How my 2-year-old son taught me to focus

I didn’t expect that having a toddler would improve my focus. After all, aren’t they supposed to be chaos embodied, a frenzy of activity, spraying attention in all directions? And certainly they take time and energy to raise, teach, and protect.

Yet toddlers also haven’t yet learned the cognitive mistake of trying to juggle more than one thing at once. Sure, my son plays with 20 different toys in 20 minutes. But he does so one at a time, first playing with a train, then putting it down and playing with a car, then putting that down to play with a different train. For him, attention moves smoothly between objects, without attachment and with total focus each time. While he is playing with a train, he has no thoughts or plans about the car right next to it. When he picks up the car, all thoughts of the train disappear.

He expects this of others, as well. My wife and I have been intentional about how we use technology around him, but sometimes the infinite abyss of a smartphone tempts me away for just a moment. My son has no tolerance for this split attention, and quickly corrects me: “Dada, will you put that down! Come sit right here!”

I’ve been working through the Focus series in my daily meditation this month. One of the key concepts introduced is that focus is not a static experience, but a dynamic one; moving from object to object, sensation to sensation. What matters most is not absolute sterility, but a robust and flexible flow that can adapt to changing circumstances.

What my 2-year-old son taught me about focus is that while the object of your focus might change, the quality and intensity shouldn’t. It is possible to focus completely on one thing at a time, and be completely present in each moment. It’s so easy, in fact, that a toddler can do it. What’s my excuse?