Lisa Robbin Young

Feeling like you can't focus? You're not alone.

According to a 2015 research report from Microsoft, our attention spans are shrinking and may now be on par with goldfish. Since 2000, our ability to concentrate has shrunk from 12 seconds to about 8 seconds. A goldfish has a 9-second attention span.

Citing a possible evolutionary response as we shift to a multi-tasking, multi-screen digital world, the Microsoft report seems to suggest that we can't focus on anything for more than a few seconds at a time.

So explain to me why binge watching Netflix is on the rise (and feels so good), and how my kid can stay rapt in his Minecraft world for hours on end?

Different kinds of focus fill different needs

In Daniel Goleman's book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, three types of focus are identified. Goleman uses scientific method and extensive case studies to show that these three types of focus are needed at different times for different reasons. Too much focus in one area for too long creates an attention deficit that makes it hard to focus in other areas. What are these types of focus?

Inner Focus

According to Goleman, "Inner focus attunes our intuitions, guiding values, and better decisions." This is our opportunity to look within, serve our own needs, and make sure we have our own oxygen mask on first. I dedicated an entire chapter in  Creative Freedom to what I call the I-Matter paradigm, and it begins with knowing what really matters to yourself.

This isn't being selfish. I've said before that self-care isn't selfish. We've got to make sure we're taking care of our basic needs, and so often, that doesn't happen. Binge-watching releases dopamine, which triggers feelings that make us feel good. Emotional eating does something similar. Many creative entrepreneurs put their own dreams, desires, and needs on the back burner in order to serve the needs of others. The result is a form of personal deprivation. It makes sense, then that the only thing you want to do after a long day at the day job is sit on the couch for a little "Netflix and chill" time. You've got to re-fill that Inner Focus "tank".

Outer Focus 

Goleman writes that "outer focus lets us navigate in the larger world." You've got to be aware of your surroundings, your environment, and the constraints under which you're operating. Otherwise, it's difficult to be a citizen or a creative entrepreneur. Like trying to walk blindfolded through a dark room you've never been in before. If you don't know what's in there, you're probably going to bump into a lot of stuff before you make it across the room.

As a creative entrepreneur, you serve a market. That market exists in a larger environment. Can you create whatever you want? Sure, but creating in a vacuum doesn't usually pay the bills. You've got to be aware of what the market wants, and make key decisions about how you're going to respond to those needs. Can't do that very easily if you don't know what's going on in the world. Plus, for many creatives, the world at large is a great source of inspiration for your material.

Other Focus

Lastly, Goleman says that "other focus smooths our connections to the people in our lives." Some people are jerks who couldn't care less about the people in their world. Some people have mental health issues that prevent them from being able to connect with others. But empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability to read people and respond appropriately are valuable tools for any person - including creative entrepreneurs.

When you make that deeper connection with your customers, you develop Raving Fans. These people love you to pieces, recommend you to their network willingly, and share your Great Work with the world without being paid to do it. Aside from the financial benefits, it's the kind thing to do. Developing compassion for the people in your community (virtual or otherwise), gives you greater perspective and developing stronger connections helps your own emotional and mental health as well.

Blended Focus is also a thing...

Looking at these three types of focus, it makes perfect sense to me that a lack of focus in one area can create ripple effects in the others. In fact, as a creative entrepreneur, you'll use these types of focus in different combinations, depending on your Creative type. I've identified these "focus blends" that tend to show up for creative entrepreneurs in different situations:

  • Personal (Mix of Inner and Other)
  • Professional (Mix of Outer and Other)
  • Charitable (Mix of Inner & Outer)
  • Global Focus (a balance of Inner, Outer, and Other)

If you're a Chaotic Creative, you'll lean on Charitable focus more frequently - which is part of why Chaotics are more likely to undercharge than their Linear counterparts.  Linears tend to use Professional focus - sometimes to the detriment of their own health and well-being (Type-A personality anyone?). Which means that Fusions are caught in Personal focus a good portion of the time - resulting in a chronic state of analysis paralysis. Learning to develop a more Global focus exercises all three types of focus more evenly, and helps creatives see their own blind spots a bit more readily.

Ways to improve your Global Focus

So how do we improve our different focus styles? Practice. Goleman writes that "Attention works like a muscle - use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows." Here are a few ideas to help improve your focus:

Inner focus - You might choose to meditate, or simply sit quietly and pay attention to your body. As a kid, my high school drama teacher taught us an awareness exercise. "Feel your socks on your feet and your feet in your socks. Feel the pants on your legs and your legs in your pants. These subtle shifts in awareness help you focus on you, what your body is experiencing, and what you're feeling in the moment.

Outer focus - Use soft focus, or peripheral vision to experience the world around you. Instead of fixating on something in front of you, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the room you're in. Pick out voices in conversations or instruments in a song. Find ways to experience what's going on around you that don't directly involve you.

