What Dance Mat Taught Me About Life and Productivity

The surprising connection between life and my childhood pastime.

My family used to go to those casino joints all the time… And I mean, all the bloody time! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it! Who doesn’t enjoy effervescent casino lights and the sound of victory (and loss – lots of it) mixed in with heaps of oxygen to keep you awake at the slot machines.

(I heard that they pump casinos with oxygen to keep you awake but I think that would actually cause a fire hazard in smoking zones so I don’t think it’s true; but I love me a good conspiracy, so let’s just pretend it’s true).

Anyway besides the ching-ching and warra-warra, I actually did enjoy those nights out consisting of stuffing myself senseless at buffets and then wobbling over to the amusement place to watch in awe as children several years my junior absolutely destroyed Dance Dance Revolution for the umpteenth time that night. I was flabbergasted! How could they conquer the machine in perpetuity? Watching child after child pummel the dancing game made me realize two things:

  1. Their parents probably have gambling problems and somebody should call child care services pronto
  2. I must conquer the game myself

So, like any determined wanna-be dance hero, I convinced my parents to buy the PlayStation version of the game for me and I began my pursuit of Revolution Domination.

Night in and night out I practiced and practiced – with a fair amount of progress over the weeks until one day, after missing a step and almost tumbling over my feet; I realized what my issue was. I was just far too heavy on my feet! I then sat on the couch as the song preview for Jamelia’s ‘Superstar’ rolled on and I ruminated on this realization: the secret to dance mat was to be able to shift your center of gravity at a moment’s notice.

I then went onto becoming the dance mat hero at the local casino plaza (I should probably return one day to reclaim my reign as champion) but for years after, I continued to be fascinated with the concept of shifting centers of gravity. I started to pay attention to all sorts of sports – rugby, tennis, cricket, soccer and realized that they all shared a similar phenomenon: they all required being able to mobilize your center of gravity at the drop of a hat. I knew that I was onto something…

It wasn’t until a few days ago as I started sketching out blog article topics that I remembered my bewilderment with this lesson from dance mat and started to probe further. Then I started to pay closer attention to everything I did in my life as I thought, ‘Surely this principle of rapidly changing one’s center of gravity doesn’t only apply to sports and games?’

And then one day, whilst playing piano I noticed that my mind was still heavily focused on an engineering problem I was working on earlier in the day, instead of focusing on the Debussy piece before me.

Even though my body was on the piano seat, my mind was at the computer.

I started reflecting on my many years spent trying to increase my productivity but still remaining very distracted throughout the day. While social media and my cellphone played a major role in this – I still struggled to really focus on the task at hand when I eliminated these problem because I wasn’t fully disconnecting from what I was doing before.

Subsequent research into mindset hacks of the most successful CEOs, writers, musicians and other creatives led me to an important finding.

In order to master more than one area of your life, you need to be able to change focus (at will) instantly.

And when I say ‘at will’, I don’t mean whenever you feel like checking that cat meme group on WhatsApp. I mean – at will – as in, deciding to exit the zone of working on a specific task in order to change tasks or take a conscious break so that you can resume the state of flow (i.e. the zone of exponential progress which is only really achieveable if you learn to work for two hours at a time without looking at your phone or FaceBook).

So after years and years of mulling over the dance mat riddle, I’ve realized that in sport; (one of) the secret(s) is to be able to move your center of gravity instantaneously in any direction. In life, the secret to ultimate productivity is to be able to fix and divert your focus to anything you choose within moments. Ever since I’ve codified this principle, I’ve managed to take tremendous strides in increasing my focus and accomplishing more in one day. Please note: this is not encouragement to multitask or to skim on your attention to things. This is me saying to you that you really can be the next Beyoncé or Elon Musk or Tony Robbins or any multi-skilled, extraordinary human but you first have to acquire the dexterity of being able to focus for extended periods on one things and then shift your focus to work on another thing; be it a personal project, your relationship or your career.