There are many good reasons to fine tune your focus. Think about it, for a large part of the day we are ‘passive receptacles’ to the random onslaught of thoughts that enter our minds.
Did I take the clothes out of the washing machine? Why is that person trying to cut in front of me in the traffic? I wonder why Person X hasn’t replied to me on Whatsapp yet? I didn’t sleep very well last night, I feel so tired. I can’t cope.
The above are examples of the multitude of thoughts that enter into our minds. Research has shown that we experience around 80 000 thoughts per day and 80% of those thoughts are just random nonsense that serve no real value. What we focus on becomes our reality and affects our emotions and behaviour. Have you thought about your own ‘mental diet’?
We aren’t staying focused as much as we used to. This is due to the ever increasing amounts of information that we are expected to focus on daily. We are glued to our mobile phones, we have more choice then ever before whether it’s purchasing a new washing machine or trying to find love online. Constant switching focus from one thing to another leads to lowered productivity as well as fatigue.
According to a study at the University of Sussex, constant multitasking actually damages your brain. They found out that people who regularly multitasking have lower brain density in the region of their brain responsible for empathy, cognitive control and emotional control
Our minds and bodies can feel in a constant state of threat (when we feel anxious our body goes into fight, flight or freeze response to cope with the threat but this constant state can leave us depressed and physically ill) and this is exhausting mentally and physically. We’re expected to get things done and multitask because we live in a society that rewards those who are constantly on the go, even if they aren’t being that productive. As long as they seem busy, may people convince themselves that they are worthy and living a good life because they are so busy.
When we aren’t busy, guilt immediately sets in and we feel forced to multitask and focus on many things at once. This is an unwise approach but so many of us do it (myself included).
What happens when you don’t focus
You lose your way, you can end up feeling lost and directionless as you flit between ideas, jobs and relationships.
What are you focusing on?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy often involves keeping a thought diary. This is a useful way of understanding our individual ‘mental diets’. We all have different ones and we all focus on different things. For one person, they may be quite self-critical and focus on their weaknesses and mistakes. They are more easily triggered by any event that threatens their fragile self worth.
When you complete a thought diary, you being to see patterns in what you focus on. Are you focusing on helpful or unhelpful thoughts? Are you focusing on problems or problem solving? What you focus on has a huge impact on your quality of life.
Common areas of (negative) focus:
Perceived lack or inability to progress or achieve
“What if” type thinking – what if this happens or that doesn’t happen?
Relationships – professional and personal
Worrying about what others are thinking
Worrying about how others are perceiving us
We tend to focus on things that confirm what we already think about the world. If, for instance, I believed that many people were corrupt, I would inadvertently be honing in on stories about misfortune or dishonesty. Cognitive bias helps us to feel we are correct in our assumptions about the world. The problem with cognitive bias though is that we end up being more biased and distorted in our thinking because our perceptions are filtered and we aren’t also focusing on the opposite possibility – that there are many honest people in the world too.
Why you need to focus
When you stay focused you actually get far more done. Trying to achieve many things at once is a false economy that can lead to less productivity and more anxiety as well as other mental health issues such as chronic perfectionism. Adopting a ‘one thing at a time’ approach will leave you with a sense of accomplishment that won’t affect your physical or mental health in the long run.
Focus brings with it a sense of calm and peace of mind
Ever heard of the paradox of choice? Too much choice actually decreases our happiness levels. When there is too much choice we start to worry that we are missing out (FOMO – fear of missing out) and we worry that we could always find something better than what we have – this applies whether it’s a bottle of wine or a potential love partner. When there is too much choice we become picky and fickle and we mistakenly assume there is something better out there. This leads to a feeling of deprivation and restlessness. Focus on what is good in your life and stop worrying about what else might be out there. be a ‘satisficer’ not a ‘maximiser’. If you want to know more about the paradox of choice, I recommend you read : The Paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz.
What to do – Opposite Action Theory
Get into the habit of Focus training daily
Spend 15 minutes every day focusing your concentration on specifics – for example listen to the birds, then focus on traffic sounds. Keep that focus and don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
Meditation is a great way to practice fine tuning your focus. When you learn to quieten your mind, you find peace of mind. It’s difficult to do though. I know full well the benefits of managing what I focus on yet I find it hard to maintain my focus. If anything I sometimes thin I may have attention deficit disorder (ADD) which certainly isn’t conducive to a quiet calm mind! I keep at it though as so should you. It really is am amazing way to detach from this crazy world and maintain sanity, without a doubt.
This is a clever little trick. Think of your pet – they live for now. They aren’t worrying about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. They are fully immersed in the present moment. As long as the current moment isn’t desperately miserable (then distraction is a good idea), mindfulness is a great way to feel content. Our minds tend to err on the negative side – always looking out for threat. This comes from evolution and our survival instincts. So when we aren’t vigilant, our mind will take us down negative spirals of “what if” thinking and freak us out – creating anxiety and/or depression.
Mindfulness stops that negative spiral. If you can’t get out of your busy mind, try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.
Look around you, Find:
5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch (yes, go ahead and touch them)
2 things you can smell (if possible)
1 thing you can taste if possible (this is a good one if you are in a restaurant or there is food nearby – you could lick the wall if you are inclined 😉 )
Our brain cannot process information flowing into our five senses and complicated thoughts at the same time. (Read up on the “cocktail effect“.)
Take up a hobby that requires your full attention – learn guitar or take up golf/tennis.
At first you will find it difficult to focus on one thing – it will take practise. When you notice your mind is wandering gently bring it back to the object of your focus. It’s possible and a vital mental skill for surviving a world where there is information overload and far too many distractions.