Art of Good Learning 4 – The Focus Trap

Chapter 35 The Focus Trap : How to Manage Your Most Important Resource is a topic close to my heart because this is how I manage to make a breakthrough in my own learning.

Here is the passage I like from this chapter :-

….. Gates asked the group what they felt was the most important factor in their success. Buffett said : “Focus.” Gates agreed. Evidently focus is vital, but equally crucial is where you direct it. What’s remarkable, then, is that instead of choosing our objects of focus “a la carte” we stuff our faces morning to night with an “informational tasting menu” that others have selected for us.

(Note : Gates = Bill Gates; Buffett = Warren Buffett)


Further on towards the end of the chapter there is another passage worth noting :-

How did you learn to read and do arithmetic? By hanging out with people who could read and do arithmetic? No. You spent years deliberately practicing those skills. ….. Focus must be learned.


Once upon a time I was highly unfocused too. Looking back, I was learning too many things, spread too thin. In a way I was fortunate that in those days there was no internet with its endless information distractions like today. Otherwise, I really would be what Chinese people say entire body armed with knives, but none sharp.

You master Tai Chi by practicing Tai Chi principles carefully and persistently. You cannot practice Tai Chi by learning Wing Chun on the side. I’ve done it before so I know. Maybe you can argue I was learning it wrong.

Yes, you could be right. But I have seen disciples of Grandmaster Wei Shuren who on top of learning Tai Chi also dabbled in other styles at the same time. I know of one particular person – he was good and could apply the art somewhat.

Then one day I met my teacher, saw how he played his form and mentally I compared what I saw to what I had seen of this other person. In that moment I had an epiphany – focus is the key.

Years later my teacher would say the same thing to me when he urged me to focus on just doing one art. I am glad I listened though the temptation was to continue dabbling all over the place.

I cannot stop students from continuing with other arts. That is their choice. I can only give them the same advice my teacher gave me, one that I now know can lead to mastery. If you think your path can lead you to mastery then carry on. But if you still have problem getting it then why not try directing your focus instead of spreading it too thin.


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