My Mt. Everest | May 2006 Newsletter

My Mount Everest: May, 2006
Merle M. Singer, Founder

Focus, Defocus, Refocus.

When focusing is only giving you a headache, it’s time to try something else; defocus, and then refocus. The topic of this month is really a ‘Part II’. Last month I talked about Focus, Part I. This month, I’ll “focus” on Part II, Defocus and Refocus. (Yes, I’ll focus on not focusing; I just can’t resist a good word joke.) Focusing is important for tasks, and clear and shorter-term goals. However, focusing is not a panacea. There are times when NOT focusing is the order of the day.

The Bird Watcher’s Example

Let’s start with a story about bird watchers. Just imagine you were leisurely strolling on a country path with a friend and he said excitedly, “Look at that purple throated heron—with paisley wings!” You say, “Where?” Pointing, he says, “There!” To save your soul, you can see only leaves and branches; not a bird in sight – and you really wanted to see those paisley wings, just in case he wasn’t kidding. As your friend stands there transfixed, you are getting a headache trying to focus, to no avail. Don’t feel bad; no one can focus on something that he/she cannot see. So the bird watchers, do something brilliant, they “defocus.” Defocus means to relax your eyes and take in a broader vista. When something (the bird) moves, your eyes will automatically be drawn to the movement and you will see it. I never did find out about the paisley wings. (Thank you to Art Giser, corporate trainer and consultant for the term, defocus, and the story.)

Could Mother Have Been Wrong?

Soooo, if you can’t find your passion, or you are unhappy, but don’t know what else to do, or you just have questions that you can’t answer, DEFOCUS. As if you were using binoculars, change the focus from tight-in to a broader vista, DEFOCUS. It may seem counter-intuitive. I mean, after all, if you can’t do something, Mother always told us to try harder rather than “give up” and let it go. However doing the same thing repeatedly will get you same results repeatedly. (How many times have you heard motivational speakers say that?) So don’t try harder; in fact, stop trying.

Police are the Experts

If you’ve ever been on a ride-along with the police, you know they are masters of focusing on nothing/everything. Their eyes take in the entire urban scene and do serial focusing, always looking for what doesn’t fit in the picture. They are extraordinary, and they can do this while simultaneously carrying on a conversation, listening to the police radio, and answering the phone. They probably were great at “Where’s Waldo” when they were kids. (Thank you to my daughter, Ruth, for that Waldo memory.)

Volunteering Taught Me Life Skills

Actually, it is difficult to NOT do something, to NOT focus or defocus for any length of time. It’s kind of like visual meditating, and we know meditating takes a lot of practice. Here’s where Refocusing comes in. Simply, focus on something else. About 10-12 years ago, I was president of a local community group, YCC. It was organized by Jackie Goldberg, city councilperson back then, to target neighborhoods with significant quality of life issues. I was working with other local property owners who were filled with vim and vigor (or was it vinegar?) Their energy and go-to attitude was fabulous and helped transform a troubled community, but their periodic taking matters into their own hands was nerve-wracking. “Doing it first and asking forgiveness later” was their credo. My role was to be the rudder – keep us on course and keep us from drowning. It was exhausting. Sometimes I felt immobilized by self-doubt and insecurity. Guys don’t want to hear about feelings, so I did the only thing I could do. I defocused (I didn’t have a name for it at the time.) Then I refocused. Here’s what I did to refocus. I expended my energy and attention to a different organization that I enjoyed immensely, Toastmasters. It usually was for about 2 intense weeks, before I gave another thought to YCC. By then, I was renewed by my refocus “vacation.” My objectivity was back and my emotionalism and self-doubt were gone. I zigzagged back and forth for several years during those most exciting, productive, but stressful, times.

Zigzagging to the Top

And don’t think that zigzagging is “cheating.” It’s what wealthy, dynamic business people do. They see themselves as focused and linear, but they tend to focus on multiple things in a zigzag way. Bill Gates has his charity. Oprah has her charity and production company besides her show. Donald Trump has his TV show as his way of defocusing and refocusing. And all that time on the golf course may not be overindulgent play, but, instead, effective defocusing and refocusing. Those “work hard; play hard” vacations function the same way. Type A personalities are master zigzaggers, though I think many do it unconsciously. Helping people develop these “zigzag” skills is a major ingredient in my non-linear coaching.

To the Moon, Alice

T. Harv Eker, , tells the story of the first rocket to the moon. He talks about how the rocket seemed to be going in a straight line to the moon. But if you would look at the computer printout of the constant recorrecting of the trajectory, you would see a zigzag line. Could the shortest distance between two points be a zigzag line? No it’s not; it’s just the only way you can actually get from point to point.


FOCUS as long as you can or need.

DEFOCUS (disengage) to clear your mind and vision.

REFOCUS on something else, to gain a new perspective ñ thinking under the radar, in the same way as when you wake up with the solution to the problem.

REPEAT the cycle. (Known as zigzagging in the round.)


“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end, may also be only the beginning.”

Ivy Baker Priest (Served as treasurer of the U.S. during Eisenhower’s two terms.)

“The world is [zigzaggily] round and the place which may seem like the end, may also be only the beginning.”

Merle M Singer interpretation of Ivy baker Priest quote.