The Focus dis-ease

The ability to focus is the ultimate superpower they say, but at what cost it comes, they say not.

Platitudes on focus being the holy grail of life are all around- “Focus is the key to success”, “Focus is a superpower”- from Charlie Munger to Bill Gates, there is not one hyper-successful persona of our times who would testify otherwise.

If success was a movie, focus would be its hero.

This is not to say that focus is over-rated, it isn’t. Its just that there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Focus is much like an effective filter- it blocks out noise so that the task at hand maintains primacy in the conscious mind. It’s great to have it in the correct dosages and to be able to summon it, but what happens when it gets too much, and you find yourself unable to unplug?

Focus, like any other mental ability is a spectrum over which people are distributed statistically.  While we fixate on end of the spectrum where focus is too low (attention-deficit), there is an equally troublesome phenomenon on the other side of the spectrum wherein focus is too high (monomania). There is plenty of displeasure and dis-ease on either side of the spectrum.

This article is about the other side.

Progression of the dis-ease

In the first half of my life, I could not get myself to focus, in the second half, I could not get myself to stop.

Focus can turn into obsession if the right ingredients are present, and for me this has been the case in all serious projects I have undertaken in life- competitive bodybuilding, UPSC preparation and now, mentorship.

The progression of the dis-ease is almost always unexpected. It usually starts with a desperation for a solution to a problem in life. A solution is typically found in an activity- studying, training, or reading etc that needs to be practiced repeatedly. Initially progress is rapid but soon slows down and plateaus. At this stage, two things may happen-

  • Either your system rejects the frustration and goes back to homeostasis i.e. you quit.


  • if the desperation is high enough and quitting is not option, you dig deep and push through your pain-threshold.

If you happen to push further than your pain-threshold, the pain will turn into an itch- an itch that must be scratched- something persistently annoying but also oddly satisfying. (An itch is different than a goal because a goal requires persistent efforts despite our desires, whereas an itch compels us to act towards it.  A goal requires energy to be invested in it while an itch creates its own energy.)

As you itch, it demands to be itched more and more. Soon, certain patterns of behavior are established. As you give in to the itch, it consumes all your attention until nothing else matters. At this stage, the dis-ease has percolated down to the sub-conscious mind and is deeply embedded beyond the point of extraction. In other words, the goal has been internalized and the mind has made up its ‘mind’ to manifest the goal into reality.


This is the point of no return. And as the all-consuming itch takes over your life, there is no other possible outcome expect endless restlessness, and inevitable success.

Here are the symptoms/ side-effects of the dis-ease-

  • The goal becomes an itch which must be scratched.
  • Life after the goal is achieved, becomes unimaginable.
  • Your ego and emotions are deeply involved in the goal.
  • Peace of mind becomes impossible and undesirable.
  • When rest is taken, it is not without a feeling of guilt.
  • Repetitive visions of the goal loop non-stop in the mind.
  • The first thought upon waking and the last one before bed are about the goal.
  • Effort is required to stop oneself from obsessing about the goal.
  • The fear of failure is too much to bear and is repressed.
  • The urge to question the fundamental reasons for the goal is lost.
  • The goal often appears as a central theme in dreams.
  • Your sense of care for yourself becomes secondary to the goal.
  • A deep sense of emptiness, or the ‘void’ appears once the goal is achieved.

All the above, however is lost in translation, as we fixate only on the outcome of success and celebrate an object- the Oscar, the medal, the UPSC selection, the world cup- be it what it may.

Somewhere between an itch and a goal, lies the golden mean- something about it which I claim to know nothing about as I have failed to experience it. For me, there have always only been 2 options- either no focus or, hyper-focus.

For you, I recommend neither. I do hope though, that it is good to know that there is darker side to focus and that there is no guilt in not being able to focus. But perhaps it’s even better to know that there are some dis-eases out there which are worth getting infected with, should the need arise.

Just like focus is not all good, it turns out, dis-eases are not all bad.


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