How to Focus – IX Skill #3

By: Jim Murphy

This is the 3rd in a series of the 7 skills of Inner Excellence.


  • Focus, especially under stress, is ultimately a matter of the heart. 
  • To be fully present is even more empowering than confidence. 
  • Be here, right now tool

How to Focus 

“If your goal is to play the piece perfectly, I don’t believe you can have mental toughness. If your goal is to give the audience something beautiful to listen to, that’s when I think you have mental toughness. It’s always the passing on to someone else. Mental toughness comes from letting go of your own ego.”  
– Simon Sinek, Inner Excellence (Ch. 10, The Hero and the Goat) on how a musician can have mental toughness).

Your heart is where your hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties fade or flourish. If your heart is heavy, or attached to what you want but cannot control, full engagement (heart, mind and body) is near impossible. This is why freedom is one of the three pillars of extraordinary performance (Belief, Freedom and Focus – BFF). Freedom, as Sinek shared, is increased by a desire to share your gift with others—not to impress them (it’s not about you), but to love them. Love is fearless.

So if you want to get better at focusing in the moment, becoming more present when you need it, learn to become wholehearted. Your heart is the source of freedom that fosters a fearless focus. 

Every performer wants confidence, yet what’s even more beneficial than confidence is presence. Give me two performers of equal talent and work ethic, one fully present and one confident, I’ll take the present one every time. How many times have you been confident and underperformed?  I think we all have, but how many times have you been fully present and underperformed? I believe for most of us, the answer is much less. Confidence can easily become carelessness. Presence is  much more in your control. Besides, you can still perform extraordinarily without confidence–Stewart Cink won the British Open that way–but it’s near impossible without focus and presence. (See Stewart’s story in Ch. 10 of Inner Excellence).  

To be fully present starts with your mindset (your overall mission). If your pursuit is nothing more than winning or achieving a certain outcome, then it’s much harder to be fully present, since so much is out of your control. This is why our mindset always starts with the pursuit of excellence and personal growth. Here’s four daily goals to help redefine success beyond the score:

The Fearless Four (Daily Process Goals)

  1. Give my best (100% of what I have today).
  2. Be present.
  3. Be grateful.
  4. Focus on my routines and only what I can control.

At the end of every performance (or every day), you can evaluate how you did with these four daily goals. 

Be Here, Right Now (a tool to use in the moment when you’re not present)

This tool includes four long, slow deep breaths, in through the nose, belly expanding, with the exhale 50% longer than the inhale. On each exhale, relax the jaw and facial muscles, letting go of all concerns and desires. 

Breath 1: Be here (inhale), right now (exhale) – saying those words to yourself internally
Breath 2: Be here (inhale), now (exhale)
Breath 3: Be (inhale), here (exhale)
Breath 4: Be (inhale), nothing on exhale

Let me know how you’re doing with your focus!

Love Jim

PREVIOUS POST How to Believe in Your Dreams - IX Skill #2
NEXT POST How to Relax (And Trust) - IX Skill #4

Be first in line – the VIP list

When you sign up for the VIP list, you’ll be the first to receive new articles, interviews, techniques and tools—straight to your inbox.

    Join the VIP list to get tips on how to train your mind and heart.