Zanshin: The Art of Focus

"The noble-minded are calm and steady. Little people are forever fussing and fretting." - Confucius

Zanshin, translated as 'remaining mind', is a term used in zen and martial arts to describe a state of alert calm, an awareness of your environment.  For the archer, zanshin describes their focus and attention before and after loosing the arrow.  

So how can this skill be applied to modern use? 

In an age of hyper distraction, we need tools of focus now more than ever.  The devices in our pockets have mastered simple haptic and audible methods to capture our attention.  Social content apps survive on their ability to keep us engaged.

To be focused, we must detach ourself from the potential results or outcome of our pursuit.  The outcome is irrelevant.  What matters is the output of our efforts, the mindset with which we approach our work.

In applying the concept of zanshin, we must first become more familiarized with a state of nothingness.  It's okay to not be entertained.  It's alright if we sit or stand in silence, left only to our own imagination.  The anxious mind is caught between the web of the past and future.  Fretting over the past, or endless anticipation of the future.  If we can't live with this, we find distraction.

The mind of the focused fighter must let the dust settle around them, alert for what comes next.  Distraction cannot be an option.

Below are two simple methods to practice daily to increase your focus and relaxed awareness:

1. The Pomodoro Technique

Engage in short, focused periods of work.  Turn off all distractions and set a timer for 15-25 minutes.  Be fully immersed in your work.  After the time period ends, take 5 minutes to do whatever you need to do and then reset the pomodoro and do another set of focused work.  As you gain discipline, increase the time of each focus period.

2. Physical Awareness

After a stressful moment, take a second to observe your body.  Relax your shoulders.  Unclench your jaw.  Take a few deep breaths in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth.  Do this until the emotional red fog starts to fade.  The emotionally erratic individual cannot be the focused one.  To be engaged in the process of our work, we must detach from what has happened and what may happen.


Anticipation and expectations of outcome can be debilitating.  To embrace a state of zanshin, we must become more acquainted with a relaxed awareness of now.  If we anticipate, we become detached from the ability to respond to what's happening right in front of us.

So ask yourself, how can you apply more awareness to your day?

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