Reading time: 3 minutes and 25 minutes
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why its called the present” Eleanor Roosevelt
Finding your focus feels absolutely amazing! The feeling of being absolutely together, engaged, energised and able to give our full attention to whatever we are doing is pretty much unbeatable. The biggest irony is that when we are focused it is completely effortless to be there, yet it can be one of the most difficult things to achieve. This month on Less Ordinary Living we are going to explore how you can become more focussed, so click here to subscribe and enjoy every step of this journey.
I think of being focussed as living in the moment – being completely present in our current situation. When our mind is in this state, we are able to give all of our effort and attention to whatever we are doing or whoever we are with. If you’ve met a master in being focused, you’ll probably also notice that they have a presence about them Presence means living in the moment and it is another benefit of finding focus.
Probably the biggest single factor that blurs our focus is our mind. We’ve all been gifted with a powerful super computer in our head. However this computer keeps running 24 hours a day, throwing out thoughts and powerful emotions. These thoughts and emotions typically relate to two things:
1) The past – our brain is constantly picking over all the data it has taken in from our life to date. It generates thoughts about what we have experienced, our actions, and the world around us all the time. We pick over a conversation with our boss, how we reacted to our partner last weekend, our apparent failures to stick to our new years resolution – anything really. These thoughts also generate emotions which are our response to the stories we are creating – guilt, shame, embarrassment, sadness, joy.
2) The future – our brain is also imagining the future based on the data available to it. We create endless permutations about what will happen if…. We tell ourselves that we couldn’t possibly do something because we don’t have the skills or we visualise all the terrible outcomes of taking an action (unemployment, bankruptcy, homelessness, starvation). Sometimes we daydream about the good things that might happen, and then the dark shadow of fear appears – I couldn’t do that it would be too risky. The emotions arising when our mind wanders to the future include excitement, anticipation and quite often fear.
The problem with all this is that when our mind is stuck in the past or the future, it blurs our focus. We lose track of what is happening right now. When our mind wanders we cannot be present – we phase out of conversations, we start procrastinating because we want to avoid our fears, we blow off our to do list because it our project is doomed to failure in a hundred nasty ways we’ve imagined.
So how do we start to deal with this conundrum and become more present and focussed? Here are two approaches that will start this process based on my experience:
1) Awareness. The first step is to become aware of what is going on in our head Learning to detach from our thoughts and emotions is a powerful step in becoming more focussed. Try this exercise to become more aware of what is going on upstairs:
- Sit still and take a few deep breaths – try to clear your mind – keep a pen and paper handy
- Try to focus all your attention on your breathing for 3 to 5 minutes
- Thoughts will naturally emerge – when they do, simply observe them and write them down, then return to concentrating on your breathing
- When you are finished, review your list. Consider where the thoughts came from, which ones were taking you to the past and which to the future, and also consider how this frequency of thoughts affects your concentration and focus.
If you repeat this exercise every day for a week, you’ll start to learn how to detach from your thoughts and become more aware of them. As you get more proficient, start to become aware of your thoughts and emotions throughout the day. You may find that even after a week you’ll start to find more focus through this practice.
2) Focus your attention. If we train our mind to focus and be in the zone for short periods of time, over time we can learn to keep our mind from jumping into the past or future. This simple 5 minute exercise is a simple way to do this:
- Find an object that you find beautiful or interesting (a flower, piece of art etc).
- Study the object intensely – take in its shape, colour, texture, structure, smell, feel. Bring all your attention onto this object and bring your mind into focus on it. Become absorbed in the object and make it the sole point of your attention for 5 minutes.
- If thoughts arise simply acknowledge them and move your attention back to the object in hand.
- Enjoy this time and at the end, reflect on what it felt like to be really present and focussed.
Again if you practice this exercise repeatedly you’ll find your concentration and focus improving. You’ll learn to clear your mind of distracting thoughts and emotions from the past or about the future.
So we’ve started our journey towards finding that amazing feeling of focus consistently. Tune in next time to continue finding your focus, or click here to subscribe so you don’t miss it.