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Leveraging the power of Focus
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Sep 17 2010, 4:38 am - By Desire


How to Leverage the Power of Focus

by Marelisa · View Comments

Hi, I'm Marelisa. In this blog you'll find tips and resources to help you increase your creativity, be more productive, and get the most out of life. You may want to start by reading "A Guide to Abundance Blog for the Uninitiated". Please consider joining 3,000 readers by subscribing by RSS or email.

focus, concentration

“Concentration is the factor that causes the great discrepancy between men and the results they achieve… the difference in their power of calling together all the rays of their ability and concentrating on one point.” — Orison Swett Marden

Productivity hacks such as using two computer monitors, finding the perfect productivity software, and having an amazing filing system are just the icing on the cake. True productivity comes from being passionate about what you do and leveraging the power of focus. This article will show you seven ways to leverage the power of focus (we'll deal with passion at a later time).

You Need to Be in the Proper State of Mind

I stopped by Tom Volkar's blog “Delightful Work” today, and he had written a post in which he highlighted Seth Godin's article “In the Mood”. Seth explains that the reason why people don't get going on projects is not because of a lack of information on what to do–there are “how to” articles, tutorials, videos, and ebooks for just about any subject under the sun on the internet–it's because they can't motivate themselves to take action. That is, they can't get themselves “in the mood”.

As I wrote in my post “Four Ways to Achieve a Productive State of Mind”, a lack of focus caused by intrusive thoughts, negative feelings, complaints from your inner critic, and so on, can get in the way of your productivity and your ability to concentrate completely on what you're working on at the moment. To quote the Bhagavad Gita: “For he who has no tranquility there is no concentration.” If you need help achieving a productive state of mind,visit the post I mention in this paragraph and try any of the four methods that are explained there.

Clear Away All Distractions

Issac Asimov is quoted as saying that when he was working he was in such a deep state of concentration, that if there were an orgy taking place in his office he wouldn't look up, except perhaps once.  It's best to remove all temptation–or distractions–when you're trying to focus. Turn off the cell phone and your email application, clear your surroundings of clutter, and get to work.

Do One Thing at a Time

Remember that if you try to chase two rabbits, both will escape. A recent study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment by 10 points. In addition, every time you shift your focus from an activity to something else, it takes a few minutes to be able to fully refocus your attention on what you were doing. A key element in being able to fully focus is that you only do one thing at a time.

Tell Your Mind What to Focus On

There's a “Test Your Awareness” YouTube video that's been widely watched that shows eight basketball players, four wearing black shirts and four wearing white shirts. You're asked the following question: “How many passes does the team in white make?” That is, you're told to focus on the players in white and how many times they pass the basketball to each other.

While you're watching the players moving around and passing the basketball back and forth, a person in a bear suit moonwalks across the middle of the action. Most people completely miss the bear because they're focused on the basketball players dressed in white.

There are several other “awareness tests” of this type. Sometimes you're asked to read a paragraph and count how many times you see the letter “T”. When you're done, they ask you how many “R's” there were. Of course, you don't have the slightest idea because you were focused on counting the letter “T”, as you were told to do.

These “awareness tests” demonstrate the mind's ability to concentrate when you tell it exactly what you want it to focus on, and how good the mind is at ignoring everything else, including distractions (such as moon walking bears). Again, the mind is good at concentrating when you give it a clear mandate of what it should concentrate on.

In my post “Making Time to Create”, I recommend that when you sit down to create you  make sure that you have a clear sense of what you aim to accomplish during that particular creativity session. For example, your stated goal could be the following:

  • Spend forty minutes researching an article on the relationship between humor and creativity;
  • Spend fifteen minutes creating an outline; and
  • Spend the remainder of the time coming up with an eye-catching title for the article.

In other words, tell your mind exactly what you want it to do–or what you want it to focus on–during each chunk of time.

If You're Having Trouble Focusing, Make the Task Smaller

The state of “flow”–where you lose your sense of self, lose track of time, and are completely focused on the present moment and on the task at hand–can happen in any domain of activity. The main requirement to achieve the flow state is that your skills so perfectly match the demands of the activity, that all of your attention is focused on the activity and self-consciousness disappears.

However, if your skills are not up to the challenge, or the task you've set for yourself is too complex, instead of experiencing the flow state you experience anxiety. Therefore, if you find that you can't get yourself to concentrate fully on the task you're trying to accomplish, ask yourself if perhaps by chunking it down further you can make it more manageable. For more information on the flow state read my article: “How to Enter the Flow State”.

Create Triggers To Access Your Peak Performance State

When I took the Silva Method course about 15 years ago they taught us the “three finger technique”, which is a trigger mechanism that allows you to apply the benefits of thinking at the alpha level–the level of mind associated with meditation–while studying, listening to a lecture, or in any other situation that requires intense focus.

Basically, you tell yourself that any time you bring together the thumb and the first two fingers of either hand, or both, you will function at the alpha state. That way, it acts as a trigger so that your mind knows that every time you apply the three finger technique you're setting the intent to focus.

A trigger can be anything: some people make themselves a cup of tea as a trigger or play a certain type of music in the background. Even a smell can be trigger, such as spraying the room with a lavender scent or using an essential oil diffuser.

For Important Projects, Give Yourself Large Chunks of Time

Neal Stephenson once explained that the productivity equation is nonlinear; creative projects such as writing a novel require large unbroken slabs of time. Two separate slabs lasting two hours each would not produce the same results as four unbroken quiet hours. He goes on to say that several days with four-hour time-slabs in them could produce a decent book chapter, but the same number of hours broken up over several weeks would produce very little. Stephenson adds the following (Source):

“This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly. What replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time, and that will, with luck, be read by many people, there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons, and a few speeches given at various conferences.”

Conclusion

Lots of people have equated genius with the power of intense concentration. By applying the seven suggestions above–being in the proper state of mind, clearing away all distractions, doing one thing at a time, giving your mind specific instructions of what to focus on, breaking tasks down to a size that is manageable, creating triggers, and allowing yourself to work for large chunks of time when it's a big project–you'll be well on your way toward leveraging the power of focus.

Creative Commons License photo credit: tj scenes

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