Focus - Daniel Goleman

Focus - Daniel Goleman

Understand how your brain focuses attention and how to build your focus to improve your learning, performance and leadership.

Add to Favorites
Add to read
Mark as read

Have you ever got called out, with your head in the clouds, while you should be paying attention to a class or a business meeting? Undoubtedly, the difficulty of staying focused impairs your performance at work and studies, as well as your ability to lead others.

According to author Daniel Goleman, in “Focus”, it is possible, following some practices, to increase your focus and improve your performance.

In this book summary, we will explain all those methods to increase your quality of life and better your learning skills as well.

Shall we begin?

The book “Focus”

“Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence”, first published in 2013, being written by Daniel Goleman, is a guide to mastering the rarest feature of our times: focus.

Based on scientific research, the book reveals that dominating our focus on a world where we are surrounded by distractions is the key to professional success and personal achievement.

Who is Daniel Goleman?

Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and former scientific journalist. He has worked in The New York Times for 12 years and is the author of 13 books, among them the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence”.

Holding a PhD at Harvard University, where he also lectured.

Currently, he is co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence among organizations and a member of the Council of the Mind & Life Institute.

Why should I read “Focus”?

This work is suitable for workers and students who want to increase their focus and their productivity or for anyone who wants to live a focused and conscious life.

In addition, the book’s content also includes leaders who want to channel their energies effectively and improve relationships with their employees.

The teachings provided by Goleman in the book “Focus” can help everyone who wants to improve their performance, whether in personal or professional life, by increasing focus.

What can I learn from “Focus”?

  • There are three essential focus categories for a highly functional life: inner focus, external focus, and focus on the other;
  • Selective attention is the ability to focus on a task, despite sensory and emotional distractions;
  • Emotions interfere with focus. Completing a task is more difficult when you are upset;
  • The attention gets stronger and sharper with use, exercise and practice;
  • Every leader should focus the attention of the company where it is most needed and most productive.

Download the “Focus” Book Summary in PDF for free

Do you have no time to read now? Then download the free PDF and read wherever and whenever you want:

[Book Summary] Focus - Daniel Goleman

Part I - The Anatomy of Attention

Part I of the “Focus” brings the concept of focus and explains the brain functioning responsible for attention.


Goleman starts “Focus” by presenting to us that there are two types of distractions. The first one being sensorial, that comes from the perception of your senses, for example, when you notice for an instant that your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth.

And the second one is emotional, these types of distraction are more challenging, they come from the complexity of our lives, such as the loss of a friend or family member.

The author goes to say that the more you focus on one thing, the better your performance and learning are. Focusing on a goal, suppresses emotional interference and helps you stay calm under pressure.


According to Goleman people have a wandering mind – where our thoughts go when we are not engaged in a mental task – is the configuration of absence of the brain. In this state, people pause for self-reflection, contemplate future scenarios, project ideas, recall memories, or question their assumptions.

The author reinstates that doing activities that do not require much focus frees your mind to wander. He goes on to say that if your attention is being drawn by something, to recover it, take breaks, meditate, exercise or do something fun.

Do you love what you do?

Goleman reinstates some common knowledge: you focus more easily when you do something you like. The repetitive and unsatisfactory tasks cause disengagement, boredom and apathy being even harder to focus.

“Focus” shows us that only 20% of people are able to truly focus and engage with an activity at least once a day. Being said that reestablishes that The secret to getting there is to do what we want with passion.

Superior attention and inferior attention

According to Daniel Goleman:

“Our brain has two semi-independent, widely separated mental systems.”

The descendant mind and the ascending mind, as he calls it, work as if there are two minds at work.

To understand them better, let’s look at some of their characteristics. The descendant mind is:

  • Faster in brain time: works in milliseconds;
  • Automatic and involuntary: this means that it is always working;
  • Intuitive, acting through association networks;
  • Guided by emotions, that is, impulsive.

The ascending mind is:

  • Voluntary, dedicated and slower;
  • The thirst for self-control, which can overcome automatic customs and cancel impulses with emotional stimuli;
  • Able to learn new models, carry out new projects and take control of our automatic repertoire – up to a point.

So, the ascending mind is related to willpower, voluntary attention and intentional choice. Whereas the descendant is linked to routine habits, impulse and reflexive attention.

Goleman adds:

“The two types of systems distribute mental tasks to each other so that we can make the least effort and obtain great results.”

As we practice an activity, it becomes easier, more automatic, that is, it goes from ascending to descendant mind. In doing so, our mind saves energy, freeing our attention to the extras found only by those at the highest levels.

Part II - Self-Awareness

In this section of “Focus”, the concept of self-awareness is addressed.

Self-awareness is a focus that functions as an internal compass. It governs your actions and aligns them with your values. Willpower and self-control are functions of self-awareness.

Concentrating on reaching a goal requires self-control to subjugate your impulses and ignore intrusive emotions, in other words requires an organized mind.

