A new year brings with it new projects and distractions — technological, personal, and professional. As a result, many people have difficulty focusing during their daily lives or on the tasks at hand. The last time I wrote about finding focus related to writing a memoir, and in that context, the idea is to identify a thread that runs through the story of your life.
Finding focus in your work is no different; in fact, it entails similar steps. Whether you’re an author, artist, health-care worker, therapist, scientist, engineer, lawyer, or entrepreneur, focusing is an important skill to have, and it involves thinking about one thing at a time. We all have our own ways of slowing down and getting enough peace of mind to focus. Here are five tips I’ve found useful over the years:
1) Clearing your space. In his book Focusing, author Eugene Gendlin suggests clearing the room where you work. This can be done from both a physical and psychological standpoint. Physically, it’s helpful to clear your desk of anything that doesn’t apply to what you’re working on, as doing so gives you space to think. Psychologically, you might want to distance yourself from any problems that may be impeding your ability to focus. That is, stand back from your problems as if you’re a bystander. Gendlin suggests getting in touch with your “felt” sense, discerning where in your body you might lose your focus, and trying to distance yourself from it. Listen to the messages your body is giving you, and write about them.
2) Meditating: There are many ways to meditate, including Transcendental Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, LovingKindness, HoloSync, Guided Visualization, Zazen, and Qi Gong. The easiest way to begin meditating is to sit quietly and follow your breath. For those who have difficulty sitting still, I recommend a walking meditation.
In conjunction with my own ideas about this practice, I’d like to give you some tips. First, begin the day with a meditation before the busyness sets in. After identifying the best time of day for you, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. It’s best to sit on a cushion on the floor, but a chair with a back will also work. If you’re sitting on the floor, cross your legs, one above the other. Close your eyes, and then check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling emotionally and physically. Some practitioners suggest making an intention for each meditation, such as cultivating peace, happiness, and health. Remember, the more regularly you meditate, the easier the practice will become.
Practicing mindfulness and remaining in the moment. It’s perfectly normal for your mind to wander, but when practicing the art of staying focused, try to bring your attention back to your breath. Let your thoughts come to you, and with each breath, let them float away like a cloud. If you still have difficulty focusing, try counting your breaths. For example, inhale, then say the number “one”; then exhale, and say the number “two.” Do this all the way up to ten, and then start over again.
3) Burning a candle. Place a candle on a table near you, preferably about two feet away from where you’re seated. Without blinking, stare at the flame for about one minute. Then close your eyes and imagine the flame in the area of your third eye (the space between your eyebrows). Stay with that visualization for a few moments.
4) Journaling. Recently I was interviewed by Fast Money magazine (February 10, 2017), for an article they were writing on focusing. One tip I contributed was: “Write down what is distracting you.” Sometimes when we have difficulty focusing, it’s because we have something called “monkey mind,” where unwanted thoughts and images creep into the forefront of our consciousness. So, try to make a list of the things that pop into your mind so you can release them and focus on the task at hand.
5) Shutting off your technology. While mobile phones, tablets, and computers have made our lives a lot easier, they are mixed blessings, as they distract us from what we’re doing. Try shutting everything down, especially if you have a deadline for a particular task.
These practices will all contribute to better focus, and help make 2017 a year that is both peaceful and productive. Your challenge is to figure out which methods work for you and your lifestyle, both personally and professionally.
Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com.