Training Your Focus

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.

Assess Results

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 training 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?

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39 Responses to Training Your Focus

  • Hi Dragos,

    This is a powerful post. I realized that I have a little difficult when I try to focus on something that I don’t like.

    Thanks for sharing with us, Dragos. :)

    Arswino’s last blog post..The Power of Your Subconscious Mind

  • @Arswino I think we all have this difficulty. But the good news is it can be done. :-)

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • … breathless; thanks for the insight.

  • Yes Dragos, through focus you change your perception and create your reality. My tip here, (learned it from David Blaine – the magician) is that while you do what you do, focusing on you breathing pattern is the most efficient exercise to expand the limits of your focus. It is also the ultimate ungratifying , most boring exercise.

  • Hi Dragos,
    I just just wrote an article on focus yesterday because of our server being down. Mainly tips Thumper could use and today here you are with even more useful ways to focus.
    I strongly believe you need to relax the brain and body with meditation daily. Practicing this helps me concentrate longer.
    Avoid distractions as much as possible so you won’t lose your train of thought.
    As Doru says above a simple exercise of closing your eyes and doing some breathing exercising is helpful.
    Multi-tasking has no benefits it is a myth.
    Some many people I am sure can relate to this and benefit from this knowledge.

    Great Post !!!

    Bunnygotblog’s last blog post..Happy Birthday Bunny

  • @Mihai: thanks for stopping by, hope you got your breath back by now ;-)

  • @Doru: breathing and meditating are by far the most powerful focus enhancements one could use to improve his focus. Wonder why I left this out :-). Thanks for the heads-up!

  • @BunnygotBlog: I so agree with you that multi-tasking is a myth. You only have 1 second, all the time, can’t split it in 10.

    Hope your server is doing better by now :-)

  • This line says it all for me:

    “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.”

    You are a very astute thinker. Insightful. Living in the manner you mention here is complete and utter freedom. We move away from a form of judgment and stay completely in the present moment. Things are no longer prejudged as good or bad, they just ARE. And they are NOT who we are. It’s finding that place of deep peace and joy and comfortableness within ourselves that remains constant no matter where we are and what we are doing. Yes, we may choose certain things over others but Life becomes about the journey not the outcome. Which leads me to my form of meditation.

    I don’t meditate in the way many people do. I meditate by staying fully present in the moment. Right now. No matter WHAT is going on. It becomes a habit after awhile and then a way of life. Where all that matters is this second. Then the next. And the next. Until my life slows way down even when it is whirling around me with work and daily demands. It can slow down until we start to realize there is no time. Only the present moment. Hope some of this is clear as it’s just a stream of consciousness. LOL!! :)

    Thank you Dragos for a great post.
    Robin

    Robin Easton’s last blog post..Keeper of the Circle

  • Awesome article. I think the detach from pleasure part is something I could use some work on, because my brain is certainly trained to leave my least favorable activities till last. And of course, my focus on everything I do until I finish that thing I’m dreading is minimized because it is always in the back of my mind as something I need to do.

    ~ Kristi

    Kikolani’s last blog post..Out on the Ballroom Floor

  • I had trouble focusing on reading just this blog post! Adding one more second each time is a technique I try to use, too, although sometimes it does not work. I have ADD and impulsivity is just as much a problem as the focusing issue. I will impulsively decide not to wait the extra second. I just got diagnosed this past year so I am still learning how to work with my symptoms. I got kind of lost on the last section of your post, too. I was too busy thinking about my wall.

    Rebecca’s last blog post..Fun Book Meme

  • Indeed focus is an important skill, we can use it to our disadvantage or let it get the better of us! Thanks Dragos.

    Angela’s last blog post..Zombies, Food Security and Little Shifts

  • Dragos, I stopped in for some brief online activity and what a wonderful article! You are really on top of it with this one. I think it is all about being present. Being focused and being present are sometimes the same thing, but not always. I will add one caution though. It’s hard to be present with routine and boring activity if your brain is short on dopamine. People with dopamine deficiencies have a hard time focusing so read my articles and Vin’s to understand how to correct that. Great job buddy!

    Stephen – Rat Race Trap’s last blog post..Living Now – Part I

  • Hi Dragos,

    Excellent article:)
    Balance your senses seem right for me.
    I can do better and be more creative with the help of what I am lacking of.
    Thanks:)

    yoon see’s last blog post..Gift from Bella Sinclair

  • @Kikolani one good technique to get over the unpleasant tasks is to do them by time boxing. I know Steve Pavlina is a big advocate of time boxing and I can see why. Try to allocate small chunks of time to unpleasant tasks untile you finish them. By time boxing them, you’ll know that after 30 minutes, or however you assign to that task, you’ll be over and can get back to your usual, pleasant routine.

  • @Rebecca I like to think at ADD as “Assess, Decide, Do” and not Attention Deficit Disorder :-) Although I know it’s real and it can be a real pain in the arse, I also know it’s reversible. Thanks for taking the time to read this :-)

  • @Angela: focus is in fact our reality, and how we center our focus dictates our experiences. Thanks for commenting, as always :-)

  • @Stephen I think not only dopamine deficiency but any physiological imbalance will make much more difficult to focus. Your focus is a function of your whole body, not only the brain, and if you experiences imbalances in the body, your reality perception will be affected too.

