The Value of Focus

Many of us are enamored by the skill and bravery demonstrated throughout the box office smash American Sniper. Most people assume that the biggest challenge for a sniper is hitting a target from a long distance. Although the most difficult moral challenge is in fact pulling the trigger, there are many other mental and physical challenges snipers must overcome.  Stalking and stealthy movement to a target, sometimes hours to days of pure quiet and focus, and the ability to often be alone, are what fail most snipers in training, not their marksmanship.

The ability to focus – in the midst of chaos – is a major part of the recipe for being a successful sniper. But it isn’t just snipers that benefit from focus. Focus is actually the key ingredient that can enable all of us to live a happy, healthy, calm, peaceful and successful life. And focus is why we should all strive to develop our own inner sniper.

Improving our ability to focus allows each of us to respond rather than react. Focus allows us to ensure we can more quickly travel from our brain to our heart - the longest distance in our body. Focus enhances the process of healing from psychological and emotional wounds. Focus allows us to gain efficiency by prioritizing the must do’s from the nice to do’s.

In a combat environment, focus is achieved through repeated training, comprehensive planning, goal setting, organization, structure and importantly, mission-focus. Everyone has a clear understanding of their task, their support elements and line of sight to a larger mission.

The challenge – faced by a good number of the 2.7 million men and women who served bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who are now home - is how to bring those skills and experiences to bear in a non-combat environment, one that is chaotic and full of distraction and stimulation. One that is without structure, organization, schedules and orders.

This challenge is why we created Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness - and it explains why we are so focused on focus.

Boulder Crest Retreat is the nation’s first rural center dedicated exclusively to combat veterans and their families dealing with combat stress recovery.  We are laser focused with a motto of “Healing Heroes. One Family at a Time”!

To that end, we run short-duration (3, 5 and 7 days), high-impact organized retreats in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, designed to provide people with the time and space to regain that sense of focus. Using activities like meditation, yoga, horses, dogs, art, music, gardening, cooking, campfires and recreational therapies like archery, hikes on the Appalachian Trail and kayaking trips down the Shenandoah, we are successfully able to remove the daily distractions, and enable our Warriors and their families to get present, get still, get calm, get concentrated, and most importantly, get focused. During our work, we consistently see just how quickly people can let go of trauma, and begin the process of healing, which importantly involves living in the now and focusing on the future, rather than staring at the past.  

We believe that time away from hectic urban environments, connecting with nature and enjoying its sights, sounds and safety, is the closest thing to an elixir for what ails us. It grounds us, it calms us, it heals us and most importantly, it focuses us. It is estimated that more than 70 percent of our young enlisted military hail from rural environments. Focus, concentration and a connection to nature runs deep in their DNA, and it explains why many are reluctant to pursue assistance in urban clinical settings. It also demonstrates why those who do only fail to see much progress.

While much has been written about the tragedy and trauma of war, little focus has been paid to its one major benefit: War forges Warriors. Warriors understand what service, sacrifice and selflessness truly mean in practice. Warriors possess a deep reservoir of strength and perseverance, gained under the most extreme of circumstances. Warriors know how to lead and how to be led. Warriors reflect the strength of our nation, on and off the battlefield.

As American Sniper shows, we could all learn a great deal from Warriors. Particularly our most recent generation of Warriors, who are the most battle-tested in our nation’s history.  We can learn how to focus – like lasers – on what is important. We can learn how that type of focus is best cultivated over there, and right here, something we witness every day at Boulder Crest Retreat.

As our nation focuses on welcoming home our nation’s warriors from 13 long years of conflict, we would ask that you focus on how you can help mentor them through the challenge of reintegrating back into their families, communities and lives after long absences. If you meet a veteran and find yourself tongue-tied, ask them to teach you how they focused in combat. Ask them how they managed to stay in the right here and right now, the present. This is what kept them alive. Ask them how they found (or regained) that sense of focus here at home. You will be glad you did - because it will be the beginning of your journey to connect with your own inner sniper. 

Then, say thank you for protecting our great nation.