Greetings all! As you may have noticed, there was no new blog post last week. I was in the mountains, enjoying the new blanket of snow, learning new skills and dodging trees on the way down the hill. It was beautiful and exhausting but refreshing. Digging your way out of a snow drift with a big wooden board strapped to your feet has an intense connecting effect to the earth and elements. I spent Thursday taking my own advice and focusing on the space in which I found myself, instead of posting this blog. It felt most fitting. Now let’s talk about the perspective of focus.
While researchers, businesspeople, and homemakers alike have long touted the merits of “multi-tasking” increasing numbers of People Who Actually Do Things have discovered that attempting to do many things at once is merely an effective way to split your attention into ever lessening slices until you have 1/200th of your brain focused on each task in a round-robin style attempt to manage everything. Yes, it’s possible to put a cake in the oven and vacuum while it cooks, you can listen to music while typing a paper, or take care of your kids while you watch a sporting event, but the science is pretty clear that your brain isn’t actually managing two things at once, it’s managing each thing individually and switching back and forth between them. Which is exhausting for your brain. It’s also damaging to your productivity in both activities!
We all have been doing this multi-failing for so long now, that doing one thing is almost foreign to our brains. Honestly, if you own a smart phone, work in an office with other people, have obligations and a social life or even have functioning ears, focusing on a single task has become a near impossible feat. The second you set your mind to do it the whole system rebels. A million new tasks come to mind, a new email comes in, people walk through your conversation, you suddenly simultaneously become the thirstiest you’ve ever been and the most in need of a toilet. It’s kind of incredible, and fascinating, but for me at least, mostly frustrating and a bit disappointing. Like somehow my brain should be able to forget all the years I spent giving it something new to do every 30 seconds.
Learning a perspective of focus starts, as every change in life, with a realization that there is a better way, and the acceptance that what you were doing wasn’t the best thing for you. In my experience the whole acceptance and grace thing was the most challenging. I realized my brain was rapid-cycling pretty quickly, reminding myself that progress is possible was much more of a task. It felt like I had screwed up my brain, and since I was this far into being distractible and always stressed by the 15 things I should be doing instead, it was probably best to just keep managing things this way. 100 at a time without any feeling of progress, completion or depth in the tasks.
I’d like to have a neat little thing I can give you that will just give your brain a little restart and give you a sample of how a mindset of focus can change your life, but alas. It’s not that easy. Rewiring your brain is no simple task, but it can be done! Millions of people are relearning how to focus in their lives, and are coming out the other side more grounded and fulfilled. Developing the ability to be single-minded is so enriching, from work and responsibilities to relaxation and relationships, every aspect of life is improved by spending time directly focusing on it.
While I can’t flip a switch for you, I can suggest a few exercises and thought patterns that have been helpful for me in making this change in my mindset.
- Keep a day planner.
Or a journal or a notebook or a Filofax, I don’t know man, something. Find a bound place to put your thoughts and plans and goals and ideas. This isn’t just to keep track of the events coming up in your life, this is a place to put the random thoughts that come into your head and bounce around in there until you have time to act on them, or more accurately, until you forget them. It’s the one place to keep all the plans you’re making, the things that have to get done, and the things you loved about today. It might feel like just a silly little book, but honestly, just keeping a day planner has made me feel so much more organized, intentional, prepared and able to manage the task at hand.
- Don’t open emails/texts/messages unless you have time to handle them.
I know, those happy little ‘ding’s are super tempting. You might have just won a million dollars! A loved one might be in grave danger! Beyoncé might have just sent you front row tickets to her next concert! But umm, probably not. Presumably you are doing the task at hand because you need to and have set aside this time to complete it, so decide to do it and only it until it’s done. I frequently have lengthy documents to create for my job. It’s usually kind of boring work that I dislike and it usually takes a dedicated 45 mins to an hour for each one. My brain gets so freaking excited at the possibility of taking a break from this boring task to read an email. It could be a free pizza announcement. But why prolong the uncomfortable even longer by dawdling around in my email for a while? And why read it if I know I won’t be taking any action on it right now? Every day we lose like half an hour of productive work time by just checking stuff that we don’t have time to do anything about or don’t intend to handle right away.
- Be with the people you’re with when you’re with them.
Do you ever go hang out with a friend or maybe your mom and on the way home realize that you miss them? Like, you were there together but you were distracted or just chatted and didn’t share what was on your heart. I remember feeling that way sometimes on my way home from spending time with my parents. When you live with people you naturally come to a place of relaxed togetherness where just living life alongside counts as spending time together. Moving out and only visiting a few days a month really changed my perspective on that. I didn’t have the 24/7 spending time any more where thoughts we eventually come out because we lived life together. I couldn’t just neutrally hang out in the same room with them and feel like we had been together. As I said, learning to focus is a process, so I am in no way the guru of being present with people. It’s something I want though. It’s something I remind myself of and work toward and make progress in. If we’re getting together it’s because I want to be with you, so just be, man!
- Decide your focus in advance.
Life throws some pretty nasty curveballs and the natural response is to focus on just how nasty they are. Hurt, anger, disappointment, bitterness, jealousy; we feel them and our instinct is to sit with them, remind ourselves of how they feel so we can avoid them in the future. When we can develop a mindset of focus we can channel that focusing power on the things we want to feel. Ok, so not easy, not fast, but worth it. One of my favorite lessons from Tony Robbins is “Where focus goes, energy flows.” If we can bounce our focus to positive emotions our energy will follow. Focusing on our goals, the little victories, and the sunshine at the end of a rainy day, our energy will flow toward greater goals, bigger victories and brighter beams of sunshine.
Ok, I know that last part sounds a little airy fairy, but this is practical stuff. Wanna be more productive? Learn how to focus your energy on one task at a time. Want to be more connected to others? Decide to be present when in the presence of loved ones (or decidedly focused elsewhere when in the presence of draining terrors). Think that living a happier, less angry, freer life sounds nice? Choose where to point that focus.
Strap on the binoculars of focus and see what beautiful things you can find on the horizon.