Day 1: Composition
Watch small children playing, and what do you see? They move quickly from one toy to another and
from activity to activity. They expend tremendous amounts of energy but get little done. That’s to be
expected. They are exploring their world and learning by doing.
Focus does not come naturally to us, yet it is essential for anyone who wants to make the most of
his talent. Having talent without focus is like being an octopus on roller skates. You can be sure
that there will be plenty of movement, but you won’t know in what direction it will be. Talent with
focus directs you and has the potential to take you far.
Why is it hard for people to focus on a single goal?
Describe the challenges an unfocused person encounters.
How does focus relate to progress?
THE POWER OF FOCUS
Focus can bring tremendous power. Without it, you will often feel drained and unable to accom-
plish much. With it, you will find that your talents and abilities gain direction and intentionality. And
those qualities pay off by producing results.
Here are some facts you need to know about focus:
1. Focus Does Not Come Naturally to Most People
We live in a culture with almost infinite choices and opportunities, and because of that, most peo-
ple find themselves pulled in dozens of directions. What’s worse is that people often find them-
selves expending much of their time and energy on things they don’t really care about. Don Mar-
quis, author of Archy and Mehitabel, put it this way: “Ours is a world where people don’t know what
they want and are willing to go through hell to get it.”
The solution to such a predicament is focus. Poet William Matthews wrote, “One well- cultivated
talent, deepened and enlarged, is worth 100 shallow faculties. The first law of success in this day,
when so many things are clamoring for attention, is concentration—to bend all the energies to one
point, and to go directly to that point, looking neither to the right or to the left.”
What is clamoring for your attention?
I try to maintain my focus in the moment by heeding the advice of the martyred missionary Jim
Elliott, who said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” But I also look at the bigger picture. As a leader, I
am always asking myself, Am I helping others make progress? I am vigilant about how I spend my
time, with whom I am spending it, how it fits into the bigger picture, and whether it produces re-
sults. And my assistant, Linda Eggers, also keeps me on track by overseeing my calendar. She is a
tremendous asset for helping me maintain my priorities. If I feel that I’m not moving forward and
helping others throughout the day, then I know that I’m off track in some way. Linda helps me mon-
2. Focus Increases Your Energy
If you desire to achieve something, you first need to know what your target is. That’s true even when
it comes to personal development. If you lack focus, you will be all over the place. Attempting every-
thing, like attempting nothing, will suck the life out of you. It will sap you of energy and new op-
portunities. And whatever momentum you have going for you will be diminished.
What are you currently trying to achieve? What is your target?
How does this target relate to the mission you listed in Chapter 1 and the desires you listed in Chap-
In contrast, focus gives you energy. Polar explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd asserted, “Few men
during their lifetime come anywhere near exhausting the resources dwelling within them. There are
deep wells of strength that are never used.” One of the reasons that those wells often go untapped
is lack of focus. Something wonderful happens when we narrow our focus and set goals. That is
where the real magic starts. The mind doesn’t reach toward achievement until it has clear objec-
After American astronauts successfully landed on the moon, Albert Siepert, deputy director of the
Kennedy Space Center, attributed their success, at least in part, to NASA’s focus. For a decade, the
organization put nearly all of its time and energy into reaching the moon. Siepert observed, “The
reason NASA has succeeded is because NASA had a clear-cut goal and expressed its goal. By doing
this, we drew the best of men to our goal and the support of every phase of government to reach
3. Focus Lifts You
Scholar and educator David Star Jordan said, “The world stands aside to let anyone pass who
knows where he or she is going.” In a sea of mediocrity, knowing what you want to do and then
making an effort to pursue it distinguish you from almost everybody else.
The plain-spoken American writer Henry David Thoreau asked, “Did you ever hear of a man who
had striven all his life faithfully and singly toward an object, and in no measure obtained it? If a man
constantly aspires, is he not elevated?” Focus always has an impact. Just by striving to become bet-
ter than you are, you become elevated—even if you don’t accomplish what you desire, and even if
others don’t step aside for you. You can’t shoot for the stars and remain unaffected by the effort.
What progress have you already made toward hitting your target? How has your effort affected you?
4. Focus Expands Your Life
A few years ago, I wrote a book called Thinking for a Change in which I described the various think-
ing skills that can help a person become more successful. Included was a chapter on focused think-
ing, the ability to remove distractions and mental clutter so that a person can concentrate with clar-
ity. In it I explained how I often bring together a team of people to help me brainstorm when work-
ing on a project. Because we focus our attention on the subject at hand, we are able to expand ideas
in a way that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
Mike Kendrick asserts, “What you focus on expands.” That may seem ironic, but it’s true. Have
you noticed that if you consider buying a particular kind of car, you begin seeing them everywhere?
