How Focus Became More Valuable Than Intelligence

August 23 • 2018

This may be the most important problem of our lifetime.

An individual is considered valuable to the society, to other people and to itself by the ability he has to apply what he knows in order to craft solutions to different problems or visions. The difficulty of the problem may vary: from rock climbing where your undivided focus and concentration decides every second if you will remain alive or not, to problem solving that may decide the future of your company or life.

In our days we need to solve problems harder than ever before and we have a lot of intelligent people to do that. Or do we? You see, even if you are intelligent, there is a prerequisite every single time you wake up which will decide if your intelligence will be used or wasted that day. That prerequisite is focus.

A wasted day may lead to a wasted life

Every single day you have the opportunity to do what you want. It may be anything from relaxing to building a rocket that will send us to Mars, is your decision, but the question is: will you be able to do what you want during that day? In the year 2018 where the economy and technology are their high, I wish you good luck.

Once you wake up, everything starts competing for your attention: every single channel on your TV, every single application on your phone, that device that you plan to use today needs special attention because is not charged and has full memory, the light bulb is blinking, the heating unit stopped working and you have notifications over notifications on your phone. You didn’t even manage to start what you planned for that day and the morning is already gone. Now you leave your house and the whole city competes for your attention: bars, restaurants, promoters inviting you inside for a coffee, ice cream, opposite sex trying to compete for your attention either directly or indirectly. Every single product or business tries to win a few seconds of your time, that’s how they survive in the end.

With all of these distractions to handle, your head is already full of something completely different that you wanted to.

Doing only one thing became boring

The advertisements are getting better and better on psychologically competing for our attention by creating emotions inside us. Our brain got used with the unlimited hits of instant gratifications from the notifications and with doing multiple things in the same time, because “it’s easy to be in a meeting and also reply to messages, it’s taking only a few seconds”. This false perception made our brain hyperactive and reluctant to do “only 1 thing at a time” like reading, solving problems, pay attention when we hang out with people, taking a shower without listening to music, etc.

If you’re trying to dive deep in a certain domain like coding, playing an instrument, or any other activity that requires your undivided attention, you’ll be full of sweat after 5 minutes of not checking the phone. You will never reach the level of knowledge and skills required to be a valuable person in that domain.

Focus effects in long term

It may not ring any emergency bell in the present moment, and especially that you’re doing “so many things” at once, you will start to think that you’re doing an amazing job.

Let’s zoom out a bit, how much did it matter in the last 2 years that you checked and responded to your notifications every 5 minutes? The answer is actually a lot, but not in a positive way. Almost nothing is that urgent to make your life stagnate for 2 years. If you lift your phone every 5 minutes, how much will you be able to work on your goals? And if you do manage to work on them, what quality do you think those goals have?

To build solutions that will have a big impact now and in the future requires an amount of brainpower and concentration which will make you forget that your body even exists, you will not even be aware of the fact that you’re breathing or of your environment. You can’t achieve that by thinking about random things and by being reactive to the unlimited distractions in the environment.

Every single day you don’t work on your goals, you’re pushing away the day when your vision becomes reality. If a random distraction is more fun than working on your goals, then your goals are not great enough. You should have goals that make you shiver with excitement just by thinking about them.

Managing focus when you have multiple passions

This can be a tragedy disguised as a blessing. You have an incredible passion for life and all of the modalities that you can improve it for you and others, but there’s limited time and infinite possibilities. We can’t do things in parallel.

This is when you start working on one of your passions, but after 1-2 minutes you stop because you remember of your other passion which seems a bit more important or urgent. After you switch, you find reasons to go back to the first one. In the end you create decision paralysis and don’t do nothing. The only thing left is to just go in the corner of the room and start crying because of the anxiety created by the lack of commitment to one of them.

This requires commitment and the willingness to lose the other things that you are not doing at the moment. If you are not willing to do that, it means that the current passion is not the right one to work on.

Lack of purpose

Purpose is the most important word in the dictionary for me. This is the key in life for happiness, passion, fulfilment, joy and all of the positive states that you can have. When you have a purpose and you’re working on it, it doesn’t matter what happens in the outside world or how bad your current situation is. The first step you take towards your purpose, you will feel all of that anxiety and worry disappear from your shoulders.

When you have a clear purpose you have order in your life. You know what you want and don’t want, what you accept and don’t accept. You are in control of your mind and life.

Your purpose and how strong it is, will determine your ability to focus, even after your brain got damaged by the times we live today.

Be willing to lose people

I care about my friends with all of my heart. I may look emotionless to many people, especially to new ones, but when it comes about their lives and struggles I’m all in. Sometimes I think that I was blessed to have these amazing people in my life and its one of the rare times that my emotions come close to my logical thinking. I meet new people every day and I can recognise instantly if we’ll have a special long-term relationship or not. And most of the times we have, but there’s a catch: you have to be willing to let them go. I know is hard, I know you had an amazing connection after just the first 1-2 days or weeks, just imagine the potential of that relationship long term.

Why would you let go of someone that you care about? Isn’t that hard?

It is, but think about this: why would they go in the first place? If they understand where are you coming from and where are you going and they like that, then they will stick around. If they feel that they don’t receive enough attention, which will be inevitable when you are progressing on your purpose, then they will try to change that, they will try to make you change your behaviour, activities and priorities in a way that you will spend more time with them. It’s your decision if you want to do that, but imagine if you change your priorities after each new person that will come in your life, who will you be? You will be a mere shadow shaped by other people’s requirements to keep the relationships and you will never exist, you will never have your own identity.

You need to have enough respect for yourself to have your own identity that people can align with: those who like it will stay and this is exactly who you want, those who don’t or don’t understand, you must be willing to let them go, no matter how great was the beginning or how good their intentions may look.

I have friends/mentors which I cannot speak every day, week or month, but I know them and they know me, we are aware of where we are heading and think about each other, we don’t need to ask “how are you” because we already know the answer, and when we finally meet, we may be a bit sad that it was a long time, but we are much more happy because we know that we accomplished amazing things which we want to share.

You can be the most intelligent person on earth, if you don’t have the focus which will enable you to use that intelligence, then the potential is gone.

Edit 30 December 2019: This article reached first page of hacker news since last night, if you want to receive a summary of what happened next, then please subscribe or follow me on Twitter:

how focus became more valuable than intelligence article cover with Alex Petrache