    Thanks for the nice words and I know you know I always read your great articles about brain :-)

  • @yoon see: welcome here and thanks for commenting :-) Balance your senses is just a metaphor for being totally present. If you allow only one of your prevalent senses to take over, your reality will become addicted to that sense. When you balance them, you’re broadening your reality field.

  • @Robin Easton: wow, your meditation technique is awesome! Just being in the current second and not expecting anything is so full of potential. The next second could be anything. Not judging it, not poisoning it with our past experiences maker that second free to become whatever it wants. Or, to be more precise, whatever we want :-)

    Thanks for adding value here, I highly appreciate it :-)

  • Hey Dragos, I love your definition of focus at the end. This also brings to mind why it’s so important to be present in our moment. It doesn’t matter what we are doing if our mind keeps getting drifted to something else. I’ve stumbled this article too :)

    By the way, I just went on a raw vegan 21-day trial, and finished it yesterday. It’s quite an interesting experience. For now I’ll probably stick to a dominant raw vegan diet with cooked food every now and then (where I can’t get raw food). I guess I’m joining in on the raw vegan club now! :D

    Celes | EmbraceLiving.Net’s last blog post..Cultivate a Good Habit in 21 Days

  • @Celes: thanks for the stumble. About being raw vegan. congratulations, it’s a great step forward for your health. In my experience, the real benefits are showing after at least 2-3 months, 20 to 30 days being only the detox period. Anyway, even that is HUGE, congratulations :-)

  • Thanks Dragos! :D I got to thank you for it too – before embarking on the trial, I was reading up primarily on Steve’s raw food postings as well as yours so I could get some mental prep on what to expect. Wow, I didn’t know there will be more benefits coming after the initial month – I’ll stick with it for an extended period now and see what goes next :D The most apparent change is the weight loss, and while I didn’t lose too much weight since I was still exercising (muscle weight I believe), I do look thinner, and I love it!

    Celes | EmbraceLiving.Net’s last blog post..Cultivate a Good Habit in 21 Days

  • [...] is a very practical way to do this. Do look at the wall in front of you and stop your thoughts. Focus entirely on the wall. [...]

  • Hi Dragos,

    Excellent blog post. You mention detaching oneself from pleasure. I too feel that it is extremely important to be able to do this. If we can detach ourselves from pleasure then maybe everything will become pleasurable…


    Regards
    Parag

    • Yeap, that’s exactly what I thought :-)

      • i am forwarding this to eorvyene i know (one of the IMPORTANT emails that should be read) in the past i have tried some of these methods and i know they are the best tool for more productivity but checking your email is like an addiction who emailed me, what’s going on etc. Perhaps i need a Emails Anononomis support group :)what i do find is that i end up spending more time trying to figure the email out than actually fulfilling it. my rule of thumb if it’s more than one para i CALL the person (!!) and talk the issue or task over with them.thanks for a great post!

  • [...] focus is in fact your reality. Use it wisely. Train it constantly for it will enhance your reality in ways you never imagined. Keep your focus sharp as a [...]

  • Ton from Utrecht (NL) says: September 6, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Hi Dragos, this is awesome! I think the word “vipasana” is not mentioned here, but I feel your insights are deeply rooted into that kind of (buddhist) insight meditation. Your great words focus me on vipasana meditating. And on doing the things I’ve gotta do to make my startup succeed. Thank you!

  • [...] engines, low voices, small buzz). Everything starts in that silence and sometimes I think that if I focus enough on it I could actually predict, or even create all those little [...]

  • [...] now, because we will get some great stuff later. The only way this could work is by  helping you maintain focus on the target. By staying alert and keep the goal in sight. Nothing [...]

  • Dragos, this one is amazing. For it already shifted my understanding of my own actions. That I need to be fair with the time I invest doing all the things I love to do. My giving them all equally, important slices or windows. It’s great for multitasking and for people wearing many hats. It not difficult for me to find the joy in everything but it’s easy to get carried away with it and I constantly find myself looking for the 25th hours. I’ll print this one out so I can read and re-read it and use it like a personal GUIDE.

    just glorious!
    thank YOU!

    love&laugh
    :p)
    .-= Patricia Willis´s last blog ..LET’S GET NAKED! How to strip your THOUGHTS? =-.

  • [...] One thing we often ignore, is that our reality is generated by our focus. Whatever we’re focusing on, grows. So, a new beginning could be in fact just the result of a focus shift. Place your attention on other things. It may be difficult in the beginning, so start training. [...]

  • [...] a good one and a bad one. I’ll start with the bad one: everything you think in your head becomes reality. No, I’m not kidding. If you think everything will go wrong, well, at some point, things WILL go [...]

  • [...] in a spiral of anger and despair when you’re frustrated, and I know that first hand. Shift your focus by engaging in small but demanding activities. Get involved. Do take the necessary steps to get [...]

  • This is just a great way of appreciating the wonderful experience that is life and getting to know yourself better. Getting lost in the moment we drop all forms of expectations, distractions and just interact with our reality with peace and harmony. We are all of the one energy source interacting with ourselves. The journey continues…

  • [...] had to go through that pain, well, I had to just stay there. So I just stayed there. And started to shift my focus from my pain and the needle that was sewing me to my breathe. I do this all the time when I want to [...]

  • [...] focus is in fact your reality. Use it wisely. Train it constantly for it will enhance your reality in ways you never imagined. Keep your focus sharp as a [...]

  • helpful hints to remind me what am i doing get a hold of yourself take a deep breath start over each day until you get a nice grip on it.

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