Narrowing your view widens your perspective. On the other hand, if you actually try to expand your
view, instead of taking more in, it simply wears you out. If you want to expand your capacity, then
5. Focus Must Be Intentionally Sustained
People do not naturally remain focused. Just as light naturally loses its focus and gets diffused, so
do people’s attentions. It takes a lot of effort, but the payoff is significant. Hall of Fame baseball
player Hank Aaron said, “I think what separates a superstar from the average ballplayer is that he
concentrates just a little bit longer.” Aaron demonstrated that he was able to sustain his concen-
tration. He holds the major-league baseball record for the most home runs hit in a career.
Several years ago, I memorized a definition of success to help me in my career: “Success is the
progressive realization of a predetermined worthwhile goal.” What I learned most from that defi-
nition is that success is not an event; it is a process. And anytime you engage in a process that
takes time, focus is essential. Only people capable of remaining focused can expect to direct their
talent and achieve a level of success.
Describe your level of focus on your current goal. Has it weakened, strengthened, or remained con-
sistent over time?
TALENT + FOCUS = A TALENT-PLUS PERSON
PUTTING THE TALENT-PLUS FORMULA INTO ACTION
If you desire to become a talent-plus person, you need to make focus your friend. Here’s how:
1. Be Intentional—Make Every Action Count
If you want to maximize your talent and become a talent-plus person, you need to make every action
count. You must determine where you want to go and how to get there. People who are undecided
about what they want to do or where they want to go cannot tap into their strength of will—or their
talent. As a result, they will merely drift along.
Private investigator and author Bill Copeland advises, “You’ve removed most of the roadblocks to
success when you know that difference between motion and direction.” Have you asked yourself
what you really want to do? And have you determined that you will pursue it against the odds, de-
spite the obstacles, and regardless of the circumstances? Being intentional is about focusing on
doing the right things, moment by moment, day to day, and then following through with them in a
consistent way. As President John F. Kennedy asserted, “Efforts and courage are not enough with-
out purpose and direction.”
What is the difference between motion and direction?
2. Challenge Your Excuses
A sign on the desk of an officer who works at the Pentagon reads, “The secrecy of my job does not
permit me to know what I’m doing.” It’s a clever joke, but it’s not funny when it’s actually true. Peo-
ple who don’t know what they’re doing soon become frustrated.
We all have reasons for not doing what we ought to do. We don’t have enough time. We don’t
have enough resources. We don’t have enough help. We have problems. We have shortcomings.
We have distractions. Should we let these things get us off track? No!
3. Don’t Let Yesterday Hijack Your Attention
Humorist and entertainer Will Rogers shared this thought: “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of
today.” I’ve never known a person focusing on yesterday who had a better tomorrow. Too many
people yearn for the past and get stuck in it. Instead, they should learn from the past and let go of it.
Alvin Dark, who was once the manager of the Kansas City Athletics, used to say, “There’s no such
thing as taking a pitcher out. There’s only bringing another pitcher in.”
That runs contrary to what you hear during most baseball broadcasts, but here’s the point.
When you say you’re going to take a pitcher out, you’re probably focused on the mistakes he
made—the players he walked, the hits he allowed. That doesn’t help you win the game.
In contrast, when you say you’re putting a pitcher in, you are focusing on what that new pitcher is
going to do now to try to help you beat the other team. That can make a big difference in your
team’s attitude—and in the players’ ability to succeed.
Editor and publisher Elbert Hubbard wrote,
A retentive memory may be a good thing, but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness.
Successful people forget. They know the past is irrevocable. They’re running a race.
They can’t afford to look behind. Their eye is on the finish line. Magnanimous people forget.
They’re too big to let little things disturb them. They forget easily. If anyone does them wrong,
they consider the source and keep cool. It’s only the small people who cherish revenge.
Be a good forgetter. Business dictates it, and success demands it.
What is still bothering you that happened yesterday? Last week? Last year?
How will you move past these disappointments?
If you desire to make the most of your talent and achieve success, then you need to make what
you’re doing now your focus. Striving for achievements is a lot like driving a car. It’s a good idea to
check your rearview mirror occasionally, but not to give it your complete attention. If you do, you
will eventually be incapable of moving forward at all.
4. Focus on the Present
Just as you should keep your focus off yesterday, you shouldn’t have it on tomorrow. If you’re al-
ways thinking about tomorrow, then you’ll never get anything done today. Your focus needs to re-
main in the one area where you have some control—today. What’s ironic is that if you focus on
today, you get a better tomorrow.
I try to do certain things every day to help me in this area. I read daily to grow in my personal life.
