Last year brought the news to the world that human beings have a shorter attention span than goldfish (the average human attention span is 8 seconds, whilst a goldfish can, proudly, stay focused for 9).
Everyone finds it challenging to focus these days. Toxic distractions and cognitive overload are the norm, and we all struggle with concentration.
But there is a simpler way to take charge of your lack of focus.
A few subtle changes in the way you think (and a little help from neuroscience) are enough to get a wandering mind to stay in “the zone” and focus better.
The path from ‘distracted’ to ‘performant’ requires you to simply organise your thoughts. Ready to structure the madness? Let’s see how you can declutter your mind and get focused.
Emergency: To focus better, observe your thoughts
The ability to observe your thoughts is fundamental to mindfulness. Known as “meta-awareness” in psychology, it’s the foundation of Emotional Intelligence and a great place to start when identifying what’s making a mess of your thoughts.
You certainly don’t want useless thoughts to invade your brain when you need some free space to focus. What’s keeping your mind busy but isn’t serving you right now? Are you calm or overwhelmed? Are you obsessed by something you need to do or a decision you need to make?
Taking the lead = taking action. Do you need the clarity to see an alternative path and the confidence to make your first step? Get my e-book (it’s FREE) to discover how!
Reframe: put some distance between you…and you
Usually, once you identify some of your “useless” thoughts, you want to stop them. It makes sense; extra mind-space will help you focus!
But sadly, you can’t. And the more you try to block them, the more they come back. So if you can’t control your thoughts, what should you do?
Neuroscience tells us how to hack our brains: stop and switch the scenery. This will help your brain focus on something else and reframe your thinking.
Take a few deep breaths. Change rooms. Go for a mini-walk if you can. Some of the greatest thinkers were avid walkers, using walks to clear their minds and create space for their ideas.
Take action: do you need these thoughts to focus better?
Have you ever been obsessed by something? You know, that Facebook notification you desperately want to check when you should be completing a piece of work?
A busy mind is made of similar thoughts about a single problem or idea. A helpful way to address it in the long term comes from one of my favourite yoga teachers.
Explore what the real need is.
Do you want to check Facebook because you’re afraid of missing out on your social life? Do you keep thinking about that call you need to make because you’re afraid of being rejected?
And, most importantly, is it really your priority NOW?
Why don’t you write down whatever is keeping your mind busy on your to do list and set a time to deal with it? Then, move back to what you were doing safely.
Practice: Train your brain to focus on one thing only.
If you make a habit of doing several things at a time, it becomes your default pattern. And so does your lack of productivity.
If you want to focus better, you need to train your brain to focus on one thing at a time (there are zillions of studies on the web proving it’s THE way to achieve more).
Practice every day. Can you eat without checking your smartphone? Can you be fully present when someone is talking to you? While working on something, can you spot the distractions as they come?
Focus is like sitting in the eye of the storm. Can you slow down a little?
Cultivate healthy basics
It’s no news that healthy living is good for you. And it’s good for your brain, too! If you want to focus better, you need to be in full command of your faculties.
Exercise: according to Dr. John Ratey, “exercise improves your brain in the short term by raising your focus for two to three hours afterwards”.
Sleep: connections between brain cells are strengthened, information is transferred from short to long-term and memories are reactivated.
Water: drinking plenty of water gives the brain the electrical energy it needs to work.
Food: blueberries, avocado, fish (for non-vegan) and dark chocolate have known benefits for the brain.
Go deeper: focus your mind
Now, you might want to take it one step further and consider mindfulness. Believe it or not, there are ways to keep your mind clear from distractions. One is meditation.
I had the immense pleasure of meeting Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, just last week. Often referred to as “the happiest man in the world”, he has, for a long time, explained the importance of meditation to clear your mind. You can check out this recent interview with Business Insider.
Another way to go deeper is to use ‘brain training’ apps. These are usually mini-games to help you improve focus, problem solving, or memory. Check out Neurotracker or a few others such as Peak or Elevate in this article here.
Going around with a ‘monkey mind’ happens to us all! When everything is important AND urgent, and distractions are round every corner, it’s important to slow down a little and give yourself a chance to focus better.
Give each thought the importance it deserves and act accordingly. Add a healthy lifestyle, a few mind hacks to uncover your creative genius and the discipline to train your brain, and you can move swiftly from distracted and inefficient to focused and performant!
What is your secret trick to focus better? Share your story below!