Teaching Your Children to Focus

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The following article is a guest contribution from Dr. Jason Selk

What parent doesn’t want his kids to develop the skills necessary to rise to the top of whatever profession or field they choose? The good news is, with the right training, there’s one key talent that just about every child can master. And it just happens to be the skill that highly successful people can call up at any given moment. It’s called focus.

Okay, I imagine that right now most dads reading this piece of advice are rolling their eyes. Kids are already overscheduled and parents are competing with play dates, the Internet and digital toys for quality time. Where’s the time you need to teach your kids to focus?

Actually, focus exercises can be practiced during any spare moments, like when you’re in the car on your way to soccer practice. Tying these mental exercises into the summer’s London Olympics is a perfect way to reinforce how focus can help generate great performance in the spotlight – because many Olympic athletes use these same methods to mentally prepare for their events.

Here’s why being able to focus at will is so important:

Focus helps counteract pressure.

When children aren’t athletic stars, they’re more likely to play simply for fun or the for the experience of being on a team. These are valuable reasons in and of themselves. However, once children receive some accolades for their playing ability, or may have won trophies, suddenly all eyes are on them. There’s a lot of pressure. The coach and weaker members of the team are counting on their better players.

Olympians who’ve previously won a medal or two face more pressure in their future competitions. The competing players want to go after those who have been victorious. Suddenly, medal winners can’t rest on their laurels because they have new expectations to live up to.

Here are two quick exercises to help your children concentrate better. They take such little time that you can easily fit them in during that drive to sports practice.

The 100-second mental workout:

1. Center your breath. Breathe in for six counts, hold for two, and exhale for seven. An elevated heart rate, which goes hand-in-hand with pressure, results in the mind working less than optimally. This breath work slows down the heart rate, which counters the pressure.

2. Create an identity statement. Even youngsters can come up with meaningful ones, such as “I’m the hardest worker on our team,” or “I’m always successful at blocking soccer goals.”

3. Create a personal highlight reel. This exercise involves just 60 seconds of visualization. First focus on three things done well within the past 24 hours, such as completing homework in a timely manner or making a solid play on the field. Then focus on three things you plan to do well within the next 24 hours. That’s only 10 seconds apiece.

4. Repeat step 2.

5. Repeat step 1.

These 100 seconds are a superb way to help your children decrease pressure and mentally prepare for their games through better focus.

Begin to define your success with the process, not the result.

Think about a baseball player in the batter’s box. If all he’s thinking about is, “I gotta get a hit,” he won’t. It’s what’s called the “paradox of the product goal.” What the batter needs to think about are the actions that will get him a hit – tracking the ball, the short swing, and the follow-through.

Focusing on two or three tasks at a time increases achievement. This can help kids arrive at their goal. Here’s another example tied to academic work. Instead of your children’s focusing on the abstract “getting an A grade,” have them focus on concrete actions – read each question twice, answer all the questions, and review all answers.

These strategies work for any child with a goal, be it sports or studies. When it comes to achievement, we’re all “players” in our own stadiums, whether it’s an Olympics year or not.

Jason Selk, Ed.D., trains companies and organizations – including the world’s finest athletes, coaches, and business leaders – on how to achieve optimal performance. He’s the bestselling author of 10-Minute Toughness (McGraw-Hill, 2008) and Executive Toughness  (McGraw-Hill, 2011). He’s a regular television and radio contributor to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC. He’s also been featured in USA Today, Men’s Health, Muscle and Fitness, Shape and Self. Check out his website at www.enhancedperformanceinc.com.

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