— Ernest Hemingway
Are you having a difficult time staying focused while you work, read, study, learn a new hobby, or practice an important skill?
Then it might be time to consider examining your habits, your perception, and your environment.
Our attention is being fought for literally every second. We get pulled in so many directions with relative ease. Cell phones, social media, television, to-do lists, work, and personal goals leave us feeling as if we are spinning our wheels.
Our sense of wellbeing takes a hit, productivity nose-dives, stress sky rockets, and our ability to learn efficiently plummets.
So, what can we do to increase our ability to focus?
Follow the recipe to create flow.
Flow is the mental state that must be entered on a daily basis in order to achieve anything of magnitude and meaning in our lives. Especially in the distracted world we live in now.
Being in a state of flow is characterized by a loss of time — completely absorbed in the activity — feeling strong, effortless, and focused. Our senses become heightened, we feel productive, work gets done, and our skill level increases.
Other terms synonymous with this state are: the zone, deep work, and deliberate practice.
In order to tap into this highly productive and satisfying mental state, we need to lay the proper framework for our minds to flourish.
What to Do Next
1. Set the intent
“What is the essential task that must get completed, and what can I realistically expect from doing it?”
Intent is powerful. A good meditation instructor will teach you this when starting to meditate. Understanding your expectations out of each session, and what you must focus on is extremely important. This seems like common sense right?
Well, common sense doesn’t necessarily mean common practice. Quite often we put ourselves through the motions without being fully present and mindful of what we are trying to accomplish, and why we are doing it in the first place.
Here is some advice I found from an unexpected place — one of John Mayer’s live Instagram stories.
He was offering live guitar lessons and mentioned the importance of intent when we play an instrument. He compared it to the fact that we all have a lot of words at our disposal, but without thinking what we want to say first we would just speak nonsense.
Sometimes we know fancy words and try to throw them into our vocabulary, just to sound more intelligent. But that doesn’t matter if we aren’t speaking from the heart. Oftentimes, we don’t need the most technical vocabulary, or instrument skills to make something resonate.
We must be authentic.
What is the most essential task that must get done here? What are you trying to say? If you just did this one thing, it should make you feel good. For now, everything else is just accessories, bonus, and icing on the cake.
2. Build the environment
“How can I make my surroundings conducive to concentration — not distraction?”
Whatever it is that you’re doing, you must do whatever it takes to make sure your attention can’t be pulled away. To sink into a flow state requires time — sometimes it can happen immediately, other times it may take an hour or longer.
One method to shortening the time to get into flow is by creating your own personal flow environment. What makes you feel confident, creative, and focused? How can you build and own that territory?
Think about every detail — from the largest, to the smallest aspect.
Does your area smell nice? Is it a good temperature? Do you have a nice view?
Focus on what might pull your attention away: Television, phone, people, that book you really want to read, or that open to-do list that is just nagging at you to get completed.
How about the smaller things? How are you seated? Are you in comfortable clothing? Do you need candles lit to cover up your smelly room? Do you like writing with that pen?
Once you have begun adjusting your space to suit your needs, don’t forget the most important thing — work! Your space will change and adjust over time, but don’t use your mediocre interior and exterior design skills as an excuse to hide from doing the actual job!
3. Chase excellence
“What can I do to make sure I stay curious, and constantly do my absolute best?”
As you work in your newly created flow space and continue to put in continuous concentrated effort, it’s helpful to remind yourself: mistakes will happen. Remind yourself, “feedback, not failure.” It’s about putting your best effort forward every moment, no matter the obstacle you face. You are not your failure — if you want to even call it that. Everything is just information about the process you applied.
Afterwards, are you really proud of what you’ve done? That’s my definition of perfection.
If you do something that you know you didn’t do your best on, or something was just a bit out of tune, or rhythm, it should bother you. This is practicing at your highest level. This is how to become great.
You can’t just punch the clock. You must be engaged. Stay curious. Participate.
A final note: Embrace boredom
Lean into it and your creativity will blossom. Opposed to just distracting yourself because you’ve labelled boredom as bad, just let it be. Observe it. Sit with it. This allows the unconscious mind to take over temporarily, which can lead to serendipitous ideas and thoughts — yours for the taking.
Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.