How did life get so rip-roaring crazy?
Okay, so we know how that happens. But seems these days the whole world is in chaos. Couple that with your normal hectic life, and, well, sometimes it seem like the tail just gets chased.
When that happens, how to stay focused just seems like a laughable question.
So what’s a conscious person to do? What’s the secret of how to focus better in this frenzied world?
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz conduct intensive training with professional athletes to help them perform at peak levels under intense competitive pressures. But they’ve found that just regular folks face the same issues. In their book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, they stress that energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.
In other words, whatever challenges you the most, do it when you’re at peak performance.
We talk about this a lot, no? But we have so many studies to back up how mediation calms the brain, helps us to make better decisions, and to focus more acutely on the task at hand.
People who regularly practice meditation actually improve their mental focus by altering brain function. Compared to non-meditators, they show to be better equipped to quiet brain activity related to mind-wandering, a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests.
Just 15 minutes a day. Who doesn’t have that?
A study published in the journal Cognition found that brief mental breaks helped participants stay focused on tasks longer.
So, setting a reminder to take a break every 50 minutes can help you return to your task with improved attention.
Yep, you guessed it—this is about multi-tasking. And we all know the pitfalls of that. The trick comes in keeping focused on the task at hand, rather than 50 other things, including the results of what you’re doing.
This requires discipline, but pays off in spades.
Simon Hartley, a sports psychologist who works with gold medalists and world record holders, helps both athletes and business people get to the top of their mental games.
He found that the most successful athletes in the world focused on doing their personal best—with each increment of their performances—rather than on the outcomes of those performances.
Breathe. Give your all to what you’re doing now.
Reading, especially reading fiction, proves to be a great exercise for sharpening focus—which then carries over through the rest of your day. When you read, all of your attention is focused on the story. You’re in it—in a different world, meeting new people, absorbing every detail as the book moves along.
The rest of the planet disappears.
And in our fast-paced global world, that’s saying something.
Not only does reading make you more empathetic, but it also reduces stress levels. Which causes you to focus more easily.
A study by the University of Sussex found that reading for just six minutes can reduce stress levels by up to 68%.
We can all read for a brief time every day, no? And some starving author will thank you.
Isn’t it often when you look at the state of things, you want to change them? To do something?
My ex-husband used to say, “It’s time to do something, even if it’s wrong.” And while sometimes, yep, a decision needs to be made, an action taken, on the other hand being able to live with uncertainty gives you the time and space to make a wise decision, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.
The thing is, neither your plans nor your home nor the world itself will ever be perfect. New information will be revealed, new people will come into the story, things will move forward and then, well, here they go backward again. If you can accept this as a given, you’re far less likely to get caught in the chaos of it.
What does that come down to? Basically, suppressing your urge to control things.
Jamie Holmes, a Future Tense Fellow at New America and a former Research Coordinator at Harvard University in the Department of Economics, says in Nonsense, The Power of Not knowing, our need for closure has dangers. It makes us stick to our first answer, which is not always the best. When we latch onto fast and easy truths, we lose a vital opportunity to learn something new, solve a hard problem, or see the world from another perspective.
He says that in an increasingly complex, unpredictable world, what matters most isn’t IQ, willpower, or conﬁdence in what we know. It’s how we deal with what we don’t understand.
Sit down, breathe, and get clear on exactly why you’re doing this task. It’s getting you closer to your dream, no? Whether that be the brass ring in your career or making the world a better place. Or anything in between.
When you refocus on why this task matters, you become energized again in your commitment to the goal.
And now, sharp, clear, focused—you’re ready to take on the world.
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.