During my massage the other day, I noticed a pattern: Whenever the masseuse found a particularly tight spot, she would go over it once or twice, then move on to a different area. Sometimes, the tension in the first place resolved slowly. At other times, she had to revisit that same inch later and apply more pressure.
In any case, unlike the laser-style focus we often desire — and that, granted, often works — it was a more fluid approach to solving a problem. The human body is like a whack-a-mole machine. You push a button on one end, and a spring pops out on the other. Some of these connections are well-understood and fully documented. Others are still a mystery to science.
Can a message therapist press the ball of your foot to cause a reaction in your back? Maybe. But do they sometimes also take a guess by moving first over here, then over there, and hope a block will dissolve on its own? Likely — and, in some cases, that’s just as fair a strategy as knowing exactly which knobs to turn.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to make progress on a project is to go do something else. Whether it’s inspiration or a creative breakthrough you lack, a little bit of “over here, over there” might do the trick. In business, a side project might turn into the main thing, like for Pieter Levels, whose 4th of “12 startups in 12 months” became his longtime focus. Similarly, an angry friend is sometimes best left alone until you both cool off and start missing each other.
None of this is to say that focus isn’t the right thing to shoot for most of the time — but at the very least, it’s a sign there’s no need to berate yourself when you lose it. Enjoy the detour while it lasts, and who knows? Perhaps by the time you return to the main event, an obstacle will have turned into a new step on the way.