How do you balance a bicycle?
A balanced bicycle looks effortless and smooth, but in reality, involves a series of continuous micro-adjustments. When the cycle leans towards the left, the cyclist unconscious leans towards the right. When the cycle takes a sharp turn, it bends at a certain angle to sustain its balance. A continuous stream of dynamic, unconscious input from the cyclist is needed to sustain the cycle’s balance. That is why it is harder to keep a cycle balanced when you let go of the handlebars.
Similarly, focusing our attention on anything involves a series of micro-adjustments that return our focus despite momentary distractions. Even as we are engrossed in a movie playing on our laptop, we are aware of who is in the room, the noises of vehicles whizzing by and the fact that we are hungry after about an hour. Despite those distractions, we return our focus to the movie because of how engaging it is. Similar to balancing a bicycle, it requires a constant redirection of our attention back to the moving pixels on our screen.
Who is a more skilled cyclist? Is it one who can ride for 100 kilometers on a flat, well paved road? Or is it one who can maneuver through a 1 km long dirt track, with pits, bumps, slopes and several obstacles? Similarly, who has cultivated better focus? A person who can stay focused for hours in absolute quiet without distractions, or one, who despite the constant noise and chaos around her, manages to bring her attention back to a demanding task?
A victory isn’t merely the ability to spend long periods with a task. It is the ability to bring one’s wavering attention back as it wanders off.