Back to Basics: Why is Focus Important for Self-Confidence?

Dr Ivan Joseph
September 28, 2020

Pay Attention: The Skill of Focus

Self-confidence is what I call a master skill. We acquire it when we practice and become proficient at five supporting skills: positive thought, team building, grit, higher expectations and focus.

A quick story on the skill of focus:

When I was coaching at Graceland, I had a young Mexican player named Isaias Diaz on the team. He was a decent player but not as good as he could be. In fact, at times, he had an upside-down spoon on his foot. But he had an incredible capacity to control his focus, such as when our team traveled to Brownsville, Texas, for a game, and we encountered a racist crowd…

The fans stood right at the home team’s sideline and yelled racist slurs at my Latino players. 

As the game progressed, it was clear that my right fullback was having trouble concentrating on the game. The crowd was succeeding at what they had in mind: they were getting  him off his game and fragmenting his focus. 

So Isaias, who was on my side of the field, said, “Give it to me, Coach,” and we swapped the fullbacks. 

Throughout the entire first half, Isaias played with only one focus—the game. He didn’t even hear the crowd. And when we switched ends at the half, he went back to his side so that he was still right next to the hateful crowd. 

His focus did not extend past what he needed to do on the field, and so he was able to succeed.

In sport, there are generally two categories of focus: broad versus narrow, and inner versus outer. 

The first category, broad versus narrow focus, is the difference between a quarterback who needs to see the whole field and a golfer who has to concentrate exclusively on a single target.

The second category, inner versus outer focus, is the difference between knowing what is happening inside you (heart rate, blood pressure, nervousness) and what is happening around you (what other people are doing, the weather, the ambient noise)

The idea is that, depending on the situation, the athlete needs to develop and apply the appropriate kind of focus.

Knowing this changes the way a coach sets up drills in practice and the way skills are developed for game-day execution.

In ordinary life, you shift focus all the time, but if you don’t know it or aren’t able to see what kind of focus is needed for a particular role or task, it’s easy to zoom in on the wrong thing. 

Learning how to focus and how to determine what kind of focus is needed will help you improve— especially if you allocate time effectively to the tasks and activities that get you where you want to go. And once you learn how to control your focus, your belief in your ability to accomplish the task at hand grows.

dr ivan joseph self confidence quote

Focus Builder #1: Focus on What You Want

Have you ever been in a situation where a noise is bothering you and, no matter what you do, you can’t stop hearing it? Someone chewing gum on the train or tapping their pen in a meeting? 

This happened to health coach Daniel Cox, when he lived in an apartment on the main floor of a house. For weeks he obsessed about the noise from the family living above him: loud voices, stomping feet, music playing, chairs dragging.

He grew so irate about it that he complained on his Facebook page. Some of his friends saw it and told him that the problem was with him and that he just needed to stop focusing on the noise. 

He took the feedback to heart and decided to get on with his life and try to ignore the racket.

He lived the quiet life for weeks, which made him wonder what his neighbors had done to dampen the sound. Of course, the noise hadn’t decreased at all—he had just stopped focusing on it.

You get what you focus on, so you ought to focus on what you want.

It’s a simple idea, but one that can be hard to establish in our daily habits: maintain focus on what you actually want to achieve. It is very easy to concentrate on trivial things that you don’t actually care about.

But no one can control your focus but you. 

What are you thinking about all the time? How are you spending your energy? What do you spend your time talking about?

It’s all up to you.

dr ivan joseph self confidence quote excellence is never an accident

Focus Builder #2: Practice What Matters

Excellence is never an accident. It comes as a result of knowing exactly what you are trying to accomplish and preparing for it.

If you go through life with only a vague notion of the skills, actions and ideas you need in order to perform particular tasks or succeed in certain settings, you will never be your best. 

Consider Abby Wambach, the most prolific scorer in the history of international soccer. With 184 goals, she has scored more than any other player—man or woman. And she scored one of the most exciting goals during a quarterfinal match against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup. 

At the end of regulation time, the score was tied. Then, 28 minutes into a 30-minute extra time period, Brazil scored to take the lead 2–1. With the clock winding down, the Americans started to press, desperately trying to even the score. With only a bit of injury time left, a player named Megan Rapinoe crossed the ball in front of the Brazilian net and Wambach dove forward and headed it into the net. The game then went to penalty kicks and the Americans won. 

The play was so spectacular that it was selected by ESPN as the ESPY Best Play of the Year.

After the game, Wambach was asked about the goal. She said simply, “I have been preparing for that goal my entire life.” 


It wasn’t luck and it wasn’t a fluke. She was known for her expertise at heading the ball. She had worked at it and worked at it, narrowly focused on that particular skill, until she could perform it effortlessly, even with the hopes of an entire country riding on her back.


Wambach’s story is a model for all of us.

When you practice, what is it you are trying to achieve? If you are sloppy or unclear, you won’t improve.

It’s about focusing on the precise skills you want to develop.

dr ivan joseph quote choose your own definition of success

Focus Builder #3: Choose Your Own Definition of Success

I’m not the typical type-A personality leader. I don’t use file folders. I often don’t know where my wallet is. But all my life, I’ve had a passion for inspiring people to achieve big goals and I’ve had a desire to make a difference. 

At the beginning of my career, this desire created stress for me when I looked around at other leaders and saw that I wasn’t like them…

I became focused on my deficiencies. I focused on what I was not. And it had a significant effect on my confidence.

I began to believe the negative feedback I was getting from people who projected onto me their views about leadership. 

In time, and with exposure to some inspiring and very different leaders, I came to see that leadership is not a train on a track headed in the same direction for everyone.

For me, it’s about inspiring people to think about what they previously considered impossible. 

This may not be what leadership is to you. Different kinds of people can be and are leaders. I just needed to figure out what kind I was and get on with being my best version of it.

Sure, I occasionally need to focus on my weaknesses and make a plan to compensate for them (like hiring people who can complement my skills), but figuring out my leadership style began with focusing on what I had and not on what I didn’t have.

Focusing on my strengths allowed me to excel.

I started to amplify the skills I had that were not widely available in the organizations I worked in. It made all the difference.

I stopped looking for approval from others whose view of leadership, while valid and right for them, didn’t apply to me.

As I lived by my own definition of success, my confidence grew and I was released from self-doubt, self-criticism and feelings that I would never be good enough.


RECAP: The Skill of Focus

Focus Builder #1: Focus on What You Want

Develop your ability to ignore distractions and they will fall away if you focus on your goal.


Focus Builder #2: Practice What Matters

Practicing only takes you to the next level if you know exactly what you are trying to improve.


Focus Builder #3: Choose Your Own Definition of Success 

There are many versions of excellence—don’t let other people define success for you.


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