How much focus do you need to get what you want?

Focus. No distractions. Having all your attention on something—it’s a good thing.

Until you lose your focus.

That’s what happened to me at agility last week. And I didn’t even realize it until a fellow classmate, Patricia, recognized it had happened to both of us. I loved our class last week. It turned out that there were only two dogs and so we had a bit more opportunity to practice some of the skills.

One of the first things we did was a front cross technique; as Grace exited the tunnel, I would cross in front of her from the left to the right, then I would ask her to jump, on the hurdle now on my left. I needed to make sure to pick up eye-contact with Grace as she came out of the tunnel, not quite that easy since Grace runs a lot faster than I do. After picking her up at the end of tunnel, I needed to guide her to the hurdle, now on my left, as opposed to her running right.

My first attempt was unsuccessful. So was my second.

Patricia was experiencing this as well, so Rachel slowed us down and showed us again. With a little practice and Rachel’s clear direction, we did it! Grace and Patricia’s adorable dog, Riley, did great—through that part of the exercise. Once we had completed that stage, we had several more jumps as part of the course Rachel had set up for us.

After we had gone through the course a few times, Patricia made the accurate observation that Riley and Grace had both made mistakes at the end of course. Once Patricia and I had successfully accomplished the task we were actively learning, we lost our focus.

I know I was assuming that the rest of course was “routine” and that Grace knew what to do. But as was so clearly evident afterwards, it was critical for me to keep my focus, helping her hit every tire and jump exactly as I knew she was capable of doing. But if I was unclear or wishy-washy about what I wanted her to do, she had a free pass to do what she wanted. She didn’t ‘miss’ intentionally—she just wasn’t clear what I wanted.

As we work with others on a project or learning a new skill, this can be the explanation why mistakes are made in places that were once mastered. Consistent focus is really necessary.

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