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In focus

Learning to do one thing well eventually leads to doing all things better.

People often ask me if, as a writer, I like to read. The answer is yes - although it wasn't always so. As a child I was an undiagnosed dyslexic. Reading was difficult, comprehension almost impossible, and reading aloud simply terrifying. I felt stupid even though I wasn't. It took getting into a Ph.D. program for me to get past that insecurity. So yes, finally, I like to read.

One of my favorite books in recent years is "The Power of Full Engagement", by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The subtitle, "Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal," sounded like a long-distance training guide to me. After all, in any race, energy management is key.

Loehr and Schwartz contend that to get the most from any experience, you must be totally committed to and engaged in that experience. Forget multitasking. If you focus all of your energy on one task at a time, you'll be more effective at every task you take on. As I read my USA Today while talking on my cell phone and glancing at my BlackBerry, I get the feeling I haven't been modeling the kind of focus they're talking about.

Even when I run, I'm rarely focused on just one goal; I want to get faster, go farther, lose weight, get taller, lose my gray hair, look younger, and just generally feel better. The truth is that I ask a lot from my daily runs, and I think Loehr and Schwartz would argue that's a mistake. They would say that if I want the joy of running, then I just need to get out there and experience the joy of running. As soon as I start worrying about pace and distance, I've lost my initial focus. If I want to get faster, then I shouldn't focus on whether I'm "feeling the joy" or not.

It's not as easy as it sounds. Or I should say, it's not that easy for me. Even when I start a run intending to be fully engaged, I often wander off course. If it's an easy run, I find myself picking up the pace. If it's a hard tempo run, I want to back off the pace so I can think about something other than my heart rate.

The payoff of learning to be fully engaged, say Loehr and Schwartz, is that you'll be able to "perform in the storm" or, rather, you'll be able to quell all those nagging distractions and worries when you need to most. How many times have I stood at the starting line and doubted my training? Was it good enough? Did I work hard enough? Would I be able to push through the tough miles? To perform in the storm means trusting your past preparation and focusing all parts of yourself - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual - on the task at hand.

I haven't completely mastered the art of full engagement, but I'm trying. I'm convinced that if I can learn to do one thing at a time well, I will eventually be able to do all things better. So now when I work, I work. When I play, I play. When my soul needs attention, I give it my full attention, not just what I can spare. I give each part of me the full measure. If it works, I'll become not just a better runner but a better person.

Waddle on, friends.

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