have said yes to one option and no to all other options. In other words, elimination is a prerequisite for focus. As Tim Ferriss says, “What you don’t do determines what you can do.”
Of course, focus doesn't require a permanent no, but it does require a present no. You always have the option to do something else later, but in the present moment focus requires that you only do one thing. Focus is the key to productivity because saying no to every other option unlocks your ability to accomplish the one thing that is left.
Now for the important question: What can we do to focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don't?
Before we talk about how to get started, let's pause for just a second. If you're enjoying this article on focus, then you'll probably find my other writing on performance and human behavior useful. Each week, I share self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research through my free email newsletter.
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Most people don’t have trouble with focusing. They have trouble with deciding.
What I mean is that most healthy humans have a brain that is capable of focusing if we get the distractions out of the way. Have you ever had a task that you absolutely had to get done? What happened? You got it done because the deadline made the decision for you. Maybe you procrastinated beforehand, but once things became urgent and you were forced to make a decision, you took action.
Instead of doing the difficult work of choosing one thing to focus on, we often convince ourselves that multitasking is a better option. This is ineffective.
The Myth of Multitasking
Technically, we are capable of doing two things at the same time. It is possible, for example, to watch TV while cooking dinner or to answer an email while talking on the phone.
What is impossible, however, is concentrating on two tasks at once. You're either listening to the TV and the overflowing pot of pasta is background noise, or you're tending to the pot of pasta and the TV is background noise. During any single instant, you are concentrating on one or the other.
Multitasking forces your brain to switch your focus back and forth very quickly from one task to another. This wouldn't be a big deal if the human brain could transition seamlessly from one job to the next, but it can't.
Have you ever been in the middle of writing an email when someone interrupts you? When the conversation is over and you get back to the message, it takes you a few minutes to get your bearings, remember what you were writing, and get back on track. Something similar happens when you multitask. Multitasking forces you to pay a mental price each time you interrupt one task and jump to another. In psychology terms, this mental price is called the switching cost.
Switching cost is the disruption in performance that we experience when we switch our focus from one area to another. One study, published in the International Journal of Information Management in 2003, found that the typical person checks email once every five minutes and that, on average, it takes 64 seconds to resume the previous task after checking your email.
In other words, because of email alone, we typically waste one out of every six minutes.
II. How to Focus and Increase Your Attention Span
Let's talk about how to overcome our tendency to multitask and focus on one thing at a time. Of the many options in front of you, how do you know what to focus on? How do you know where to direct your energy and attention? How do you determine the one thing that you should commit to doing?
Warren Buffett’s “2 List” Strategy for Focused Attention
One of my favorite methods for focusing your attention on what matters and eliminating what doesn't comes from the famous investor Warren Buffett.
Buffett uses a simple 3-step productivity strategy to help his employees determine their priorities and actions. You may find this method useful for making decisions and getting yourself to commit to doing one thing right away. Here's how it works…
One day, Buffett asked his personal pilot to go through the 3-step exercise.
STEP 1: Buffett started by asking the pilot, named Mike Flint, to write down his top 25 career goals. So, Flint took some time and wrote them down. (Note: You could also complete this exercise with goals for a shorter timeline. For example, write down the top 25 things you want to accomplish this week.)
STEP 2: Then, Buffett asked Flint to review his list and circle his top 5 goals. Again, Flint took some time, made his way through the list, and eventually decided on his 5 most important goals.
STEP 3: At this point, Flint had two lists. The 5 items he had circled were List A, and the 20 items he had not circled were List B.
Flint confirmed that he would start working on his top 5 goals right away. And that’s when Buffett asked him about the second list, “And what about the ones you didn’t circle?”
Flint replied, “Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”
To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”
I love Buffett's method because it forces you to make hard decisions and eliminate things that might be good uses of time, but aren't great uses of time. So often the tasks that derail our focus are ones that we can easily rationalize spending time on.
