The Empathetic Side of Focus

My son loves pretending to cut the grass near our house. I always accompany him as he slowly, methodically, and enthusiastically “mows” our lawn, line after line, over and over again. After about an hour and a half, we take a break to eat. One day, however, I decided to see how long he would go on “cutting” if unprompted to stop.  

4 hours later, we were still outside tending to the lawn. 

Was it fun? Not particularly. It was time-consuming and close to tedious. But about 2 hours in, something shifted in my mind. I stopped watching the clock and thinking about how boring it was. I became more engaged and creative as my mind was forced to entertain itself due to the lack of outside stimuli. 

I didn’t give up and take my son on a break despite the sheer mundanity of the task. Instead, I pushed through the boredom to enter into my relaxed focus mindset. So how did I get to that point? A lot of it was driven by empathy. 

Why Empathy? 

Cognitive empathy is deeply linked to focus. When empathizing with a person, you remove all thoughts of yourself and your inner distractions. You become 100% focused on the person in front of you.  

Walking alongside my son, I fought the tedium by telling myself, “My son loves this. I don’t. But I love him. Let’s continue.” By grasping the fact that this made my son happy and putting his joy over my own thoughts toward the situation, I was more quickly able to move past my negative feelings and enter into a state of active thought. In this way, empathy guided me towards relaxed focus. It may have been a boring task, but he loved it, and because I love him, I could fight my urge to quit and instead tap into my mind to find the stimulation I craved. 

Try It for Yourself 

This week, I challenge you to practice empathy. Consider the thoughts and feelings of another, completely devoid of your own thoughts. See how this affects your ability to focus and your interactions with others. With time and effort, you’ll become much more patient, present and grateful in the “now.”