Other focus - Playtime with kids is always fun. Volunteer your time and attention. I try to donate blood as often as possible. Find a way to help someone else, or just ask them how their day was and really listen to them. Put your attention on someone other than yourself.

These are all ways to strengthen your focus muscles in various ways. Which ones will you try?

Need help getting focused?

Sometimes you just need someone else to be in the room to keep you on task. A-Club has regular co-working sessions to help you stay focused on your goals and dreams. We meet several times a month on Zoom to work together and celebrate our progress on our goals. If you'd like to have personal support to stay focused on your dreams, enrollment for A-Club is now open and includes personal one-on-one coaching every few months to help you make even faster progress.

Once upon a time, I ran ten miles and no one was chasing me.

It was a bucket list thing, to run the Bobby Crim 10-mile road race in my hometown. So I suited up and, in a matter of just over 2.5 hours, managed to lose about 4 pounds. Ha.

I also learned a lot about how to manage yourself as you combat overwhelm. Because, believe me, I wanted to quit MANY times. I have never been a professional runner. I barely trained for that race. But I finished. And the lessons I learned running that race can help YOU defeat overwhelm and keep momentum going when things get hard.

This is the second episode in a Summer-long series about dealing with aspects of Underearning. Want more help? Overcoming Underearning for Creative Entrepreneurs starts this week!

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments. Be part of our Rising Tide! Your insights may spark a conversation that helps someone else!

Mentioned in this episode:

Rising Tide Members

If you haven't already downloaded this week's bonus content, you'll want to do that here. Not a member yet? It's free! When you register for email updates, you also get access to episode transcripts, worksheets, and other downloadables!

Credits and Sponsors

Race photos:, Hovershots APV

Music: "Welcome to the Show" by Kevin MacLeod
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

If you're like most creative entrepreneurs, you started your career wearing all the hats. Along with that came a sense of responsibility for all the parts and pieces of your growing enterprise. That's logical. After all, if the business isn't making money, you're not making money, and that's a problem!

But a bigger problem I've found in my years of working with creatives across the spectrum, is that as the business grows, you're still trying to do too much. You're trying to hold yourself accountable to things that are just too hard to handle on your own.

There's a time and a place for self-accountability. There's also a time to know when to let go and get help. (Tweet this)

Creatives want to be independent. Chaotics see themselves as free-thinkers and free spirits. Fusions almost always have a better way to do something, and Linears don't want to be hampered by too many cooks in the kitchen. Holding yourself accountable is efficient and effective.

Until it's not.

Simply put, you can't manage it all, and you shouldn't try to do it for long. Humans just aren't wired that way. Okay, maybe SOME humans are, but they are the exception, not the rule, and even they need help from someone else at some point.

So why do we hold out so long when it comes to self-accountability?


According to Mark Samuel & Sophie Chiche, authors of the book "The Power of Personal Accountability", there are three fears that come into play when you try to hold yourself accountable for everything.

1. Fear of Blame

When I was a kid, it was my job to dust the living room. I hated dusting. We had a coffee table that frequently had rings because people wouldn't use a coaster. It was tough to keep clean. There were several instances where I got in trouble because someone else came along and left a ring after I had cleaned, but before Mom had inspected. No matter how spotless the rest of the room was, she would often point out how I "missed a spot" on the coffee table.

One time I got so mad I yelled at my Mom. "Don't blame me. I did my job!"

According to Mark & Sophie, "We associate accountability with blame. We fear that if we're accountable for something, we'll be the one to get blamed if it goes wrong."

Sometimes, we do get blamed - like with that infernal coffee table. But more times than not, we don't. And, as I learned with the coffee table, sometimes there are smarter ways to do things. One of my siblings finally suggested I do the coffee table last - just before Mom got home. That way, she'd see me working on it, and nobody would have time to put anything on it before she inspected.

It was a simple solution that I couldn't see for myself. I just wanted to be DONE with it, so I could check it off the list. I was afraid that I wouldn't get it done if I waited, and I let fear drive the bus.  I've talked before about unconscious self-sabotage, driven by fear. We get triggered by feelings of inadequacy and decide to do nothing instead. It takes that outside eye to help us see things differently.

2. Fear of Failure

I have a friend who really struggles with this one. Simple requests get rejected, for fear of letting someone down. I remember asking him if he would remind me to do something later in the day - something we both needed complete. He said "I'll try to remember". He never texted, and the thing didn't get done. When I asked why he didn't text me, he said "I never promised I would."

This was a recurring theme in our friendship. When I finally confronted him about it, he confessed that he didn't want to make a promise he wasn't absolutely sure he could keep, because he'd feel like a failure if he let me down and didn't follow through.

I told him, "It's a text message, not a kidney transplant!"