This is just one way to narrow your focus and eliminate distractions. I've covered many other methods before like The Ivy Lee Method and The Eisenhower Box. That said, no matter what method you use and no matter how committed you are, at some point your concentration and focus begin to fade. How can you increase your attention span and remain focused?
There are two simple steps you can take.
Measure Your Results
The first thing you can do is to measure your progress.
Focus often fades because of lack of feedback. Your brain has a natural desire to know whether or not you are making progress toward your goals, and it is impossible to know that without getting feedback. From a practical standpoint, this means that we need to measure our results.
We all have areas of life that we say are important to us, but that we aren’t measuring. That's a shame because measurement maintains focus and concentration. The things we measure are the things we improve. It is only through numbers and clear tracking that we have any idea if we are getting better or worse.
When I recorded my values, I began living with more integrity.
The tasks I measured were the ones I remained focused on.
Unfortunately, we often avoid measuring because we are fearful of what the numbers will tell us about ourselves. The trick is to realize that measuring is not a judgment about who you are, it's just feedback on where you are.
Measure to discover, to find out, to understand. Measure to get to know yourself better. Measure to see if you're actually spending time on the things that are important to you. Measure because it will help you focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don’t.
Focus on the Process, Not the Event
The second thing you can do to maintain long-term focus is to concentrate on processes, not events. All too often, we see success as an event that can be achieved and completed.
Here are some common examples:
Many people see health as an event: “If I just lose 20 pounds, then I’ll be in shape.”
Many people see entrepreneurship as an event: “If we could get our business featured in the New York Times, then we’d be set.”
Many people see art as an event: “If I could just get my work featured in a bigger gallery, then I’d have the credibility I need.”
Those are just a few of the many ways that we categorize success as a single event. But if you look at the people who stay focused on their goals, you start to realize that it’s not the events or the results that make them different. It’s the commitment to the process. They fall in love with the daily practice, not the individual event.
What’s funny, of course, is that this focus on the process is what will allow you to enjoy the results anyway.
If you want to be a great writer, then having a best-selling book is wonderful. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of writing.
If you want the world to know about your business, then it would be great to be featured in Forbes magazine. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of marketing.
If you want to be in the best shape of your life, then losing 20 pounds might be necessary. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of eating healthy and exercising consistently.
If you want to become significantly better at anything, you have to fall in love with the process of doing it. You have to fall in love with building the identity of someone who does the work, rather than merely dreaming about the results that you want.
Focusing on outcomes and goals is our natural tendency, but focusing on processes leads to more results over the long-run.
III. Concentration and Focus Mind-Hacks
Even after you've learned to love the process and know how to stay focused on your goals, the day-to-day implementation of those goals can still be messy. Let's talk about some additional ways to improve concentration and make sure you're giving each task your focused attention.
How to Improve Concentration
Here are few additional ways to improve your focus and get started on what matters.
Choose an anchor task. One of the major improvements I've made recently is to assign one (and only one) priority to each work day. Although I plan to complete other tasks during the day, my priority task is the one non-negotiable thing that must get done. I call this my “anchor task” because it is the mainstay that holds the rest of my day in place. The power of choosing one priority is that it naturally guides your behavior by forcing you to organize your life around that responsibility.
Manage your energy, not your time. If a task requires your full attention, then schedule it for a time of day when you have the energy needed to focus. For example, I have noticed that my creative energy is highest in the morning. That’s when I’m fresh. That’s when I do my best writing. That’s when I make the best strategic decisions about my business. So, what do I do? I schedule creative tasks for the morning. All other business tasks are taken care of in the afternoon. This includes doing interviews, responding to emails, phone calls and Skype chats, data analysis and number crunching. Nearly every productivity strategy obsesses over managing your time better, but time is useless if you don’t have the energy you need to complete the task you are working on.