I listen to others daily to broaden my perspective. I spend time thinking daily to apply what I am
learning. And I try to write daily so that I can remember what I’ve learned. I also try to share those
lessons with others. (Today’s lessons become tomorrow’s books.) Every day I read aloud to myself
the daily dozen list from my book Today Matters to help me focus and have the right mind-set.
You should do something similar. You can’t change yesterday. You can’t count on tomorrow. But
you can choose what you do today. Giving it your focus will pay dividends.
What are you doing or what can you do daily to sustain your focus on the task at hand?
5. Stay Focused on Results
Anytime you concentrate on the difficulty of the work at hand instead of its results or rewards,
you’re likely to become discouraged. Dwell on the difficulties too long and you’ll start to develop
self-pity instead of self-discipline, and your attention will become scattered instead of focused. As a
result, you will accomplish less and less. By focusing on results, you will find it easier to stay posi-
tive and encouraged.
Another thing that can distract you from results is interaction with difficult people.
You will come in contact with a lot of people who can impact your efforts as you work on achiev-
ing your dreams—some in a negative way. Here are five types of people you are likely to encounter:
• Refreshers—they inspire your dreams and energize your talents.
• Refiners—they sharpen your ideas and clarify your vision.
• Reflectors—they mirror your energy, neither adding nor subtracting from it.
• Reducers—they try to reduce your vision and efforts to their comfort level.
• Rejecters—they deny your talent, hinder your efforts, and impede your vision.
Identify the Refreshers, Refiners, Reflectors, Reducers, and Rejecters in you life.
If you remain focused on results, you will stay grounded. The praise of others is less likely to go
to your head, and the negative impact of people such as the reducers and rejecters will be minimized.
How can you be a Refiner and/or Reflector to those you work with?
6. Develop and Follow Your Priorities
There’s an old saying that if you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Unfortunately, that is what
many people seem to do. They don’t focus their attention, and as a result, they become ineffective.
Perhaps the reason is that people in our culture have too many choices—nearly unlimited options.
Management expert Peter Drucker recognized this phenomenon. He said, “Concentration is the key
to economic results. No other principle of effectiveness is violated as constantly today as the basic
principle of concentration . . . Our motto seems to be, ‘Let’s do a little bit of everything.’” But if you
want to develop your talent, you need to focus. If you’re going to focus, you need to work on know-
ing what your true priorities are and then following them.
Review your priorities list from Chapter 2. How have you focused on these priorities in the last
week? What adjustments do you need to make to keep these priorities in the forefront?
7. Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses
There’s a story about a couple who bought a new piece of property upon which they intended to
establish a farm. It was good land, and they could hardly wait to move there and get started. As they
made plans for the move one night, they began to argue about what to do first. The wife wanted to
build the house first. After all, once they moved, the new property would be their home. The hus-
band, who had grown up working on a farm, wanted to build the barn first to house their animals.
They went back and forth for a while until the man finally said, “Look, we have to build the barn
first—because the barn will build the house, and the garage, the silo, the kids’ swing set, and every-
thing else!” When you focus on your priorities and put first things first, everything else is more
likely to fall into place.
Anthony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, says:
What you commit yourself to will change what you are and make you into a completely different
person. Let me repeat that. Not the past but the future conditions you, because what you com-
mit yourself to become determines what you are—more than anything that ever happened to
you yesterday or the day before. Therefore, I ask you a very simple question: What are your com-
mitments? Where are you going? What are you going to be? You show me somebody who
hasn’t decided, and I’ll show you somebody who has no identity, no personality, no direction.
Focusing on weaknesses instead of strengths is like having a handful of coins—a few made of
pure gold and the rest of tarnished copper—and setting aside the gold coins to spend all your time
cleaning and shining the copper ones in the hopes of making them look more valuable. No matter
how long you spend on them, they will never be worth what the gold ones are. Go with your great-
est assets; don’t waste your time.
Review the talents you listed in the introduction to this workbook. How much time are you focusing
on strengths? How much time are you focusing on your weaknesses? How can you refocus so you
are not wasting time?
8. Delay Rewards Until the Job Is Done
One of the tricks I’ve used with myself for years is to reward myself when I’ve done something that I
ought to do. My father taught me that when I was a kid—pay now and play later. I think too often
people want the rewards before the results, and for that reason they don’t stay as focused as they
What untapped strength or talent do you suspect you possess but have neglected? What con-
crete step can you take to start utilizing it?
How will utilizing this strength or talent benefit the people around you? How will it move you
closer to your target?
One secret of a life well lived is making every action count—being intentional. That kind of focus
helps people live without regrets because it directs and makes the most of their talent and their op-
portunities. If you know that you have talent, and you are energetic and active, but you don’t see
concrete results, then lack of focus is likely your problem. It takes talent plus focus to reach your
potential and become the person you desire to be.
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