Focus is like dribbling 🏀

2 min read

I had a long flight yesterday, and picked up book called Peak Mind in one of the airport stores.

I’m not yet sick of these books, so I started reading it. Here’s an excerpt that I loved:

I want you to picture yourself dribbling a basketball:

The ball drops away from your hand, and bounces right back.
Your focus shifts away from the task-at-hand, and then comes back.

Each time the ball falls away from your hand is either an opportunity (to reengage in your task, knowing you’re still where you want to be) or a vulnerability (lose the ball, then spend effort and cognitive energy getting it back). The more you practice mindfulness exercises, the better you get at “dribbling.” More and more, that ball will bounce back into your hand instead of rolling away.

But you have to keep dribbling! Just as in basketball, there’s no other way to effectively function. If you want to be, say, the Steph Curry of attention skills, you can’t carry the ball across the court. You’re going to have to dribble it effortlessly while some of the best athletes on the planet are trying to steal that ball from you—while you’re getting exactly where you want to go.

What a great analogy! That’s exactly how focus is. It’s all about noticing when your attention is drifting, and bringing yourself back to the task.

The author will try to convince you that mindfulness meditation is the way to get better at this mental dribbling. I can believe her.

This way of thinking is a mindset shift: We’ve been taught to hold focus and fight the distractions.

But as the author points out, that’s not really possible. Instead we should notice the distractions, observe them, and come back to our task.

All the “focus” apps I’ve built (Zonebox, FocusList and Tomato 2), they were always about helping me “hold” focus for certain period of time. That’s how I always thought of it.

This is better. This is a way of being a little kinder to yourself. I’m going to try to think of focus as dribbling from now on.


I'm Vojtech, a software engineer who keeps looking for ways to be more focused in work and life. I'm building FocusTask and Whisper Memos.