On March 3, 1993, Jimmy Valvano, a well-respected basketball coach, gave a moving speech shortly before losing his life to cancer. His speech didn’t center around winning basketball games, championships or money. He outlined three things, which he believed defines a full day: laughter, being moved to tears, and thought.
This chapter will revolve around Jimmy’s third element: thought. We’ll cover different types of thought (meditation, contemplation or simply quieting your environment to think). By practicing Focused Thought and contemplation everyday, one can improve their concentration, productivity and happiness. We’ll explore how.
The Concept of Focused Thought
Focused Thought isn’t new. You’ve heard principles of focused thought emanate from the concept of meditation. Yet, when you think of meditation, an image may arise in your mind of some eccentric relative that’s constantly preaching about seeking enlightenment through meditation. Carry Barbor writes, “The romantic notion of quitting everything and joining Tibetan monks on a mountaintop is not the only way to meditate. You don’t need to quit your job, give up your possessions and spend 30 years chanting.” In this sense, you’re confusing meditation with one branch of meditation: Eastern Meditation, which is a more mystical and religious-based branch of meditation. Albeit, it’s a big branch.
Eastern Meditation vs. Western Meditation
In brief, Eastern Meditation revolves around focusing on nothing. Whereas, Western Meditation concerns itself with focusing on something.
Eastern Meditation centers around eloquently moving thoughts out of your mind and only concentrating on a small act (like breathing). Whereas Western Meditation revolves around contemplation, and getting lost in thinking about something.
The branch of meditation that likens itself most to Focused Thought is Western Meditation.
The Roots of Focused Thought
Defined, Focused Thought is the act of contemplating a specific problem, and in turn, falling into a state of flow. Time slows as you contemplate a specific problem.
The roots of Focused Thought arose from a group of hermits in the Egyptian desert around 400 AD. These hermits were actually Christian monks who practiced repetitive and focused contemplation of the scriptures. Their practices centered around contemplating verses, ideas, phrases and prayer on a daily basis. It is suspected that these methods were influenced by the East. 
By engaging in the habitual act of contemplating ideas, they exercised their minds–specifically their prefrontal cortex.
Researches have found that such acts increase activity in the left prefrontal cortex–the part of your brain that drives concentration, meta-cognition and decision-making. Essentially, these desert monks were increasing their brain-power every single day through Focused Thought. The same researchers found that such acts may even decrease anxiety and depression. The simple act of focused thought not only increases the mind’s ability to concentrate, it reduces the likelihood of depression. Focused Thought enhances attention-span and makes the mind more flexible. This increases awareness of your environment, as well as the ability to be objective in emotionally-charged situations. This sense of awareness doesn’t just apply to your environment. It also applies to the creative component within your mind. Essentially, you’ll find it easier to fall into the state of flow when you practice Focused Thought on a habitual basis. 
In summary, the concept of focused thought isn’t a qualitative act (i.e. practiced in order to seek spiritual enlightenment). Focused Thought is a quantitative, and calculated way to exercise your prefrtontal cortex; thus, improving your creativity, decision-making and general sense of happiness.
So now the question is, “How do I get started and practice focused thought?” We’ll now cover three ways that will help you practice focused thought:
3 Ways to Practice Focused Thought
Practicing Focused Thought isn’t complex. It doesn’t warrant books, lessons or drawn-out instruction. Focused Thought is merely setting a specific time to think. Though there’s limitless ways you can practice Focused Thought, here are three styles that have worked best for me:
1) Get Lost Before Work
I find that it’s best to practice Focused Thought before starting the day. Some practice Focused Thought while exercising; others find themselves in Focused Thought while praying or reading. Right now, my favorite way to practice Focused Thought is through writing before I start the day. As Jimmy Valvano outlined above, thought is a critical component of a full day. Because our world is filled with so much noise, movement and distraction, I find that it’s best to practice Focused Thought when there’s no noise, movement or distraction.
By practicing focused thought before starting the day, you will feel less rushed, less stressed and less anxious. You know that daily thought where a voice tells you, “I need to do something important. I need to prove my worth or others are going to wonder if I’m really good at what I do.” That feeling is mitigated or even extinguished when you’ve practiced Focused Thought. For some reason, you feel confidant in yourself and your abilities throughout the day after practicing Focused Thought. You feel a greater sense of awareness of who you are and what you stand for. And this sense of awareness results in more confidence when stress, noise and distraction attack your mind throughout the day.
Bottom line: Get lost in Focused Thought before work.
2) Dead Silent Car
I drive an hour to work and an hour home every single day. Yes, it’s quite a commute. When I first began this commute, I listened to a mix of music and sports-talk radio. This lasted for about three months until I grew tired of music and annoyed with the radio. I then shifted to some books on tape and marketing lessons. This again lasted around three months. I grew tired of listening to people. I’d listen to people on the car-ride (through books on tape), I’d listen to people at work and then I’d come home and listen to my wife (though, my wife would argue that point). For this reason, I stopped listening to books on-tape. I was sick of listening. Instead, I did one simple thing–and this method has stuck ever since–I turned off the noise. My car-ride is dead silent. For two hours every single day, I surround myself in complete silence. I find this gives me an opportunity to quiet my mind and practice Focused Thought.
I typically start the trip by contemplating a problem that I’m trying to solve. My method is usually very similar, and can be broken into five steps:
- I define my goal.
- I ask myself how others have achieved that goal (or a similar goal)
- I contemplate specific methods that could solve the problem
- I list out the pro’s and con’s of each specific method
- I select the best method to solve that problem
When I say “problem,” I don’t actually mean a problem in the sense of conflict. I’m referring to a problem that likens itself to a typical math problem. For instance, “Our goal is to create a product that allows people to learn and have fun. How can we create a product that is fun, educational and results in profit?”
3) Clear Away Distractions
The final practical way to practice Focused Thought is to create an environment that enables one to think clearly. We cover the concept of clearing distractions over and over again in this book, but it’s necessary and critical to both becoming a focused person and practicing Focused Thought.
You can’t practice Focused Thought if you can’t think. And one usually can’t think when there’s email notifications popping up while getting text-messages from friends. I’ve heard people say that music helps them focus, but I’ve never heard anyone say email notifications helps them focus. In brief, create an environment that is minimal and distraction free. If you’re unable to do this where you live, search out a local library–you’ll be shocked by how much your environment drives your ability to concentrate. In college, I never studied once in my room. I only did work at the library. This environment allowed me to practice focused thought batched into a two-hour period, which could have easily been stretched into 8 hours if I worked at home.
Bottom line: Clear your working environment of any distractions that may arise.
- Eastern Meditation revolves around focusing on nothing; whereas Western Meditation centers on focusing on something.
- Focused Thought likens itself to the Western Meditation practice of contemplating something.
- Focused thought is the act of focusing or contemplating something to the point in which you get lost–i.e. you fall into a state of flow.
There are three practical ways to practice focused thought:
- Get lost before work: Fall into the state of flow first thing in the morning through, reading, exercising, writing or some other exercise.
- Seek silence in your car ride: Turn off the radio and music and contemplate a problem
- Remove distractions from your environment
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