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Book Review of "Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence" by Daniel Goleman

Wednesday, August 24, 2016  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Reviewed by Dr. Mary McPherson, Elementary School Principal, St. Martin’s Episcopal School, Atlanta

In his latest book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman, best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence, provides the latest research on attention and how the ability or inability to focus affects our everyday lives. Focus does feel like a continuation of what was presented in Emotional Intelligence as Goleman explores self-awareness, reading others, and the well-focused leader.

The book opens with an introduction on the latest brain research on attention. As the book progresses, Goleman describes three areas of focus that directly impact success in our personal and professional lives: inner, outer, and other. He provides several examples that demonstrate the importance of these types of focus as they relate to education, business, athletics, and the arts. Just as athletes spend time practicing their skills on the field or court, Goleman argues that attention is a muscle that must be exercised. In short, use it or lose it. Unfortunately, in a fast-paced world that demands our brains to manage a constant barrage of information and distractions, Goleman explains that many are not exercising their ability to focus which means we are losing the inherent power our brains can provide if harnessed and nurtured properly. Goleman provides a roadmap to understanding why the human brain is not built to be pulled in so many directions and gives the reader food for thought in how to increase his own ability to stay focused.

The premise of this book intrigued me as I look to hone my own ability to focus and to understand current brain research to help me better support students in the classroom. I was excited, after reading Emotional Intelligence, to read a concise and well-written book that would provide a cohesive argument for helping students better develop the ability to focus as they are being bombarded by varying demands on their attention. Goleman’s latest book does provide a good deal of information on attention research but it was difficult to follow how he connects this research to real world application. With that said, there are several chapters that are worth reading as we, as educators, look for ways to support the continued development of attention in our students and ourselves.

Chapter IV, which works to connect research to “smart practice,” looks specifically at the myth of 10,000 hours, the brain on games, and breathing buddies. Goleman does suggest that attention training should be included in classroom instruction for every child. As a proponent of incorporating mindfulness practice in the classroom, I was disappointed that Goleman did not thoroughly detail ways attention can be developed beyond mindfulness. I wanted more. I was yearning to understand how current attention research is uncovering new ways of understanding and supporting students diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). While ADD was mentioned in several chapters, implications for current research in ADD support and management was not explored thoroughly.

Focus is worth reading as a one-stop shop for the latest brain research on attention or as a loose extension of Emotional Intelligence. Beyond the compilation of research, the reader will need to exercise focus to connect the research to the application that is described in later chapters. In fairness to Goleman, he may have intentionally structured the book to allow readers to practice what he is preaching.





Dr. Mary McPherson is elementary school principal at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Atlanta. Follow her @DrMacatSMES


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