A Simple Guide to Better Focus and Concentration: Lessons From a Lion Tamer

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better focus and better concentration scienceOver a century ago, a lion tamer named Clyde Beatty learned a lesson that is so important that it impacts nearly every area your life today.

What was that lesson?

Keep reading to find out what a lion tamer can teach you about how to focus, concentrate better, and live a healthier life.

The Lion Tamer Who Survived

Clyde Beatty was born in Bainbridge, Ohio in 1903. When he was a teenager, he left home to join the circus and landed a job as a cage cleaner. In the years that followed, Beatty quickly progressed from a lowly cage boy to a popular entertainer.

Beatty became famous for his “fighting act” in which he would tame fierce wild animals. At one point, Beatty’s act included a segment where he brought lions, tigers, cougars, and hyenas into the circus ring all at once and tamed the entire group.

But here’s the most impressive feat of all…

In an era when the majority of lion tamers died in the ring, Beatty lived into his 60s. In the end, it was cancer that took his life, not a lion.

How did he manage to survive? Thanks to a simple idea.

Clyde Beatty was one of the first lion tamers to bring a chair into the circus ring.

Here’s what happened…

The Whip and The Chair

The classic image of a lion tamer is one of the entertainer holding a whip and a chair. The whip gets all of the attention, but it’s mostly for show. In reality, it’s the chair that does the important work.

When a lion tamer holds a chair in front of the lion’s face, the lion tries to focus on all four legs of the chair at the same time. With its focus divided, the lion becomes confused and is unsure about what to do next. When faced with so many options, the lion chooses to freeze and wait instead of attacking the man holding the chair.

lessons on how to focus and concentrate from lion tamer Clyde BeattyClyde Beatty taming a lion with a chair. (Image from Harvard Library.)

Avoid the Fate of the Lion

How often do you find yourself in the same position as the lion?

How often do you have something you want to achieve (i.e. lose weight, gain muscle, start a business, travel more) … only to end up confused by all of the options in front of you and never make progress?

This is especially true in health, fitness, and medicine, where every person and company seems to believe it is their duty to make things more complex. Every workout routine you find is the best one. Every diet expert says their plan is the optimal one.

This frustrates me to no end because while all the experts are busy debating about which option is best, the people who want to actually improve their lives (you and me) are left frustrated by all of the conflicting information.

The end result is that we feel like we can’t focus or that we’re focused on the wrong things, and so we take less action, make less progress, and stay the same when we could be improving.

I think it’s time we change that. Here’s how…

How to Focus Better and Learn to Concentrate

Anytime you find the world waving a chair in your face, remember this: all you need to do is commit to one thing.

In the beginning, you don’t even have to succeed. You just need to get started. Starting before you feel ready is one of the habits of successful people.

Most of the time, the ability to get started and commit to a task is the only thing you need to do to focus better. Most people don’t have trouble with focusing. They have trouble with deciding.

Have you ever had a task that you absolutely had to get done? What happened? You got it done. Maybe you procrastinated, but once you committed to doing it, you got it finished.

In other words: making progress in your health, your work, and your life isn’t about learning how to focus and concentrate better, it’s about learning how to choose and commit to a specific task.

You have the ability to focus, you just need to choose what to direct it towards instead of acting like the lion and dividing your attention among the four legs of the chair.

Want to lose 40 pounds? Awesome. Eat real food (anything that doesn’t come in a package or a box is a good start) and exercise more. You don’t need more information. You don’t need to learn how to focus on the right things. You just need to commit to the fundamentals. Build good habits first, there will be plenty of time to figure the details out later.

Want to perform like an elite athlete? Great. Quit dreaming and start living like one. Get to sleep earlier. Organize your day around your training. If you have to miss other commitments, then you have to miss them. If it’s important to you, then stop gazing at the other distractions and commit to it.

Want to start a business? You can! Sure, you’ll be uncomfortable. Every entrepreneur is uncertain. You don’t need to learn a new strategy or figure out how to focus better. You just need to commit to making it happen. Take the first step and trust that you’ll figure out how to take the second step when you need to do so.

We all have the ability to focus and concentrate, but only if we decide what is important to us and what we want to commit to accomplishing. The only wrong choice is no choice.

Stop Gazing at the Chair

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. Whether you know it or not, you’re already in the ring. We all are. Most of the time, we sit quietly, gazing at the chair in front of us, silently debating about which leg is the most important.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you have somewhere you want to go, something you want to accomplish, someone you want to become… then make a decision. If you’re clear about where you want to go, the rest of the world will either help you get there or get out of the way. Both of those are useful.

You don’t have to do it all at once, but there is something that you need to do now. Something that’s calling you, something that’s important to you, something that you’re destined to do. I don’t know what it is, but you do. Swipe the chair out of the way and choose it.

About the author:

motion vs action james clear

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he uses behavior science to help you master your habits and improve your health. For useful ideas on improving your mental and physical performance, join his free newsletter.

Or, download his free guide: Transform Your Habits.

This post originally appeared on JamesClear.com

  • rsrstrstr

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  • Prak

    nice reminder

  • Kathleen Vigil

    As a self proclaimed master of being stuck – this is the single best article I’ve read about how to move forward. Thanks James!

  • Sara Allen

    Loved this! Came exactly when I needed it most, too!

  • http://about.me/teecycletim Tim Cigelske

    Fascinating example. Thanks for sharing!

  • Elizabeth McCall Walsh

    Why is common sense so uncommon? We forever seek answers away from ourselves. Great article on how to use what you have and ACT.

  • GoranDuskic

    Awesome read, excellent spending my 5 minute break. Now it’s time to get back to getting that tamer!

  • Stock Kevin

    Good read. Interesting lion tamer story. Applicable to just about anything.

  • http://www.larrynocella.com Larry Nocella

    Great article. Plus, now I’m all interested in lion taming. Seems odd – sometimes confusion leads an animal (human or non) to charge forward. I guess the lion is smarter than that (but of course still vulnerable to exploitation.) Must learn more. :) Thanks James!

  • Deena Levenstein

    Compelling piece but you assume we know what we should focus on. Nope. I’m utterly confused with all the options I have in my life.

  • EmptySpoonful

    Wow. Thank you James! Looking at it this way really made it click for me. Getting started IS the hardest part. Instead of over-thinking it, I just need to jump! Oh, and I also need to find a lion to confuse…

  • George

    Awesome story telling….I will use this model in all my presentations :-)

  • Craig Samson Ford II

    Thank you for this powerful message i have been doing it ever since before i read your blog and this message just gives the confirmation i need for total solidification and fortification. Thanks you James Clear!

  • Keila K.

    Pretty good article! Thanks for sharing!

  • Vicmovers

    Loved this article… Thanks

  • http://nathanambrose.com/ Nathan Ambrose

    Great article. The truth is always so simple in the end. I once had a client tell me that he contacted me because he saw the words “get started” on my website!

  • http://christopherbear.weebly.com Christopher Bear

    aaaaaawwwweeeeeessssoooommmmeeee

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  • http://www.thelivehugefactor.com/ Kyleigh Wegmann

    I am a Leo. This explains a lot. Hah! Nice article, James. :)