Never check email before noon. Focus is about eliminating distractions. Email can be one of the biggest distractions of all. If I don’t check email at the beginning of the day, then I am able to spend the morning pursuing my own agenda rather than reacting to everybody else’s agenda. That’s a huge win because I’m not wasting mental energy thinking about all the messages in my inbox. I realize that waiting until the afternoon isn’t feasible for many people, but I’d like to offer a challenge. Can you wait until 10AM? What about 9AM? 8:30AM? The exact cutoff time doesn't matter. The point is to carve out time during your morning when you can focus on what is most important to you without letting the rest of the world dictate your mental state.
Leave your phone in another room. I usually don’t see my phone for the first few hours of the day. It is much easier to do focused work when you don’t have any text messages, phone calls, or alerts interrupting your focus.
Work in full screen mode. Whenever I use an application on my computer, I use full screen mode. If I’m reading an article on the web, my browser takes up the whole screen. If I’m writing in Evernote, I’m working in full screen mode. If I’m editing a picture in Photoshop, it is the only thing I can see. I have set up my desktop so that the menu bar disappears automatically. When I am working, I can’t see the time, the icons of other applications, or any other distractions on the screen. It’s funny how big of a difference this makes for my focus and concentration. If you can see an icon on your screen, then you will be reminded to click on it occasionally. However, if you remove the visual cue, then the urge to be distracted subsides in a few minutes.
Remove all tasks that could distract from early morning focus. I love doing the most important thing first each day because the urgencies of the day have not crept in yet. I have gone a little far in this regard in that I have even pushed my first meal off until about noon each day. I have been intermittent fasting for three years now (here are some lessons learned), which means that I typically eat most of my meals between 12PM and 8PM. The result is that I get some additional time in the morning to do focused work rather than cook breakfast.
Regardless of what strategy you use, just remember that anytime you find the world distracting you, all you need to do is commit to one thing. In the beginning, you don’t even have to succeed. You just need to get started.
Where to Go From Here
I hope you found this short guide on focus useful. If you’re looking for more ideas on how to improve your focus and concentration, feel free to browse the full list of articles below.
This page pulls together my most essential information about creativity. I’ll share how creativity works, how to find your hidden creative genius, and how to create meaningful work by learning how to make creative thinking a habit. I’ve tried to present the basics of everything you need to know to start mastering creativity, even if you don’t have much time.
At the end of this page, you’ll find a complete list of all the articles I have written on creativity.
What is Creativity?
Let's define creativity.
The creative process is the act of making new connections between old ideas or recognizing relationships between concepts. Creative thinking is not about generating something new from a blank slate, but rather about taking what is already present and combining those bits and pieces in a way that has not been done previously.
While being creative isn't easy, nearly all great ideas follow a similar creative process. In 1940, an advertising executive named James Webb Young published a short guide titled, A Technique for Producing Ideas.
Young believed the process of creative connection always occurred in five steps.
The Creative Process
Gather new material. At first, you learn. During this stage you focus on 1) learning specific material directly related to your task and 2) learning general material by becoming fascinated with a wide range of concepts.
Thoroughly work over the materials in your mind. During this stage, you examine what you have learned by looking at the facts from different angles and experimenting with fitting various ideas together.
Step away from the problem. Next, you put the problem completely out of your mind and go do something else that excites you and energizes you.
Let your idea return to you. At some point, but only after you have stopped thinking about it, your idea will come back to you with a flash of insight and renewed energy.
Shape and develop your idea based on feedback. For any idea to succeed, you must release it out into the world, submit it to criticism, and adapt it as needed.
While we often think of creativity as an event or as a natural skill that some people have and some don't, research actually suggests that both creativity and non-creativity are learned.
According to psychology professor Barbara Kerr, “approximately 22 percent of the variance [in creativity] is due to the influence of genes.” This discovery was made by studying the differences in creative thinking between sets of twins.