Part III - Reading Other People

Here Daniel Goleman shows the importance of reading people’s body language and the power of empathy.

The ability to read people

The ability to read people by their body gestures can be extremely useful as it allows you to know when someone does not want to deal with a certain subject, when to leave someone alone or when someone needs some comfort.

This can improve your various relationships of yours, with family, friends, co-workers and clients. This can facilitate how you handle you’re networking, making it a lot easier to connect with people.


In “Focus” the author explains the concept of cognitive empathy, brain function that allows you to look at things from another person’s perspective, understand what that person is thinking and feeling, and manage their emotional response.

People who do not have empathy often act inappropriately, miss out on nonverbal messages, or misread certain contexts. They usually do not notice when committing social gaffes, such as being rude or speaking too loudly, not knowing how to work with emotional intelligence.

Part IV - The Bigger Context

In this part of  “Focus”, we will understand why focus is more important than repetition itself.

The 10 thousand hours rule

The rule says that you need to devote at least 10,000 hours of effort to become good at something.

Goleman brings the expert Anders Ericsson, a psychologist at Florida State University, that said:

“No one benefits from mechanical repetition, but rather adjusts their performance several times to get closer to their goal.”

Practice only brings you closer to perfection if done intelligently, that is, if the person who is practicing uses that time to make adjustments and improvements, in essence to really think with attention about how the habit is formed and how to better handle it.

Part V - Intelligent Practices

In the fifth part, Daniel Goleman highlights the importance that well-chosen games can have in developing the focus.

Certain games enhance some cognitive abilities, including visual acuity and spatial perception, attention, decision-making, and the ability to track objects. Intelligent games that improve focus and increase cognitive function can become educational tools and provide:

  • Specific goals for different levels of play;
  • Feedback and pacing for each user;
  • Challenges that progress according to the skills of the players;
  • Different contexts for applying a particular skill set.

Part VI - The Well-Focused Leader

In this part, “Focus” addresses the triple focus directed to leaders.

Every effective leader should focus the attention of the company where it is most needed and productive.

One way to do this targeting is through triple focus. Goleman puts the 3 focuses as:

  1. Inner focus: pay attention to your behaviors and the effects of your actions. Leadership requires knowing your values and communicating your vision to inspire and motivate others;
  2. Focus on the other: it means developing an organizational strategy to provide a roadmap of problems and goals that require attention. Great managers develop interpersonal skills and can effectively listen, respond and collaborate;
  3. External focus: Leaders absorb the big picture, visualize complicated systems, and predict how their decisions will be made in the future.

Part VII - The broader framework

In this section of “Focus”, Daniel Goleman brings forth a reflection: the triple focus can help us achieve our goals, but for what purpose?

We should ask ourselves what motivates us to reach our goals. It is not enough only to think in ourselves, he argues that we should be careful to not condemn our species with this line of thought.

Some questions from the Dalai Lama help us evaluate our motivations:

  • Is it just for me or for others as well?
  • Is it for the benefit of the few or many?
  • Is it for now or for the future?

Undoubtedly, staying focused has a great impact on our performance and, consequently, our ability to become successful. A life focused on us, on other people and on our planet, leads us to happier and richer experiences in everyday life.

Books about productivity and focus

In the book “Essentialism”, author Greg Mckeown says that when we try to do everything and have everything, we make decisions that take us away from our goal. If we don’t decide where we should focus our time and energy, other people decide for us, and soon we lose sight of everything that is significant.

The author Peter F. Drucker, in “The Effective Manager”, stresses that, instead of doing several things together, we must work intelligently and quickly on one goal at a time. This does not mean that you must work in a hurry, but that you must constantly focus and focus on the work in front of you.

The book “Mindfulness”, of authors Mark Williams and Danny Penman, shows many ways to escape distraction that can cut our focus, with practices like meditation, cultivation of good emotions, and the publication dives in a chronogram to increase your focus.

How can I apply the ideas from “Focus”?

Learning how to develop a skill requires downward focus. According to Goleman:

“Neuroplasticity, the strengthening of old brain circuits and the construction of new ones for a skill that we are training require us to pay attention.”

If when training you have your thinking about something else, the brain does not reprogram the equivalent circuit for that activity, making training ineffective.

Dedicating your full attention to one thing can increase the speed of learning, reinforce synapses and expand neural networks for the exercise we want to improve.

Exercising your focus by meditating is also a good alternative. Meditation will help you focus on one thing for a certain period of time.

Feeling optimistic is also a crucial strategy. Positive emotions activate the left prefrontal area of the brain, making people feel motivated, aware, and energized focusing more easily.

Rate the book summary of “Focus”

Don’t forget to leave your feedback, with it, we can always offer the best content for you.

And if you are interested in the book and want to know all the details of how focus and attention can change your life, you can purchase it by clicking on the image below:

Focus - Daneil Goleman