Etymology (the study of the origin of words) can be fun in a trivia-night-at-the-pub sort of way.
For example, did you know that the word Hello is only a little over 100 years old? True story. It was literally made up as a result of the invention of the Telephone as something to say to initiate a telephone call. It was put to a ballot, and the runner up was “Ahoy!”. Seriously. We could all be running around today saying “Ahoy!” singing along to the Beatles hit “Ahoy Goodbye” watching “Ahoy Dolly” the Broadway musical.
Beyond pub trivia, another reason I really enjoy exploring etymology is that sometimes, the way in which two words are related provides an insight that allows you to enhance your understanding of both words. Now that (to employ a word I’d like to see come back into common use) is nifty!
For example the word Express, I always took to mean “fast”. Express trains, express elevators etc. But then the word pops up when talking about (for example) the human face expressing delight or consternation. What’s going on?
Understand the relationship between the words and you will learn more about each.
Express it turns out has it’s origins in the latin word Expressus meaning “Clearly Presented”. That makes sense for the facial expression as a clearly presented emotion. But what about the bus?
Well, if you look on the “face” of the bus what do you see? Headlights, windshield, wipers…and on the top there’s usually a route number and a destination. In the case of an express bus this is the only destination. The bus is expressly going to that destination and nowhere else. So it turns out Express doesn’t mean fast at all! It just means fewer stops - a faster journey is simply a result of not stopping at the places that are not expressly stated. Similarly, An express elevator goes expressly to the upper levels skipping the lower ones and is, as a result faster. Again – nifty!
The point that I’m coming to is this: things are sometimes better understood when you invert the assumptions.
I used to think about Focus as something you had to kind of switch on. The laser is a common visual metaphor for focus. And lasers have on switches.
I imagined focus as being an active something that you had to do. Like it was a task in and of itself separate to the task you were doing. First you Focus, then you begin.
Additionally, focus seemed to be something that required a lot of mental effort. You had to exercise your will power to focus really hard on something. After a period of concentration you would experience a type of fatigue and then you then take a break. Having held back the floodgates, now you can switch the focus off and relax with a big sigh of relief.
But that’s all wrong.
Remember the express bus? The express referred not to the speed of the bus, but to stops it doesn’t make – the result of which is a quicker journey.
It’s the same with focus. We want to be more focused so our tendency is to think we have to “knuckle down”, put our foot on the “focus accelerator”. Instead, what we ought to be doing is cutting out the “stops” in between.
The bus is expressly going to that destination and nowhere else and you are working expressly on one task and nothing else. The result is focus, but focus is not the catalyst. The illusion is that you focused on something when in fact you focussed off everything else.
That’s the trick. Concentration is de-focusing. Instead of focussing on what you are doing, rather de-focus on what you are not doing.
Look at these photographs. Which one looks to you like a better visual for the idea of concentration?
I don’t think anyone could argue that the left image best illustrates the idea of focus. And yet, technically there is “more” focus on the image on the right. More things are clear. More pixels are sharp.
The piano keys in focus on the left are E and F. But here’s what’s interesting: the keys E and F are no less focused in either image. In order to draw all attention to E and F we did not have to focus on it more, we had to focus on everything else less.
If you find concentrating or focusing to be a challenge, or a mental drain remember that it’s not something that requires Herculean effort to achieve. You can relax into it.
Stop exerting yourself unnecessarily trying to achieve focus.
You don’t “get focused”, you let focus come to you.