Let’s be honest, we are absolutely hooked on distractions. They’re here to stay, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But we can push back with the power of focus.
Distractions were here before technology gave them the major bump they’ve had in recent decades, and will be here throughout the rest of humanity too. And that’s OK, but we have to learn how to use them to our advantage. So, let’s talk focus, and how we just might be able to work with our distractions to find the focus we need.
If you’re like me, my bet is you’re busy as hell. Juggling god knows how many projects, demands, and life events (a polite way to sum up the crying kids fighting over a toy, the supper that’s still not on the stove, the rush hour traffic with all its glory and the million of other things that keep piling up in a not-so-quiet rebellion against you one ugly item after the other on your to-do list).
And, I’m willing to continue my bet, busy usually leads to distractions. Because let’s just keep things real here, distractions are a small (but oh so slippery slope) break from all these other demands. We open Facebook thinking we’ll be on there for just a minute or a two and then we look up and it’s been a half hour, what the hell??
Let’s put all that on pause and chat about the power of focusing for just a few.
I’m not proposing that you take up some kind of asinine vow that you won’t keep anyway. And I’m not proposing that you really change your life in loud, noisy, burdensome ways.
What I am proposing is learning how to be fully present in the moments of your life. I’m suggesting that you learn how to ground yourself in the here-and-now. Give your breath some conscious attention, pay attention to how you feel, what you’re thinking and maybe even why. What can this present moment teach you?
How to find your focus
I meditate, and I give that fact full credit for much of my ability to focus. I meditate before bed and in the morning after getting ready and doing some stuff with a vision board.
What I do when I meditate is just hit pause on the world around me. I close my eyes, I focus on my breathing, I don’t fight my thoughts, I just let them slide by. I breathe, I pay attention to my body, to all the layers of how I feel, what I feel, why I feel.
Sometimes it helps to focus on the darkness behind my eyes, to help me be fully present and ground myself in the current moment.
Nothing too fancy.
But this is also just a part of how I find my focus. I also carry my meditation into the rest of my day by making it a mindset, and a way of life. I make it the quiet hum behind the scenes, and yes, that took hard work and practice to learn how to do it. But it was and is incredibly worth it.
But How do I do this? What do I do during the day when things inevitably pull at me from a thousand different directions?
How to keep it
Back to breathing, for me, this is a positive trigger. When I feel really stressed, almost overwhelmed, I hit pause then and there and focus on my breathing. It’s so incredibly simple, and yet it has become an extremely effective and powerful technique to help me ground myself on the go, in the moment, and whenever I need it.
Here’s how: make yourself conscious of your breath. What does it feel like to fill up your lungs with a deep, purposeful breath? What does its weight feel like? What does its texture feel like (if the air is cold, it might be a bit sharp, if you’re inside somewhere warm, that warmth might carry over and so on)? Take a nice, deep, full breath, hold it, hold it, hold it, for a count of three and then release in a nice, relaxed, long exhale.
That’s it. That’s how you hit pause and focus on your breathing.
But wait, there’s more!
How to improve it
Once you’ve grounded yourself, there are two habits you can learn that will definitely give you an edge to all of this. Don’t let yourself think too far in either the future or the past. There is no magic pill for this, you just have to practice at it over and over, but teach yourself to see the task in front of you, ask what’s next when it’s done and keep repeating.
What I do to improve my efforts in staying focused is partly found in my regular routines, especially my morning routines.
By keeping a journal, I keep a finger on the pulse of my life’s direction, purpose, struggles, and where I need to improve, as well as recent victories. In other words, this is where I can dump all those cluttering thoughts from my head, to the page, and sort them out so I can see what I really need to hone in on and work on next. This is also part of why I can focus on the tasks in front of me during the day, because I know my big picture stuff is safely stored away in the journal.
But also, back to meditation. I won’t recap why you really should consider giving it a try, but I will say that meditation, for me anyway, is a constant state of practice. The more I practice at it, the better I get at bringing up the focus I find in it throughout my regular day.
Working with your distractions
I don’t believe in pushing away distractions. It creates unnecessary tension, and basically sets you up to fail before you’ve even began. Instead, learn to flow, to balance. Work with your distractions instead.
Instead of always denying yourself, give yourself some time doing whatever distracting things you love. Make it part of the overall day, but be careful with this too. You have to be self-disciplined to not get sucked in. This is why I like getting up so early, and giving myself a chunk of time to do my writing and other work, and then by the end of it, if I slack off a little around 7 AM or 7:30 AM, it’s not a very big deal. I’ve already done my work.
Now it’s your turn. Try focusing on your breath, and grounding yourself in the present. Let your thoughts slide over you when you feel stressed and focus on the task at hand. Don’t add to your overwhelm either, let yourself work with your distractions and not against them. And realize that all of this takes practice, and will always require more and more practice no matter how comfortable you become with it. That’s OK, that’s part of growth.