The alarm goes off in the morning. You hit the snooze button to catch a few extra minutes of sleep. Then all of a sudden you come awake to dawn breaking in. Your heart skips several beats because you are late. In a rush, you get both yourself and your kids ready, grab something to eat, drop your kids to school, get to work, knock boat load of items off the work list, come back home, have dinner with family, watch TV or read for sometime before you have to sleep to be the ready for the same routine the next day. The entire day seems like a haze, but you are happy to have checked off items on your list. And so the days roll on in a similar fashion.
These days the quality of our life is decided by the number of things that is checked off the list. From the time we start school till retirement, we are chasing activities that fill the day. The digital influence, constant sound bites, meals on the go, innumerable things we need to do for our upkeep etc exacerbate the situation. Our ability to focus on one thing and seeing it through to the finish line seems to get harder and harder. No wonder we are stressed!
If we look at nature, we notice that everything is in a certain state of relaxation. For example – there is no rush for saplings to grow into trees, for the flowers to bloom, etc. The nature is very vast, with innumerable living things, yet there a natural and relaxed course to everything. But if we look at our mind, it is a racing mess. There is constant clutter of thoughts robbing us off the ability to focus and concentrate. Doing even small tasks can be a challenge due to our inability to focus.
Why is concentration and focus so important? Without having this ability, it is hard for us to learn new things, achieve our goals, and perform well in different types of situations. Whether we are learning music, painting, finishing an important work assignment, our ability to concentrate and focus makes the difference between success and failure.
There are various ways to bring concentration and focus to the task at hand.
1) Drop your like and dislikes for any task. The more you resist and dislike what you are doing, the less you are able to focus. Let’s face it. There are some tasks that we “have” to do and there is no option but to do it. The best way to approach this is by bringing complete involvement and engagement with everything that is going on at that point in time. It is known as – living life and loving it. Bring that love of life into even the mundane things and your ability to focus and concentrate naturally improves.
2) If the work location is loud and distracting, try to find a quite place where there is less movement and noise. Being in quiet places improves concentration. See if you can set aside specific times in the day to complete the task. During this time turn off your digital media and request others to not disturb you.
3) Multitasking is not as good as it sounds. Juggling multiple tasks divides the mental attention and drastically reduces the ability to focus on one task and seeing it through to completion. Also, it becomes hard to hone in on details that are truly important. When the ability to focus is limited it is important to budget the mental resources wisely.
4) Being in the present is the key to concentration. By ruminating over the past or worrying about the future, you tune out what is happening in the present. The mind is notorious for taking us on fruitless journeys of past and future. Practicing Mindfulness makes us aware of our fleeting thoughts and helps bring attention to the present moment. When you feel the mind wander, gently bring your focus back to the breath. Doing this regularly helps you be more and more present.
5) The mind can concentrate and focus only for certain periods of time. The amount of time differs from person to person. Taking breaks when you find it hard to focus helps refresh the mind. Researchers have found that even taking very brief breaks by shifting your attention elsewhere can dramatically improve mental focus.
Below is a short exercise to improve concentration.
At the end of your day, or whenever you have sometime alone and not likely to be distracted, find a quiet place. Sit on the chair or cross legged on the floor – if you are able to sit for 10 – 15 minutes comfortably. Switch off your cell phone. Fix a spot in front of you (wall or a point in a picture) that is in straight line with your vision. Starting taking deep breaths and continue to fix your gaze on the spot without shifting. Don’t pay any attention to your thoughts. Whatever thoughts are happening in the mind, just let them come and go. Keep your focus and concentration on that spot in front of you. Continue to inhale and exhale deeply. Keep your attention on your breath and on the spot in front of you for 10 – 15 minutes. Doing this regularly can improve your ability to concentration.
Watch this video and follow along for more exercise on focus and concentration.
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