Shifting Focus

Focus creates your reality. That’s a very simple observation, you don’t need a PhD in quantum physics to know that whatever you focus on, grows.

It so follows that, in order to change your reality, you would be better off by working on your focus, and not on the external circumstances. It is a bit counterintuitive, but, if you really think about it, external circumstances are somehow following focus, they are subsequent to it.

Shift your focus, change your reality!

Easier said than done, unfortunately. And that’s because focus tends to be inertial: whatever it fixates on, it needs more of that.

Let’s say you focus on something you hate. Like something bad that people are doing. The more you focus on that, the more inertial your focus will become. And by spending more time on those specific things, you will make it more sensitive to them. Not only you will spend more and more time taking in those things, because the focus is inertial, but you will also prime yourself to be more sensitive to that category in the future. Before you realize, you’re caught in a powerful trend, which makes you see, predominantly, only bad things around you.

Small Steps To The Rescue

What I find to work relatively well for me is to train my focus in small steps. Not the same type of training you find in meditation techniques, like vipashana or shamata. If you’re doing that, you’re already in a setting that’s supportive to that. I’m talking about simple things you can do in your daily life, when you’re not meditating. Simple steps you can take just to keep your focus agile.

Meaningful Alerts

Alerts are a big distractions. They may pop up on your phone, or on your watch, or on your laptop screen, and they’re usually related to some type of interactions, which is hijacking your focus. Coming back to work after such an interruption is notoriously difficult.

I wholeheartedly agree that alerts are toxic, but only those you cannot control. If, on the other hand, you’re the one setting them up, I find them quite useful to train an agile focus. Let me explain. Suppose you set up 6-8 alerts throughout the day, every 2 hours. Each alert has some thing that you would like to focus on (not necessarily an affirmation, but it can be that too). Well, every two hours, you’ll be alerted about something that you want to focus on, which you initiated. That’s training. That’s like going to the gym, but for focus.

I use this type of alerts for years, and it works, like I said, relatively well. I try to never go over 8 alerts per day, and I’m choosing things that I can focus on for a few seconds, then move on. The secret is not to attach too much action to the alert, just an attention nudge.

Immersion Countdowns

Another way to train your focus is to use what I call “immersion countdowns”. This is a very precious name for something incredibly simple: whenever you start something (a chunk of work, a conversation, a walk) try counting to 5 or to 10, on a “parallel thread” in your mind. While you count, don’t think about anything else, just keep a stable focus on whatever you started to do. This counting works like a grounding mechanism, it somehow anchors you to the task at hand, and doesn’t let your mind wonder around. After you finished the immersion countdown, just keep on doing whatever you started to do.

I don’t do this very often, but I do it consistently, especially when I’m in a new place. When there is an increase in sensory information, our mind tends to get confused and it has a harder time focusing. So, for instance, when I’m in a new place and start a conversation with a stranger (a coworking colleague, maybe) I do this immersion countdown, just to make sure I keep listening and understand what the other person is talking about, without leaving my mind wondering about all the new stuff that’s popping around.

Splitting Work In Smaller Chunks

This is not specifically related to focus training, but it supports it well. Instead of setting up big blocks, like 2 hours, for finishing some task, or solving some logistical problem, I try to split it in smaller time intervals. Some of you into productivity may remember something similar, called the Pomodoro technique. Well, it’s exactly the Pomodoro technique, only with a variable time interval, let’s say between 15 minutes and one hour, and not limited to 20 minutes, like in the original Pomodoro.

The benefit of this, apart from actually getting more done, is that you keep your focus agile, and don’t let it too immersed, too attached to a simple object.

And that’s it. Three simple steps you can use to keep your focus agile.

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