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Focus and Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a somewhat vague term for many people, invoking ancient Buddhist beliefs. While the practice of mindfulness does go back thousands of years and includes meditative practices, it is much broader. Mindfulness refers to a specific learned state of awareness. The more out-of-focus our mind is, the less we are actually aware of the immediate moment. Mindfulness keeps us in touch with the present.
Practicing mindful means living in the present. Many of us are controlled by past pain and future uncertainties in such a way we never experience the here and now. Our thoughts can naturally shift from today to yesterday to tomorrow. When we stress over bad sales, unpaid bills or failed past relationships, we effectively invite distractions into our minds instead of focusing on solutions to our problems.
Mindfulness allows us to control our meandering thoughts and shift the focus back to today. When we are trying to get something done, a wandering, distracting mind can make it much more difficult. That’s why establishing control over our thoughts rids us of distractions and helps us accomplish our needed tasks. Mindfulness is an inner voice that tells us, “Hey, this is what’s important. Focus on this, not that.” This effectively reduces our stress, which then helps us concentrate even more effectively.
Practicing mindfulness is using building blocks to a better, more effective you. One of the ways we can increase mindfulness is through meditation. Mindful meditation focuses our attention on our breathing as we let go of any intruding thoughts. This simple exercise, when practiced regularly, helps us control the way we concentrate.
Practicing mindful meditation is easy and very pleasant and relaxing. Just find a quiet place and take a comfortable seat. Close your eyes and just focus on your breathing. Put everything else out of your mind. Follow your breath as you inhale and exhale. If thoughts intrude, and they will, simply accept them without judgment and bring your focus back to your breathing.
This exercise is very powerful and effective in handling intrusive thoughts and emotions without being controlled by them. While you should set aside a specific time each day to meditate, perhaps 15 to 30 minutes, a short breathing meditation at your desk can bring you back in focus during stressful days at the office.
Procrastinators frequently have a great deal of difficulty in concentrating. We put off something important, then we become overwhelmed with stress. As we’ve discussed, stress is what makes it difficult to concentrate, because it remains in the background. You’ve put off paying bills or making crucial calls? You know you have to act, but you avoid doing anything.
The problem will not go away. Instead, it will nag at you incessantly. It will be on your mind while you try to concentrate on work, interfering with your thoughts. Procrastination is fueled by fear, and fear is a negative emotion that will keep you out-of-focus.
We procrastinate for many reasons. Usually, we’re afraid of making mistakes or that we won’t live up to expectations. Better to do nothing than to fail. So, again, we invite distractions into our lives. It’s easier to read a few interesting blogs than to focus. At least, it’s something we know and can deal with.
To stop procrastinating, we need to become aware of our avoidance tactics when it happens. This is where being more mindful can help us. When we become aware of trying to avoid a task, we need to stop then and there and deal with what is making us uncomfortable.
Our ability to concentrate will increase tremendously when we take start facing what makes us nervous and deal with it. Think of something you have been avoiding, such as working on a major report that will become due. Pick a short time limit, perhaps 15 minutes, and focus on nothing but the report.
For just 15 minutes, nothing exits for you but that report. You won’t finish it, but you will get started. Do this again the following day. Fifteen minutes is a time limit with which you can deal. When it becomes more comfortable, increase the time span.
Tackling something we need to do in small increments makes it easier to keep our concentration sharp. It becomes less threatening to work on something for 15 minutes than for an entire afternoon. Just knowing you’re doing something will alleviate much of the anxiety. And you’ll be sharpening your focus every time you do this.
Learning how to concentrate is a learned skill, and every time you make the effort, you will become better at it. Soon, handling unpleasant tasks in such a manner will become a habit.
To stop procrastinating and rid yourself of the fears that keep you from being able to concentrate fully, try the following:
- Become aware of what you do when you procrastinate. Do you call friends? Spend time on Facebook? Play computer games? Knowing what your triggers are will enable you to stop.
- As we have discussed, break down a large task into smaller tasks. Concentrating on one thing for a short period of time will make it easier to focus for longer period.
- Create small deadlines for yourself. If spending the day cleaning the house seems intimidating, set aside half an hour where you concentrate on only one area and nothing else.
- Stop waiting for the perfect time to start. The time will never be perfect, so get started now.
- Many times, we delay starting a task because we’ve afraid our ability isn’t good enough. The need for perfection is invariably paralyzing, and we end up delaying a task for fear of failure. While we should always do our best, the need for perfection can have the opposite effect. It’s impossible to concentrate when all we can feel is fear. And fear makes concentrating almost impossible. Make a conscious decision to do the best you can. It will stop the mental paralysis and clear the way to better focus.
You Can’t Concentrate If You Don’t Feel Good
By now, you realize that concentration takes a lot of mental energy. When we don’t feel our best, our energy level becomes low. We find it difficult to muster the ability for razor-sharp concentration. For optimal health, both physical and mental, you will find the following habits very helpful.
- You may not see the connection between the food you eat and your ability to concentrate, but your brain needs proper nutrition in order to function. A diet of fast foods, sugar, unhealthy fats and preservatives will affect not only your body, but your mind. Seek out plenty of fresh produce, lean proteins, fish high in omega 3 fatty acids, nuts and berries. These foods will give you the necessary energy and nutrition to make concentrating easier and natural.
- You won’t be able to concentrate when you are sleep-deprived and tired. Eight hours of sleep isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity to keep your mind functioning.
- When our energies are scattered, exercise is usually the first thing we give up. Regular exercise will increase your ability to maintain necessary concentration when you need it. This doesn’t mean you need to spend two hours at the gym every day. Take a walk at lunchtime, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park your car a few blocks away from where you are going. Just keep moving, and your brain will thank you.
- Before going to bed, create a to-do list for the next day. This list should be specific and list everything you need to accomplish. This clarifies what tasks need to be done, and makes it easier to concentrate on one task at a time.
- Take a break. We’ve been discussing how to heighten your concentration level and getting more accomplished. However, downtime is necessary for your body and brain to reboot. Even if you are busy, a ten or fifteen-minute break will clear your mind and enable you to focus better when you resume the task.
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