Our sophisticated, modern world is full of so many potential distractions – the latest augmented reality game, the newest song, the most perverse news story – that our ability to focus on one thing at a time is of crucial significance.
So how does our brain accomplish this capacity to focus?
Focus appears to be a two-step process. The first step is to take in all the information through our afferent systems, while the second is to discriminate what is needed.
Faults can be found in both systems. If we did not thoroughly inspect a certain place, then we will not be able to see all the data, and the first stage to focusing will be rendered incomplete. On the other hand, if we cannot pick on which details we need, then the second step is damaged and we will spend time focusing on the wrong things.
This, of course, does not answer the question of how we focus and why it is so hard to stay that way.
In this chapter, we will discuss the various elements of focus, the everyday distractions that disturb it, as well as the steps on how to achieve it.
How We Get Disturbed Every Day
Interruptions flood our brains all the time.
Even though our second system operates our focus and our attentiveness, there is only so much to go around. It requires a great deal of energy for our brains to stay concentrated on something, and it is the task of our second system to overcome them.
The easiest way to build willpower and concentration is through disciplined practice. Just like how exercise forges the body, mental training will strengthen the brain. Meditation and focus exercises will help force the brain to get better concentration, focus, and clarity.
Bringing Focus Back
It happens to everyone: you were working on important matters when suddenly you realize that, for quite a while, you have already been lost in your own thoughts and have been doing something totally different. You do not know when you went off track, nor are you aware of the length of time you have been meandering.
Fortunately, you can do a few things to prevent this problem and bring back your focus without worrying about losing it when you need it the most.
It is great if you can reserve about an hour a day for meditation, but many people claim not to have time to do it. The truth is, you don’t have to set aside anything else for this activity.
You can meditate at work or even when you are in the middle of doing something by simply concentrating on your breathing. Thoroughly focus on the flow of air in your body – how it hits your nose and upper lips as it comes in, how it begins to feel on the back of your throat, and how it feels as you exhale it.
Concentrate on this for some time, and you will discover that restlessness you feel, how your brain wanders, as well as the huge and occasionally ridiculous string of thoughts that follow, and you will be able to regain your focus on the task at hand.
Any time you find yourself shifting to other thoughts, slowly bring your mind back again and concentrate on your breaths. Observing your breathing will not only relax your circulatory system, but will also help you get a sense of peace and unusual fulfillment. It is difficult to describe the feeling, try it sometime and you will understand.
There are also many apps available for your phone, tablet, or any other gadgets to help you learn how to do this. These include Headspace, Buddhify, and Calm.
Trim down your goals into smaller and achievable targets
Trying to achieve a big goal can baffle and annoy anyone at some point in the process. If your goal is as big and challenging as it needs to be, you might not be able to see any instant outcomes that will bring you closer to your target, which tends to result in you losing focus. Cut it down into smaller tasks that you can attain within a day or a week, and see it as another step on your ladder of success.
Sit with Mother Nature
Yes, occasionally you do need to take a break.
Set aside time to sit down and enjoy nature – away from the buzzing sounds of the city streets. Bask in the ambience and take in everything she has to offer. This way, you will be able to feel relaxed and peaceful. Having a calm state of mind can actually help you focus better. Exposure to nature has been demonstrated to improve stress levels, cortisol, blood circulation, lower extremity strength and mental health.
Train your mind daily
Perform some puzzles, complete crosswords, try the dual-n back program, interact with people and talk about current events – may it be politics, science, or any other topics you may be interested in. Get involved in conversations important to you, build something, and try something artistic. Do not let your brain idle.
Exercise your body daily
You do not have to be a bodybuilder or a marathoner to achieve this. Your body is an asset to you, not a liability. Your brain is just as much a part of your body and it needs all the help it can get from every system to function properly. Exercise improves circulation, brings in more oxygen, drives out metabolic waste, balances hormones, and releases endorphins. That does not even cover all the bodily benefits.