Visceral Focus: State Of Highest Potential
The road to success and knowledge is paved with visceral focus.
A state of intense concentration is an essential ingredient for high achievers. I argue that such concentration stems from the gut, and that anxiety must be transformed into this visceral focus in order to perform at one’s peak.
What Is Visceral Focus?
The term visceral focus does not exist in the common lexicon (see this Google search for “visceral focus”). As used in this article, the term refers to a single-minded focus that is physically driven by the gut. Personal evidence of this kind of focus being driven by the gut (and the endocrine system in general) is found in my observation that abuse of such focus is characterized by emotional exhaustion and burnout.
Learn To Feel Your Concentration
I emphasize the visceral nature of concentration because people need a reminder that you can in fact feel when your level of focus is high. Under intense concentration you should feel a slight strain on your stomach, or at least some sensation akin to having the “butterflies.” If you don’t know this feeling (or aren’t quite sure what I’m talking about), do something extreme to evoke it and become familiar with it.
Here is an exercise that may help you feel your concentration. This is a yoga exercise from Mandy Ingber called the “Balance Challenge.” Try the one-legged pose and watch for the visceral feeling of your intense focus.
Some people can also use high pressure situations to become acquainted with the visceral feeling of intense focus. Try observing the sensation in your gut during a test, game day, or recital.
I find that during these situations my heart races while my mind is calm. I attribute this to the intensity of the drive stemming from my gut. But for many people, the nervous energy inherent in performance is defeating. Anxiety causes the mind to go blank and the body to underperform. I attribute this to the gut becoming overwhelmed, causing it to send chaotic and confusing signals.
Achieving Your Highest Potential
The million dollar question is how to overcome this anxiety and perform your best. My answer is to look within.
Observe your own reaction to the pressures of performing. If anxiety dominates you, then set out to become acquainted with this feeling. Again, doing something extreme can evoke it and make it easy to identify. Use tests, public speaking, etc. as the laboratory for your observations.
Once you’re able to observe your anxiety, begin to compare it to the sensation of visceral focus. You will find, and this is the crux, that they are in fact opposites. Anxiety causes thoughts to feel like wet soap. You just can’t quite hold on to them. But visceral focus causes thoughts to feel like rubber on asphalt. Once they gain traction you’re off to the races.
But knowing the feeling is only half the battle. You are still left having to transform your anxiety into visceral focus. So start small. Achieve visceral focus under low pressure, then slowly ramp up the pressure.
Several students that I tutor struggle with test anxiety, so I’ll use my experience with them as an example. Their performance on exams often doesn’t match the level of understanding demonstrated in our sessions. One strategy I devised is to put a stopwatch in front of them, ask them to set a goal, and then say “Go.” Being exposed to the very thing that causes their anxiety (time and, usually, math) helps dull it in the long run and promote increased clarity under pressure.
Another powerful influence is interacting with people who by default exist in a state of visceral focus. I believe that the most successful people operate almost solely in such a state, and that interacting with them can rub off. This effect contributes to parent’s desires to send their kids to the most prestigious private schools and universities. But anyone can leverage their own connections with exceptional individuals to bring more visceral focus into their own life.
So get intimate with your feelings of visceral focus and anxiety. Then take action to defeat anxiety and achieve your full potential!