This fear of failure stems from not wanting to feel incompetent or look bad in the eyes of others. "To avoid feeling that way," the authors state, "we play it small. We stay in what is familiar. We don't challenge ourselves with bigger choices, so we don't have to ever feel inadequate."

We worked together to "game the system" in his brain. We looked for what Teresa Ambile calls a "small win", and re-trained his brain to focus there. I reminded him that "trying to remember" was also a commitment. That he couldn't just blow it off without even trying to remember to text me... that he would be lying to me. Integrity is a HUGE deal to him, and he recognized how he's be letting us both down (double trouble!). It was a small change in his thinking, but it opened his eyes to a new way of honoring the commitments he was making and gave him a chance to build his confidence with small wins first.

Taking risks can lead to mistakes, or even (GASP!) failure in the short term. But is also leads to learning. Learning means we might not get it right the first time. But knowing you've got a safe space to take those risks takes the edge off a bit. It's hard to create that safe space by yourself. Instead, you stay stuck in the echo chamber in your mind.

3. Fear of Success

It's time for me to resurrect that Marianne Williamson quote. You know the one. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. "

To some, this may sound like a cop out. I know it did for me the first time I said it. All kinds of worthiness issues cropped up that kept me from moving forward on things I knew were important to me. I had to ask for help... sometimes from people I barely knew! That's hard, but certainly not any harder than staying stuck. Our authors give us more insights:

"If we increase accountability, we will accomplish more, and we know it. We will gain more responsibility. We will be expected to achieve at a higher level of performance. We will have to maintain excellence. We will have to deal with people's jealousy and our own guilty feelings for outperforming others. That is a lot of pressure. It is strangely easier to dream of success than to actually achieve it."

So yeah, I can see how that might feel like a cop out to some people (myself included). The reality, though, is that if you're feeling pressure, the last thing you want to do is create more pressure for yourself. You'll do anything to take the pressure off, if you can, which means doing less, or doing nothing, so that you're not feeling that pressure anymore. And there you are, right back at ground zero on those things you said were important to you.

So when holding yourself accountable fails, what can you do?

Get others to help hold you accountable. If you're a technophile, maybe you'll use an app like MyFitnessPal. I struggle with apps because they require me to be attached to my device in order to stay consistent. That's not me. If it's not you either, you might try a more personal approach.

I've had an accountability partner for years now. Winnie has seen me through more ups and downs than all the roller coasters at Cedar Point. We meet once a week and debrief what happened since our last meeting, what we're working on, and where we're needing help. If you don't know who you could turn to, consider a group accountability program, where you've got the "hive mind" and power of the group behind you to celebrate your wins and help you navigate the rough spots.

Fear's not going away any time soon, so anyone who promises to eliminate fear should set off all kinds of red flags. You may not be able to eliminate it, but you can mitigate it. Here are a few ways that external accountability can help.

Eliminate blame - you'll have a safe space to practice. Members of Accountability Club (A-Club) will often ask how to handle a tricky situation before they try to handle it publicly. And if they do have a "facepalm moment" they know they're not alone, and can come to the group to talk it through, be encouraged, and regroup. It's a judgement free zone that safe for everyone to practice.

Focus on progress, not perfection - This takes the sting out of so-called "failure". By dropping the judgement and celebrating what DID get accomplished or what you learned, you've got a chance to make every opportunity into a teachable moment. Are you further along than you were before? That's progress. Celebrate it! By looking for and celebrating the small wins, you're re-programming your brain to train it for success.

Take the pressure off - Take your focus off just the "strike zone" and celebrate the tiny steps along the way. Focus more on the actions you can take and less on what other people might think. Put your attention firmly on the actionable steps on your to-do list that lead to your goal. That way, others lose their power over you. Guilt drops away because you can point to exactly what you did (and how they could do the same thing to get comparable results).

It isn't about you being "magical" or feeling guilty about your hard-won progress. You did the work, dangit! This also keeps you clear on what's really possible for you. If your plate is full of action steps, you simply CAN'T take on more. There's no room! You can start learning new skills - like delegation, and team building.

Can you do these things for yourself? Sure. And sometimes you have to. I've been there. But even as a self-starter that loneliness and isolation can be tough. Not to mention the echo chamber of thoughts that start rattling in your head. That's when trying to hold yourself accountable can start holding you back. You simply can't manage it all by yourself all the time. It's just too hard.

If you're ready to take the pressure off and get the support and accountability you need to move forward, the doors are open to Accountability Club. Enrollment is only open a few times a year, so now's the time to get on board! Not sure if you're ready? Join us for our free monthly training call this weekend. We're talking with Becky Mollenkamp about how to use LinkedIn to grow your audience of Raving Fans. You can listen live at no cost, but the recording is only available to members of A-Club. As long as you're on my mailing list, you'll get an email with all the details.