How do you focus?
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.
Priming: I’ve tried to train my self to focus on studying by using a specific fidget toy only for studying. I would set everything up, then fidget, then study. This technique has been ok, but I don’t feel like use it anymore. I only started it for a bit because I was hyped. It worked for a while but I’ve stopped. I may try it again though.
Precision: I’ve used it like you. It has been extremely helpful, but just requires maintenance that I forget to do sometimes.
Process and Practice: This has not worked perfectly well for me, but sometimes it helps me knock a bunch of to do items off. And it helps me make sure I get my workouts in.
Mindset: For workouts, every time I finish one, I feel good I am one step closer to my goals. I usually write down that I finished a workout and what I did. Since I do that, I acknowledge my accomplisment.
I am a professional and spent 9 years working in an environment where I was not allowed to have a mobile phone and my access to informnation technology was limited. I have found since then my focus has improved greatly. What has also helped is exercising. I am a bit of a couch potatoe and if I structure my day so it includes bouts of exercise and I regularly get up from my computer and move around I can get alot of work done.
Micktaa, sorry for the very long delay in response… I was juggling two full time positions up until the new year and this got buried in a avalanche of other things.
Since I posted this discussion, I’ve parted with some of my previous techniques and refined the rest. Having two many strategies is a distraction in itself. For priming, 1 round of Wim Hof and cold exposure (often just a quick session in my outdoor shower) provides a total reset & recharge! I also do 3 rounds during sunrise, sitting in the bay (today was 55 degrees) two blocks away, after a quick run & high intensity outdoor workout – this short, 20 minute routine has done wonders for my discipline, stress management, and health! I also feel this practice helps me suppress my appetite long into the day. I do recommend, if you are looking for the most bang for your buck!
With something like a fidget toy, if you dont enjoy the process then it may help to physically place it on the book or computer you plan to study at some time in advance. Preferably, during your morning or evening routine, so it can easily be added to an existing chain of habits. I also write new habits on flash cards in colored pencils and place them in my work area, so I regularly review them. I also write a list of my morning routine any time I change it and review it at morning and night, to help commit to my subconscious.
Awesome, have you found writing to be a more cathardic then mentally acknowledging your accomplishment? I have found both writing and audible self-talking (but less so) to be halfway decent ways to incite emotional states. This became clear when I was writing about my earliest memory, which was a dog attack, and had a traumatic response… prior to that I had always told the story jokingly, not realizing it had really effected me. So I try to write gratitudes in the morning, especially if I’m not feeling optimal, although I often times just jump right into work once I finish my workout and coffee.
Thanks, Joe! Yes, simply limiting phone & internet access is one of the most significant changes you can make to multiple focus and effectiveness. While I often take at least 1 day to respond to texts, I did find myself mindlessly watching media over the past two months – typically late in the day. It considerably effected my daily output so I recently deleted Youtube from my phone and removed Chrome from my mobile home screen. I still have a little work to do here.
What type of exercise have you found most enjoyable? Furthermore, what hobbies would you be stoked to pursue. I say do those things and you wont have any problem staying off that couch
And yes, the power of simply getting up from your workspace for a few minutes and clearing your mind! I avoided this for a long time until I realized that I accomplish more in less time and feel a whole lot better in the process