Getting a bead on focus

This has been an interesting post to write, since I’ve been constantly distracted from writing it.

I’m noticing the emails coming in, the hunger pangs in my stomach and of course the myriad tasks.

I have a major ‘to do list’ to get ready for Kidscreen in a couple of weeks. So it’s fitting that I’m writing about focus because it’s a good reminder of how crucial being focused is.

I’m reading (which I only do now on public transport) Daniel Goleman’s new book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

Goleman suggests all forms of attention arise from the interplay between two very different parts of the brain.

The older, lower one constantly monitors the signals coming in from the senses. It alerts us to shifts in our surroundings, pains in our body, memories of worrying events.

Such ‘bottom-up’ attention, as neuroscientists call it, is impulsive, uncontrolled and often commanded by fear and other raw emotions that require a great deal of our attention.

The brain’s more recently evolved outer layer, the neocortex, is working overtime to control all those primitive impulses.

This ‘top-down,’ attention is what enables us to filter out distractions and focus our mind on a single task or train of thought.

Without it, we’d have the attention span of a chipmunk.

So our brain function engages in a daily dance. Add in all the technologies we use and it becomes a wild party.

How often have you been in the middle of a conversation, a dinner or a meeting and been distracted by the messages on your phone?

Some are important, some are trivial but all demand attention. The resulting ‘neural buzz’ can easily overwhelm our ability to control our focus.

Here are some tips to keep that buzz at bay.

Have a steady, consistent routine

Hang a sign outside your door or cubicle saying you don’t want to be disturbed for a certain length of time.

Concentration is like a muscle: the more you use it the stronger it is.

Allocate a time to check your tablet or phone

Control it rather than it controlling you. Use checking your messages as a reward.

Practice breathing in a focused way

I’m always amazed at how I can catch myself zoning out during my meditation. I have to constantly bring my thoughts – which are numerous and totally random – back to focus on my breath.

Again, the more you bring your mind back from its wandering thoughts, the stronger the brain’s circuitry becomes, keeping you on track. Give it a try. It’s challenging to only concentrate on the in and out of your breath.

If you’re lacking focus and need clarity, I can help you gain that concentration and keep you on track for success.

Leave a comment