Full transcript of precision shooter Christina Bengtsson’s TEDx Talk: The Art of Focus – a Crucial Ability @ TEDxGöteborg conference. Christina Bengtsson is a world class athlete, author, lecturer, entrepreneur, and military officer in the Swedish Armed Forces. She is the author of the book “The Art of Focus: 10,9.”
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Christina Bengtsson – World Class Athlete, Author, Lecturer
In the fall of 2005, I find myself at the Military World Championship in shooting.
I’m in the lead in the final, and I have one shot left to shoot.
The target is 50 meters away, and the ten is 10.4 millimeters.
What is it that determines if I shoot a nine or a ten? Is it the physics, the technique, the relaxation or the breathing?
No, those are abilities that everybody at that level has been training for years. It’s all about the thoughts I think and why I think them. This is what focus is about.
When I was 23 years old, I felt that I had a kind of capacity, an inner drive and an energy that I didn’t really know how to handle. And it frustrated me, not knowing what to do or where to go in this world.
I was completely lost. And the only solution I could think of was trying to become best in the world at… something. I had no idea in what. But I decided to become a world champion.
I was quite athletic, but my helpful brother pointed out that I was too old to become a world-class sprinter. So I choose shooting.
This determination brought me into the military arena, and since that very day, I started my practice. Thousands of hours were spent on the shooting range. I ate on the range. I slept on the range.
And still today, I can remember that smell of lead and loneliness. I traveled all over the country, competing, for three years, but I lost over and over again, not getting any reward or recognition.
In my world, I was programmed to win, but I didn’t. And I couldn’t understand how it could be so incredibly difficult.
It was only my perseverance that kept me going. In this very moment at the World Championship aiming at the target with these irritatingly tight margins, and these nervous thoughts running through my head, this potential triumph could easily become yet another fiasco.
But then, suddenly, I saw, and I focused on, a beautiful autumn leaf playing in the wind. I give this leaf my full attention. And suddenly, I am completely calm.
And the world champion title is mine.
This was — This action was a deliberate choice and the result of persistent mental training. Because this leaf relieved me of distracting thoughts and made me focused.
And the phenomena of focus interested me more and more, not only in peak performance but also in the longer perspective and in life in general.
I studied this vital capacity, and what I saw was that the human mind struggled with focus on three distinctive ways.
First, our minds are often full of disturbing thoughts, often worried about not being good enough.
Second, instead of working with what we already know, we are constantly focused on what we will achieve.
And third, we are frustrated for not having time.
So, how can we help ourselves with these problems?
Well, before we can discuss that, we need to find out what focus is.
In today’s overflow, with new waves and trends, the ability to focus has been somewhat overlooked despite its great value. It’s, however, a particularly complex function of our intelligent brain. So, let me simplify it for you.
The pre-eminently thinking human beings, all of us in here, I guess, have the ability to think forward and backward in time. And we often go down the alarming path of thinking, What happens if … ?
What happens if I shoot a nine?
If I forget what to say having a presentation? If I don’t finish my report on time? If I start losing followers on social media? If life doesn’t turn out the way we had anticipated? Or we worry about why it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.
Can we then, at moments of need, free ourselves from these disturbing and worrying thoughts, a kind of undemanding present arise? Because it’s in this undemanding present that we are focused. It’s here that we perform and function exactly as well as we are.
So, standing there, shaking with nervousness but giving that leaf my full attention, this is what happened.