Bright, proactive and always smiling, Athina Tsellou is one of those people who radiate positive energy wherever they go. A former member of AAS PTO, Athena is a certified life coach. She feels most alive when empowering others and helping them reach their full potential.
What is focus, really?
Experts define focus as the act of concentrating your interest or activity on something. That’s a somewhat boring definition, but there is an important insight hiding inside that definition. In order to concentrate on one thing you must, by default, ignore many other things.
Here’s a better way to put it: Focus can only occur when we have said yes to one option and no to all other options. In other words, elimination is a prerequisite for focus. As Tim Ferriss says, “What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Now for the important question: What can we do to focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don’t? In order to achieve that, we need to manage our attention with intention. Managing our attention is in many ways like choosing what to watch on Netflix. From all the offered viewings, we are called to direct our attention to the one we will choose and then sustain our attention to it.
Why is focusing so difficult?
Because our brains were not designed to focus on one thing. On the contrary they are more prompt to be drawn by anything that is novel (e.g.our smartphones), pleasurable (e.g. junk food) or threatening (e.g.our negative thoughts).
Our tool for focusing is our attentional space.
Our “attentional space” is where we store the information that allows us to focus on and process things BUT it has strict limits. Our brain can only cope with a few habitual tasks; one complex task and one habitual task; or one very complex task – at a time. If we overload our brain’s attentional space, our attention switches to automobile mode; we jump from one task to another; we keep thinking about a previous task as you take on a new one, and our memory weakens.
A perfect proven way to increase the size of our attentional space is meditation, which is a pretty similar practice with focusing as it involves continually returning your focus to a single object of attention- usually your breath- as soon as you notice your mind has wandered from it. Additionally, the act of mindfulness is useful as it helps us become conscious of what is filling our mind at any given moment.
How do we enter a laser focused mode?
It’s important to start by setting an intention for what we plan to focus on. Then we need to eliminate internal and external distractions. (A few tips are following on that).
Also, we should prearrange the time we will be focused, without exaggerating. It is better to start small and increase the time gradually. And last but not least, draw back your attention when distracted. As a flower needs a fertile ground to grow, likewise we always need to be mindful (at least for 80% of our time) about balancing a good night’s sleep, a healthy diet and exercise in order to enhance focus.
Practical tips on focusing and taming distractions:
- Put your phone on “do not disturb” or “airplane “mode
- Use noise-cancelling headphones
- Treat yourself with a buffet of distractions after completion for a certain time
- Disable notifications
- Delete apps that you do not use
- Never attend a meeting without an agenda
- Try to deliberately disconnect from the internet for some hours
- Organise your environment with the less possible distractions
- Playing music in the background (or 40 HZ sound) promotes focus
- Write down your thoughts in order to declutter your attentional space
- Since “well begun is half done” manage the initial resistance.
Your attention is the most powerful tool at your disposal to live and work with greater productivity, creativity and purpose.
My hope in sharing all this information around concentration and focus is that you will be able to pick and choose which of these protocols you’d like to incorporate into your life. Again I do recommend to start small and choose even one or two of the suggested tools and find what is best for you. The goal is to personalise a practice that will not only help you increase your focus but also RE-focus when you get distracted and it’s also critical to be able to DE-focus, as well. It’s highly important to take time to day-dream, get bored, even stare at the ceiling because this is a perfect way to recharge your focus and give the valuable space to your mind to connect the dots of all the information you store in a creative way.
Whatever strategy you choose, always be kind with yourself and move forward even one step consistently.