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Photo by Arthur Coddington

In the Elite Action Series, we explore proven strategies elite athletes have used to reach the pinnacle of their sports and how we can apply them to our lives beyond the playing field. Last time, we explored the strategy of assembling your team. This time, it’s about focus.

Strategy 3: Focus

Your systematic plan needs commitment. It needs our belief, the force of your will. There are lots of excuses right now for being unfocused. Few of them matter. We’re either on our plan or choosing not to be.

Focus may demand tradeoffs. As I prepared for this year’s world championships, I re-prioritized my life. Focusing on being the best teammate possible demanded that I step up my physical training, improve my diet and invest time in visualizing our performances. Lots of excuses here: anaerobic interval training hurts, repetitive catching practice is boring, desserts are delicious. All of them lure me away from my focus.

Those tradeoffs were worth it. Both my teams won the world championships. And yet even if we didn’t win, that focus allowed me to show up at the world championships more confident, knowing I had invested in my team. Interestingly, that focus bred more focus. By not worrying about physical condition or remembering our competition routine, I was more likely to play my best by staying in the moment.

Tradeoffs can take different forms. Performance is so important to tennis superstar Novak Djokovic that he’s willing to go more than a year without treating himself to a single piece of chocolate. People at the top of their fields like Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs have famously taken distraction out of unimportant areas of their lives. For Obama, he trades off variety in his wardrobe for the focus that comes from not answering the unimportant question “what will I wear today?” Each removed decision allows focus to remain on the highest priorities.

What distracts you from tapping into your full potential? What’s holding you back from focusing? How hard are your competitors training? What tradeoffs are you willing to make to match their focus?