When we are awake and conscious, there is only one idea or physical feature we are intent upon or actively thinking about at any given moment. This is called our locus of attention. Because humans have a locus of attention, there is no true multi-tasking. We can only concentrate on one thing at a time. What is multi-tasking is really a delegation of the tasks that we can do automatically to the background while we focus on one thing that is most interesting at the moment. Actions, or even long sequences of actions, can become automatic. Any actions that you repeatedly perform will eventually become automatic. Making commonly used actions automatic can allow you to perform more actions efficiently and free up your locus of attention to deal with the most critical task at hand, or maybe daydream about what you wish you were doing instead. That’s called “multi-slacking”.

Herein lies the problem; there are just as many inefficient actions that become automatic and ingrained. Human nature does tend towards the path of least resistance, this means some actions become lazier and lazier. We don’t notice some of them until they get in the way of performing effectively, particularly in situations that are new or stressful. Other habits become noticeable when they lead to degenerative conditions such as low back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome.

How does this relate to self defense and fighting? This is where automaticity and locus of attention can become your best friend and your worst enemy. To fight effectively, physical tasks related to footwork, posture, and breathing must become automatic to free up the locus of attention to be aware of a series of things: recognition and defense against the attack, where are the openings to deliver combatives, then escape. However, if your footwork is a problem and you begin to lose your balance, that will suddenly become your locus of attention and another movement you were trying to perform will go on autopilot or possibly not be completed at all.

How do we use this ability to to get better? Training and consistency is required to create new patterns of thought and movement. Habitual movements need to become the locus of attention long enough and often enough so that the new patterns become automatic. When fundamental skills such as posture, footwork, and general movement become automatic, you are free to concentrate on strategic and tactical functions during a fight. If you are confident that your body is operating under control and with efficiency, you will observe more and react more quickly to the real threats in the confrontation.