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Zach Dobosh

Associate Editor of Aphantasia Network

Exploring aphantasic-friendly strategies for improving focus and attention
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Do you experience an internal monologue? A conversation happening within your head? Are you reading this question “aloud”, within your mind?

If you do, what is it like? Does your mind’s voice have dynamic volume, tone, and pitch? Can you go from a whisper to a shout? Does it sound like your actual voice? When you sing Frozen’s “Let it Go”, can you impersonate Elsa’s voice and range?

I heavily think in language, the inner discourse is constant. However, I don’t “hear” it. It is silent and without variability? Can you relate, or do you possibly think without the use of a mind’s voice altogether?

Whatever your experience, I’d love to “hear” it 😉

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How do you focus? 

Focus is a force multiplier. The better we learn to harness it, the more value we create and earn just about anywhere we aim it – Our jobs, hobbies, relationships, decisions, hardships and cultivation of wisdom, gained by reflecting on past choices, events, even failures. Which is why it is important we treat focus as a skill. Something we exercise, improving our precision and endurance. A skill we train, incorporating techniques that help trigger, sustain, and protect states of formidable focus.

As I laid out in Deliberate Focus: The Indispensable Skill In This Age Of Distraction, I see the formula of focus to be rather straightforward:

Concentration  x  Consistency  =  Deliberate Focus
(Alertness / Scope of Attention)  x  (Discipline x Motivation)  =  Deliberate Focus

Each of these ingredients can be addressed by a different category of strategies, and once we familiarize ourselves we may quickly begin mastering this skill.

Alertness < Priming: Trigger prompt changes in your mental state. Example: 20-30 forceful breaths reliably trigger adrenaline; Lateral eye movements release dopamine and suppress the amygdala, quieting our fear response; The song “Show Yourself” from Frozen 2 gets me weirdly hyped and emotional haha

Scope of Attention < Precision: Restrict attention to relevant thoughts, perceptions, and actions. Example: Forcing a focused gaze (tunnel vision) for a few minutes will trigger a heightened state of mental focus; Clearing your environment of unnecessary items, tabs, and turning off notifications minimizes distractions; Listening to binaural beats, ambient tunes, or the same playlist to mimic sensory deprivation; And the best decision I ever made was blocking Facebook from my phone and primary internet browser 😉

Discipline < Process & Practice: Improve form and endurance to sustain concentration through distraction & discomfort. Example: Using a Pomodoro Timer to practice increasing periods of deliberate focus; Visual-attention training by staring at a cross hatch across the room for extended durations of time; Following a routine and scheduling/time-blocking focus periods to make focus a habit; Routinely doing cardio, breathwork and/or meditation to improve blood flow (brain fuel) and autonomic control (ability to remain conscious through stress and discomfort).

Motivation < Mindset: Endogenously reward yourself to trigger dopamine. Example: Establishing empowering values and beliefs that reinforce effortful focus (“I do and think that which moves me towards my goals”); Acknowledge your effort routinely, and accomplishments sparingly, as you work to build confidence, momentum, and endurance; Remind yourself that discomfort is a physiological signal that you are growing/learning/adapting – These all are ways to train a growth mindset.

Focus Strategy Buckets: Priming; Precision; Process; Practice; & Mindset

What type of strategies do you regularly use? What practices have you found effective for commanding concentration? How do you focus?

There lies strength in numbers, by coming together we may collectively thrive. Using the insights shared in this discussion, we here at The Aphantasia Network will be designing the first public Self-Optimization Experiment, organizing participants into groups testing different attention strategies. By measuring and collecting both qualitative & quantitative data, we hope to help validate promising tactics towards self-actualization for aphantasics across the globe.

Link to Deliberate Focus: The Indispensable Skill In This Age Of Distraction here.