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The ability to focus is one of the most valuable mental skills in the world. No matter what line of work you’re in – from engineering to management to sales – focus is absolutely essential. Yet most of the corporate world still uses a very outdated motivation model for creating focus.

The strategies most companies employ in the workplace actually hinder focus and hurt creativity. Fortunately, there’s an answer. Let’s take a look at the “right” and the “wrong” ways to create focus. Then we’ll take a look at how you can use these techniques in your life, and your company, right now.

The “Wrong” Way to Create Focus

Traditional management wisdom has two strategies for creating focus and motivation: the carrot and the stick. Those who achieve are given financial rewards, while underperformers are threatened with poor performance reports, demotions or termination.

Companies from tiny startups to Fortune 100 corporations employ these two strategies. Yet, do they actually work?

Decades of scientific data paint a conclusive picture. The answer? These strategies absolutely don’t create quality focus. Instead, they do the opposite.

Studies show that when given low-level, repetitive tasks, the carrot and the stick do indeed work. However, in tasks that involve creativity, outside the box thinking and personal initiative, the carrot and the stick approach has the opposite effect. It creates tunnel vision, causing people to lose their creativity and instead take longer to solve creative problems. It also floods the nervous system with stress, which further hinders mental function.

Despite the overwhelming research and scientific data, managers all around the world still rely heavily on these tactics. In fact, people often use these tactics on themselves. They create their own carrots and their own sticks. For example, people often try to change their eating habits by threatening themselves or rewarding themselves for sticking to a diet. Yet, these tactics are just as ineffective for self-management as they are in managing others.

The “Right” Way to Create Focus

So, what’s the alternative?

First and foremost, true focus comes from an alignment of values. For individuals, that means making sure your line of work is in deep alignment with what you stand for. For corporations, that means aligning your staff with your corporate values. This can’t be overstated. People will work harder for their values than they ever will for money. More importantly, this kind of motivation doesn’t cause “tunnel vision.” Instead, it causes natural focus and brings out innate creativity.

When you’re aligned, work doesn’t feel like work. It feels deeply meaningful to you and naturally generates a state of flow. Flow happen when you’re passionate about what you’re doing, and when what you’re doing matches your skill level. It’s hard enough to be challenging, yet not so hard that it’s demotivating.

A regular mindfulness practice can also work wonders on focus, creativity and concentration. Mindfulness helps train your brain to be still, so outside thoughts don’t interrupt your work. It helps reduce stress and directs blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, both of which will help improve your productivity.

True high-productivity states of focus come from alignment and peace of mind, rather than stress and coercion. This applies on both a personal level, as well as an organizational level.
Are you or your organization using the “carrot and the stick” model? If so, try an experiment. Spend a month focusing on values and on mindfulness instead. The results might astound you.