How is your focus? Do you find it easy to concentrate for longer chunks of time or are you easily distracted? Do you enjoy doing the same thing at the same focus level over and over again, or are you easily bored?
I used to think that focus is a function of pleasure: I can concentrate on this because I like it. I do some stuff better than other because I like it. While loving what you do can keep your concentration high, at least in the beginning, maintaining a constant, high focus is not a function of pleasure at all. It’s a function of will.
Focus can be trained. It can be enhanced, it can be shaped the way you want. It can serve you well, if you treat it well. In today’s post I’ll share some of my observations regarding focus and how one can work this tool the same way you work your muscles in your daily workout.
Detach From Pleasure
To like something is a great “do” igniter. It really puts you on the road. Starting something you don’t like is usually slower and less energizing. But after the initial thrill, even if you do like what you’re doing, keeping yourself in the flow requires a lot of effort. Your focus will start to weaken.
The best way to ensure a constant flow of focus is to detach from pleasure. To treat every single task emotionally equal. Might sounds “robotish” and totally not fun, but in fact it’s just a way to trick your focus into a better approaching method.
If you’re constantly doing only things you like, your focus will develop a sort of addiction. It will unconsciously start looking for nice stuff, and will ignore difficult, or boring things. It will not discard it and put it aside for later, the boring stuff will simply disappear from the radar. You’ll end up as a hedonistic prisoner of “only nice stuff, please”.
Detaching from pleasure doesn’t mean you will refrain from enjoying what you’re doing. Detaching from pleasure means you’ll start doing things regardless of their niceness level. You’ll just do them. Detaching from pleasure means you’re also detaching from boredom. If you can observe yourself doing stuff, pleasure and boredom are just choices. You’re doing that thing anyway, so you can chose how you feel about it.
Whenever you keep your focus on something for longer chunks, take your time to assess results every once in a while. Take your time to see how were you at the beginning of the task and how are you now. Especially in difficult tasks, assessing results is a great focus enhancer.
It does this by progress showing. If you’re caught in solving a longer problem, you might forget where you started. You start circling and stumbling. You get caught in a pattern of “I’m getting nowhere with this” and your focus will start weaken. The hedonistic part of you will ask for something nice to hang on, and you’ll step away form the problem and go grab a cookie, for instance.
If after the cookie your focus will be higher, it would be great, but your focus is usually thinner. You didn’t assess any results, you just tried to escape a difficult task. Your focus will want again to the cookie.
Assessing results is easy, is a matter of saying: “I started this journey 15 minutes ago, and I’m doing ok, regardless of the fact I’ve done only one single step. I’m ok. I’m on it.”. Your focus will be forced to stay there until you solve the problem. You assessed your position, you acknowledged the fact that you’re making progress.
This works regardless of the focus time span. You can assess results of a 15 minutes cooking session, or of a 5 years goal. Maintaining your focus is equally important in both.
One More Second
I took this habit from my fitness session. Whenever I do pushups or abs, I establish some goal, let’s say 50 abs. When I’m close to 49, I stretch myself out and go over 50, usually 51, or 52. I do the this all the time. The goal is clear but I always try to stay in there for one more second.
I also did this in business. Whenever I was close to finish a project, I did something extra, a feature or an addition of some kind. It was not in the specs from the beginning but I felt the need to put it there.
Staying “one more second” in a project, in a workout, or in a relationship is a fantastic focus enhancer. I always know that I can do more abs after that second and I always know that my project will be a success, after that last feature. I am in there, I know it, I stay focused.
“One more second” is also good for assessing wrong paths. Even if you feel it’s wrong, take one more second to assess that and let your focus decide. If it’s a bad relationship, stay one more second in it and make sure it’s really bad for you. Next time, your focus will warn you from the beginning, and you won’t have to go through tough times again.
Balance Your Senses
Your focus is channeling the reality by using your senses. Each person have a specific distribution of these senses in their focus. Some are visual, some are functioning well by really touching stuff, some are reacting better to voices. Your senses are the gates and your focus is the gate opener.
Focus likes diversity. If you’re a visual guy, try using some sounds in the next working session. Put some music on, tap the table from time to time. If you’re doing something related to sounds (you’re a musician for instance, or working on a movie soundtrack) try to balance this by using some new lights around you. Change your seat, light a candle. It will instantly make you focus better.
Your focus will always appreciate a new balance in your senses. It’s not about boredom, we talked about that already. What you’re doing is sending a complementary signal that will make your focus trying to recompose the big picture. And that will keep it on the current task.
Your Focus Is Your Reality
Ok, I cheated a bit. I started with all those tips about focus enhancement and kept the focus definition aside. And I did this for a reason.
I strongly believe that your focus is in fact your reality. You cannot experience something outside your focus. Everything you do is driven by focus, it’s like a handle to keep and master your environment. It’s the only way you actively experience your life: whenever you’re not focused, you’re drifting away, whenever you’re focused you’re sailing.
Let’s make a short experiment now. Take a look at the wall in front of you. Yes, like right now. Take a look, I said, don’t cheat. 🙂 After several seconds come back here and read on.
Where was your focus while you looked at the wall? Outside this blog post, of course, what a silly question. But where was the blog post during this period? You’ll answer that it was there, right in front of you, waiting for your to get back. It was in your mind. But I will say this blog post was completely outside your reality.
You might have think it was there, but it was on a virtual space and time. Your real space and time was filled with the wall. You were focused on the wall, and the wall took precedence of everything else in your life, including your thoughts. You might have think you were thinking at the post, but instead you were focused on the wall.
Everything in your life works like this. You might think you’re doing something, but your real focus is somewhere else. You think you’re happy, but instead of real happiness, your focus is in useless, shallow thoughts. You give to your thinking mind the benefit of reality, instead to give this to your focus. You might spend your entire life thinking you’re doing just fine, but your focus will be on a wall. You’ll be in fact experiencing a wall, not a happy life.
This is why learning how to train your focus is far more than a productivity technique. At a certain level, focus mastering is a magical endeavor, is an esoteric, almost secret art.
The one who masters his focus will master his own world.
Are you with me here? Or are your drifting away?
Running For My Life - from zero to ultramarathoner
The spooky thing about depression is that it sneaks in. There aren’t really trumpets and loud voices announcing: “Hail, hail, this is depression entering the room, all rise!” Nope. It’s slow, silent, creepy. It doesn’t even look like depression. It starts with small isolation thoughts like: “Maybe I shouldn’t get out today, I just don’t feel like going out”. And then it does the same next day. And then the day after that and so on. And then it starts to whisper louder and louder in your ears: “Why would you go outside, you loser? Didn’t have enough yet? Want more people to make fun of how much of a big, fat loser you are?”
And then you start to breath in guilt and shame, instead of air. Every breathe you take is putting more dark thoughts into your body.
Until you get stuck. You can’t move anymore. At all.
If you want to know how I got out of this space, eventually, check out my latest book on Amazon and Kindle.