Fear Hates Focus

Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2014

“Fear hates focus,” says Carey Lohrenz, and she should know. Carey is the first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the US Navy (roar). I heard her speak at a conference recently, and as you can imagine, she spoke with authority about how to function flawlessly in the face of fear and stress.

While accelerating to Mach 2 speed and experiencing 4G’s, she said, feels like four times your body weight is pushing down on your insides while it all tries to escape through your toes. At the same time, there are a total of 42 sounds in the cockpit that could demand your attention while undergoing the massive physical stress of acceleration. Pilots keep their eyes up to the sky to stay engaged with the bigger picture because “You Lose Sight, You Lose the Fight”, she says.  

“Diluted Focus is Diluted Power”, she goes on to say.  Isn’t that true in general?  And focus is key --  if you focus on flying, on staying alive, on meeting your goals, fear can't find a crack to get in. Focus requires commitment, but it also takes practice.

While teaching performance classes, I often ask students to do their best to create distractions for the performer.  A performance must go on even when other students play with your hair, tie your shoelaces together, pick you up and carry you around the room, yell at you, sing and dance and basically torment you.  

The tormenters are really stand-ins for the internal and external noise we experience when under stress.  The goal is to identify a place to go when things get scary and challenging, to keep them away from free-falling no matter the distractions.  

Through practice, each performer finds a way to dig into their resolve and stay on track. They figure out how to connect with an internal messaging center that's louder than anything else. They focus on flying, on achieving their goals, and block out the distractions. Focus improves with practice. And where focus rules, fear can't find a crack to get in.