What comes to mind when you hear the word “focus”? Is there a voice inside your head saying, “Stop what you’re doing, get with the program!” “Pay attention!” Does the voice sound Critical? Angry? Frustrated? Or is it a more benevolent voice, saying something like: “Okay, your mind is wandering, give it 3 more minutes and then get back on track.”

Focus has become a big buzzword lately. It’s been touted as the secret to productivity, success, peace, even happiness or joy. Yet for many, it can feel like a chore, something unpleasant or too difficult to do successfully. That’s because it usually requires practice, discipline and time and, oh yes, Focus!

We are becoming increasingly used to and reliant on unproductive distraction when we feel stress–social media, surfing the web, binge-watching TV, or texting. The temporary comfort that comes with the distraction is like a drug—the more we turn to it, the more it becomes a new habit. So, the times when we need to focus get harder and harder. Like any new habit we develop, there is a natural resistance to something new that requires effort, as well as letting go of habits that have become familiar and comfortable, even if we see the value in the new behavior. Our motivation increases when we can experience tangible benefits to the outcome. However, that’s not likely to occur until we make the effort. Learning a method of focusing like Mindfulness Meditation to many just seems like a disruption in their day.

What makes the difference between actively taking the steps to create the new experience as opposed to seeing the process as a battle? Think of the new things you have learned that you sought out with enthusiasm. Chances are, you were able to actually envision feeling smarter, stronger, more accomplished, happier. The benefits were obvious to you and easy to picture. You had some tangible sense of the outcome, and the path to getting there felt more positive
and doable. Now ask yourself: Would I rather spend more time on social media/TV? Or, would I rather feel more productive, content, and happier?

How can you develop the motivation and willingness to become more focused and more productive? Mindfulness Meditation, taken in small, easily doable steps is one way to begin.

Mindfulness is about being completely in touch with the present moment and being open to experiences as they come. It means to have an interested, non-judgmental awareness of what
is happening right now. It means taking the time to give your full attention to one thing. It can be something as simple as a meal you are eating. You take in all the enticing smells, taste and visual aspects of the food, paying attention to the experience that makes it pleasurable. At the end of the meal, you are more likely to feel more physically satisfied, and mentally positive.

Instead of seeing the practice of focus as a big commitment in terms of time, energy, or even money (as in signing up for a 6 week course), start with something easily manageable. When you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, stop and take a mindfulness moment—just 60 seconds! Picture yourself in a calm, peaceful environment, such as somewhere in nature. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and visualize the quiet and simplicity of the scene. You might be surprised at how much the one-minute helps—and it’s something you can do anytime, anywhere. I’ve done this exercise in many of the workshops I teach, and the participants consistently report feeling calmer and more focused after just the one minute.

Once you have been able to do this simple exercise, the next step is a one-minute mindfulness exercise to focus on one task, one idea you want to carry out. The main principle in taking these easy steps, is to train your brain to remove all the clutter that distracts you, slows you down or stresses you out. When you have been able to achieve these single moments, you can increase to two minutes, then three minutes, until you reach a time frame that is comfortable and accomplishes your goals. You can settle in at two or three times a day at 5, 10, or 20 minutes, whatever works.

In addition to the mindfulness practices, you can use imagery to help you focus on what’s
important and gets rid of the other stuff that gets in your way. Here’s an example:

The other day, I woke up an hour early, knowing I needed that extra hour of sleep. My mind kept filling up with thoughts that kept me from getting back to sleep. I drew a mental picture frame around my meanderings and then pictured the frame getting smaller and smaller, so there wasn’t enough room for all of the thoughts. Surprisingly, I felt myself becoming more relaxed. I never did get back to sleep, but stayed in bed for an hour and when I got up, I felt much more refreshed, as if I had slept that hour. The reduction of mental clutter is what you need to get yourself focused on what’s important.

Have you ever had the experience of multiple projects thrown at you—or initiated by you?
Did you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or otherwise stressed? A client of mine came to me
In this very state of mind, with three projects that were due in three consecutive weeks. She
did a mindfulness moment, focusing on just the very first one she needed to be completed.
She quickly realized the first project was all she needed to think about, and mentally put the other two on the shelf in a dark closet. Then she did the same for the second project. She was amazed at how easy it was to get focused and ease her stress.

If you need more evidence:
According to a study of 5,000 people by psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, adults spend only about 50% of their time in the present moment. In other words, we are mentally checked out half of the time. In addition to measuring when people’s minds were wandering, the scientists collected information on happiness levels. They found that when we are in the present moment, we are also at our happiest, no matter what we are doing.

Research also shows that remaining present, slowing down and focusing on what is happening in front of you right now—instead of always having your mind on the next thing—will make you much more productive and successful.

Remember, constructive focus is an important step towards freedom from anxiety, worry, and defeat!
Also remember you need to give yourself opportunities for purposeful, productive distraction.
(see my last month’s blog)

“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” –Carlos Castanedo

“What we see depends mainly on what we are looking for.” –John Lubbock

I’m interested in your comments.

Feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested.