This is just a quick post as I’m busy with my projects. I’m currently back to working on classical guitar technique and learning sight-reading, ie., playing directly from written music without memorising.
It’s quite a challenge as the exercises are quite boring, in a way that meditation is boring.
You spend a couple of minutes totally focused playing random notes from the sheet of music, and any moment your mind wonders you lose it. It’s an exercise in focus.
I noticed that doing this has affected my focus during other activities.
I have dead time during my work as a teacher where students are busy for 10-20 minutes, during which I try to find some other activity like reading an article.
But it’s a sort of multi-tasking and I’m fully aware how bad this sort of thing is in my students. It takes them ages to refocus on class activities if they get distracted with their phone, etc.
What I noticed recently is that I don’t feel the pressure to fill in the dead time in my class. I’m just happy just doing nothing but still being present during the lesson, occasionally checking on the students.
I think that the sight reading and other technique activities on the guitar are improving my focus generally and this is crossing over to other activities.
I also think that this works in the opposite direction where you think that multi-tasking is harmless but it actually makes it harder to focus on activities where focus is absolutely necessary.
The lack of the ability to give the proper sustained attention to a single task is really the scourge of our modern era.
We’re constantly distracted and multi-tasking thinking that this is harmless and that when we need to focus attention we’ll be able to do it on demand.
But we’re wrong.
I’m convinced that mental focus is something that crosses over, so that if we exercise it in one domain it increases in other domains, but if we start multi-tasking this then weakens our ability to focus in other domains as well.
I regularly see women at milongas distracted by various things—chit chat, phones, people dancing, etc.—and I typically find that once they are on the dancing floor their dancing is awful.
People who have no focus, who regularly multi-task and who are easily distractible, which today is most people, are not able to switch on that focus on demand where it’s needed.
But in tango, both in learning it and then in dancing it socially, you need focus.
I’m very aware when I dance and my focus isn’t there and I often go back and analyse why it wasn’t there.
For example, perhaps I adopted the policy of chatting with people in order to avoid boredom or to try to get a dance.
All such strategies leave you scattered and even if they work and you do get a dance this way you find that, after all, it wasn’t really worth it.
For more on this I highly recommend reading Thomas M. Sterner The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life, Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process.