Success in life mostly depends on our ability to stay focused. Clear thinking and intellectual understanding are very easy for a concentrated mind. There is a small part in Mahabharata depicting the importance of focus. The royal teacher asked royal princes to focus on the artificial bird on the tree and shoot on its eye during the archery classes. The teacher then asked everyone what do they see.
Some princes saw the tree, some saw fruits, others saw birds flying around and few saw the sky. Arjuna said he could only see the eyes of the bird and he was the one who could shoot at the target with his tremendous power of concentration. How many of us can stay focused on our goals like Arjuna? Maybe life was simpler in olden days but they also had their distractions. However, they did one thing better than us. They were continuously training their mind to stay focused.
The Two types of Distractions
Internal Distraction – Apart from external triggers, our thoughts are influenced by our memories and mental impressions. Our past experiences in this life and in previous lives create mental impressions and memories. Normally they are in the subtle form but as soon as the situation arises, these impressions and memories come on the surface and demand our attention.
For e.g., Memories of a movie that I saw a few years back becomes more prevalent when I get a thought about some reference to it while I am performing an important task. There is a possibility that the task at hand is very challenging and hence I prefer to think about the movie. Thoughts of actors, stories, particular scenes start taking over my mind and I do not work on the task on which I had decided to stay focused.
External Distraction – This one has a trigger in the external world. We all are living in a society and it is not possible to ignore the disturbances. We cannot shut the noises or people around us. They demand our attention all the time and we have to divert our focus from the task at hand.
The biggest external distraction is technology. Man invented technology for a better and comfortable life but it has started demanding lots of our attention. We can’t spend a minute without looking at our mobile screen. Internet would crave for our focus and we move from working on an important task to start looking at YouTube videos of cute cats.
Tools to stay focused
Eliminate distractions: Our attention is divided into many objects around us. It feels like they all are craving for our 2 mins. However, it is never 2 minutes. Even when we look at our phone for 30 seconds during our work, we are damaging productivity. As of now, we don’t have the power to stop our self to indulge in distraction. Till the time we are trained, we should become ruthless and remove those distractions.
Take some time to notice what are the major distraction in your daily life. For the majority, it is either technology or clutter. Social media is the biggest villain of our attention. Thousands of people are waiting for our one like. We need to identify these focus drainers and eliminate at least for the time being. Some of the tips I follow to stay focused are as mentioned below.
- Do not keep gadgets near you when you want to focus on an important task.
- Disable all the notifications in your mobile.
- Dedicate time slot in which you check social media and emails. Apart from that avoid doing it.
- Block social media website on laptop and mobile with the help of apps and extension. I use Blocksite on my Android mobile.
- Remove the clutter as much as possible. Give away any unwanted item.
- I sometimes use soft music with noise cancellation headphones.
- Family members need your help or attention. You can explain them to not disturb you during your focus slot and you will be available soon.
- Rather than subscribing to the cable network, opt for OTT platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime. This allows you to watch TV on your pre-decided slot without any advertising. Stay away from binge-watching.
Create a To-Do list: I have seen major changes in my ability to stay focused after I started creating a To-Do list. Without clear visibility of tasks at hand, we tend to waste time. A to-do list allows us to plan our day better and makes us more productive.
You can either create a handwritten list in your diary or use any mobile app. I prefer to use handwritten as it clears your mind plus App would have an advertisement that can take away your attention. You should keep your To-do list in a place where you can see most of the time.
Yoga Practices: In the ancient time, our sages never struggled with focus. Their days were designed in such a way that every activity can be looked as mind training. They gave many yogic practices that help us in improving our concentration. One of such practices is Trataka.
In this practice, you light a candle in front of you at a distance in such a way that your eyes meet the level of flame. The room is dark so you can only see the flame. You stare it for 5 to 10 minutes in one session and then slowly increase it. You can also use breathing practices. This helps in bringing your wandering mind to breathing and then to the work at hand.
Hobbies that develop Focus: The practice of Increasing focus should be fun too. This can be achieved with the hobbies that demand our attention. Some of such hobbies are archery, painting, craft, or balancing acts. When we are doing our favourite activities, we get into the flow. We lose track of time. Devote some time to such hobbies or activities and you will notice that you are able to stay focused for a longer time.
Re-energize: In between breaks allow us to rejuvenate. Constant sitting in front of a computer can be harmful. We are able to stay focused more when we have energy. A lethargic person cannot be productive. During these breaks get involved in activities that allow you to freshen up like short meditation or looking at nature from your window. You can also lie down for relaxation or do breathing exercises.
Goals: When you read your goals every day, you send a message to your mind that you want to spend your energy in achieving goals. This allows you to stay focused on what you want to achieve and stop wasting energy on not so important area. You should keep your written goals where you can see and try to read them two to three times a day.
This will result in focusing the mind on the end result. Ultimately your mind will start working on the ways to achieve your goals. For, e.g. if your goal is to get promotion in your job, then all the time and energy will be utilized to deliver more and become more productive.
Strong Willpower: A strong will is required to stay focused on one topic or thought. Our mind still has millions of mental impressions waiting to come on the surface. We don’t know which thought will take over us in the next minute. What is needed is a strong will power to bring back our concentration on the given task. Developing will power is a lifelong practice.
One simple exercise we can follow every day to increase our will power. All we have to do is that every day we do not give up on one temptation. You take control of the situation and resist to surrender. For, e.g. you can decide not to watch TV today and instead read a book that can help you achieve your goals.
Focus is a skill that is needed for both survival and growth. We need to sharpen it everyday.