In a world of endless possibilities, the only real way to find focus is to follow your deepest interests. Otherwise, you end-up like a magpie fluttering from one shiny thing to the next, hoping it’s gold, when the real gold is within. The real gold is connecting to your interests. It is that moment when you realise that the path IS the destination.  

The hacker approach takes discipline 

Robert Greene talks about taking “the hacker approach” to learning —being like a hacker approaching programming. The idea is to acquire as many skills as possible, following the direction that circumstances lead you to, but ONLY if they connect to your deepest interests. And, the latter part is crucial. Otherwise, you end up like a magpie chasing glittering trinkets, without a guiding light to focus your energy. You might run after all manner of skills believing that you should learn them. Perhaps, because everyone else is doing so, or because some ‘authority’ said so. But, who can be such an authority anyway— who can really know? 

If there is one thing we do know, it is that the pace of change today is probably faster than it has ever been. So, even if you decided to pursue the ‘most lucrative skills for the future’, who can predict what those will be? You may invest time and energy in something your heart is not really in, only to find that it is much less commercially valuable than you thought. What is far more robust and indeed more satisfying, is developing skills in areas that you feel a deep connection to.  

Chasing gold at the end of the rainbow 

The magpie-like way of approaching learning is actually a symptom of something deeper — how we approach life itself. It betrays our need to constantly prove ourselves through endless striving. Through all kinds of external status achievements, which we hope will make us feel good about ourselves someday. In the same way that we put-off the fulfilment of learning to the future, so do we put-off the fulfilment of living to the future. 

But, why wait? It becomes like chasing the mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We end up seeking and seeking, but never finding. We end up deferring feeling good about ourselves, rather than looking for it in the wonder of everyday experience. In the experience of being alive. And, if we apply this to skill development more specifically — the experience is about immersing yourself in areas that you deeply connect to.

It is about enjoying the moment-by-moment experience of learning something you are excited by, rather than anxiously looking ahead to future achievement. It is about doing something for its own sake. 

Obsess only about what matters 

If the magpie effect leads to obsessive interest that is indiscriminate, the opposite is not having an obsessive interest in anything at all! This is a form of ‘satisficing’. We often go with ‘good enough’ in order to save time and energy in the face of too much choice. Satisficing may be quite alright when choosing bedsheets, but disastrous for finding genuine focus in your life. For, you may settle for what is merely good enough, and find yourself feeling like something is missing. 

So, both approaches are problematic in different ways, what they have in common though is a lack of focus that arises due to lack of deep connection. Obsessively pursuing everything that catches your eye will bring short bursts of engagement, only for you to lose interest and move on to the next thing. On the other hand, always satisficing will make you engage half-heartedly, because you didn’t bother to go further. Neither is optimal. Neither can bring lasting contentment.

You don’t want to always be satisficing, neither do you want to always be obsessing. What you want to do is satisfice in general, and ONLY obsess about what matters to you!  

Realising the real gold is within

Your time and energy are very precious and you must allocate them wisely. And, your guiding light on this path is realising that the real gold is within you. That the real gold is the connection to your deepest interests. If you allow this, everything else is much more likely to fall into place around it. For, you will have found real focus — focus built on the motivating power of your deepest interests.

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Harsha PereraHarsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.

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