All of this to say, claiming that “I'm just not the creative type” is a pretty weak excuse for avoiding creative thinking. Certainly, some people are primed to be more creative than others. However, nearly every person is born with some level of creative skill and the majority of our creative thinking abilities are trainable.
The 15-Minute Routine Anthony Trollope Used to Write 40+ Books: Beginning with his first novel in 1847, Anthony Trollope wrote at an incredible pace. Over the next 38 years, he published 47 novels, 18 works of non-fiction, 12 short stories, 2 plays, and an assortment of articles and letters. Let’s break down why Trollope's simple strategy allowed the author to be so productive and how we can use it in our own lives.
The Weird Strategy Dr. Seuss Used to Create His Greatest Work: In 1960, the founder of Random House publishing firm challenged Dr. Seuss to write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words. The result was a little book called Green Eggs and Ham. Here's what we can learn from Dr. Seuss…
How Creative Geniuses Come Up With Great Ideas: Best-selling author Markus Zusak estimated that he rewrote the first part of his popular book “The Book Thief” 150 to 200 times. His work ethic and dedication tell us something crucial about how creative geniuses come up with great ideas.
In any creative endeavor, you have to give yourself permission to create junk. There is no way around it. Sometimes you have to write 4 terrible pages just to discover that you wrote one good sentence in the second paragraph of the third page.
Creating something useful and compelling is like being a gold miner. You have to sift through pounds of dirt and rock and silt just to find a speck of gold in the middle of it all. Bits and pieces of genius will find their way to you, if you give yourself permission to let the muse flow.
No single act will uncover more creative genius than forcing yourself to create consistently. Practicing your craft over and over is the only way to become decent at it. The person who sits around theorizing about what a best-selling book looks like will never write it. Meanwhile, the writer who shows up every day and puts their butt in the chair and their hands on the keyboard — they are learning how to do the work.
If you want to do your best creative work, then don't leave it up to choice. Don't wake up in the morning and think, “I hope I feel inspired to create something today.” You need to take the decision-making out of it. Set a schedule for your work. Genius arrives when you show up enough times to get the average ideas out of the way.
Finish something. Anything. Stop researching, planning, and preparing to do the work and just do the work. It doesn't matter how good or how bad it is. You don't need to set the world on fire with your first try. You just need to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to produce something.
There are no artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, or scientists who became great by half-finishing their work. Stop debating what you should make and just make something.
Everyone struggles to create great art. Even great artists.
Anyone who creates something on a consistent basis will begin to judge their own work. I write new articles every Monday and Thursday. After sticking to that publishing schedule for three months, I began to judge everything I created. I was convinced that I had gone through every decent idea I had available. My most popular article came 8 months later.
It is natural to judge your work. It is natural to feel disappointed that your creation isn't as wonderful as you hoped it would be, or that you're not getting any better at your craft. But the key is to not let your discontent prevent you from continuing to do the work.
You have to practice enough self-compassion to not let self-judgement take over. Sure, you care about your work, but don't get so serious about it that you can't laugh off your mistakes and continue to produce the thing you love. Don't let judgment prevent delivery.
Share your work publicly. It will hold you accountable to creating your best work. It will provide feedback for doing better work. And when you see others connect with what you create, it will inspire you and make you care more.
Sometimes sharing your work means you have to deal with haters and critics. But more often than not, the only thing that happens is that you rally the people who believe the same things you believe, are excited about the same things you are excited about, or who support the work that you believe in — who wouldn't want that?
The world needs people who put creative work out into the world. What seems simple to you is often brilliant to someone else. But you'll never know that unless you choose to share.
If you look for it, you will also find a huge hidden benefit of sharing your work publicly: the gut reaction. Whenever you share something with someone else — a business idea, an article you wrote, a painting, a picture — there will be a split second when they first process your work that you get their true response. In my experience, you will either have genuine excitement (which is an indication that you are onto something good) or any other emotion (which is an indication that it's average at best).