This is part of a series of blogs that focuses on the attitudes of mind, behaviours and actions that a person can use to be successful at an English course. It’s practical stuff that, if applied, will have a practical effect – success in English. The blogs can be found under the category ‘Passing Higher English’ or on Twitter at #passingEnglish.
The power of focus is at the root of our success as a human species. When our ancestors moved from the jungles to the wide savannah plains of East Africa about three million years ago, they brought with them an ability that was suited to the trees rather than the grasslands. Having eyes close together and set side-by-side in the full frontal position, they were able to swing from branch to branch, home in on prey or pick out nut and berries effectively. They lacked the height and side-on vision that was so useful for the animals of the African plains: the elephant and the giraffe. They could take in movement from a far wider field of vision and move to safety or coalesce as a protective herd. Our forebears could only see a much narrower field of vision and were vulnerable to predators.
To compensate for their weaknesses our ancestors evolved slow, patient observation of the environment. They honed the skill of picking out details and thinking what they might mean. Patient depth of focus is what humans came to excel at. The quick scan of the environment that benefits the cow provides too much information for our deep focus vision. We have to take things in more slowly and thoughtfully.
However, this survival strategy had a huge side-effect. Animals live in the perpetual present. Due to having to sift in the mind the details of this new ‘unnatural’ environment, humans developed thought. We overcame the great animal weakness: distraction – animals are distracted by what happens in front of them all the time. Humans, however, can focus for long periods, detach themselves, think about the future, make generalisations and come to conclusions. This evolutionary system developed to the point where we can now enter an abstract environment, such as mathematics, detach ourselves, focus and think.
Prolonged focus on a subject allows the power of our mind to slowly absorb it, understand it and then become creative with it. The results can be incredible, but there is no skipping the fact that focus must be applied over time.
By applying a powerful focus over time Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution. He observed carefully over thousands of hours, the animal and plant life of South America. Observation by observation he constructed his revolutionary new theory. Slowly, patiently understanding how the different facts of life he noted came together and could be explained within his new set of ideas.
Focus doesn’t just benefit great thinkers; it’s practical also. Prolonged focus on a method of escape from the Doge’s Palace in Venice, where he had been sentenced to dwell for five years allowed Cassanova to be the first escapee of this ‘unescapable’ prison.
And it will be the same with Highers. Sometimes things don’t seem to be remembered as fast as you would like; sometimes skills seem rusty or half-done; sometimes pages are read and nothing is understood; sometimes you don’t feel very bright. It’s all a case of focus and faith. By continuing to use the power of focus developed over millions of years, you will understand and become better at a subject. The faith is required for the days when this process seems too slow or not working at all. Focus works – millions of brains have used it; it’s a biological process. The more the mind focuses the more it learns; the more it changes. Charles Darwin went from a very, very poor student to a mind that cranked out laws of biology for fun. The change happened as he learned to focus on a subject and more deeply understood it. Use your focus to attain the success in your exams you desire.