9 Useful Techniques For Developing Unbreakable Focus
Writing about attention, William James recommended staring at a dot in the center of the wall. After a while, he stated that the dot would typically blur, or begin to split into two.
However, if instead, you began to start asking yourself questions about the dot – what color it was, what shape it was, whether it had round edges or sharp ones – you would find focusing on it a hell of a lot easier.
This, he said, was what the genius did. He focused on one thing and viewed it from thousands of different angles.
Which, yeah, is a cool idea, except most people struggle to focus on things important to them, let alone a dot on the wall.
If we’re going to get a taste of the genius that James was talking about, first we’re going to have to tackle the art of focusing itself.
Let’s start with a definition.
Focus is tricky to define, but in my experience, it comes down to two elements:
Everyone knows the former, but most people forget the latter. And that’s where they slip up.
Let’s dive into how to master both…
The first enemy to your focus is you. If you continually get in your way, then you will fail to focus before you’ve even tried.
This means two things:
Every single brain is different. Some of us will be able to wake up at 5 am, smash a seaweed juice, and work like we’re high on cocaine for 10 hours straight before passing out and starting again.
Others will wake at midday, turn on their phone, and feel their brain turn into a foggy cloud as they watch celebrity interviews on Ellen.
Needless to say, recommending techniques on focusing to these two guys is not a one size fits all deal.
Which brings us to the most important rule of self-improvement:
Whenever you try to improve yourself, the most important variable to consider is YOU.
In plain English, this means you need to find the ways in which you suck, and what triggers you to suck.
If every time you attempt to write an essay, or go to the gym, or work on the project you’ve longed to complete you start opening Pornhub and losing hours of would-be productive time to a box of tissues and liters of baby-oil – then it’s probably worth asking what triggers that.
Did you sleep badly and it affected your self-control?
Are you happy with your life? Or are you avoiding an emotion?
Does opening the internet while working screw with your ability to regulate yourself?
What is your trigger? Because when you know the answer to that, you can start putting controls in place.
These will almost always be environmental and/or emotional in origin. I.e. you’re surrounded by distractions or you need to get some emotional need met.
If focus is a car, then sleep is the fuel. And if you haven’t got enough fuel, you aren’t going anywhere.
Sleep is insanely important for just about everything in life.
Want to be efficient and work like a psychopath? Sleep the right amount consistently.
Don’t want to die of heart disease prematurely? Sleep the right amount consistently.
Want to have a functioning penis? Sleep the right amount consistently.
Sleep works. Especially when it comes to focus.
When you’ve had enough sleep your ability to not just focus on tasks improves, but also your ability to manage your behavior and say no to all the distracting stuff that pops up.
So next time you want to stay up late, think twice.
Attempting to focus when your brain is in a manic, hyperactive state is just as difficult as when it’s been microwaved into sludge by video games and television.
Before you attempt to focus, you want to bring it back to a calm, neutral point of origin.
In other words: empty that fucker with some zen.
Go full lotus, sit in silence, or stare at nature for 15 minutes. Whatever takes your brain from an unideal state to blissful, lake-like tranquility is going to put you in a position where you’re far, far more likely to be able to master your attention.
Even though they’re home to all of your friends, social media and your phone are not your friends. In fact, they’re one of the most insidious, persistent, and cunning enemies you’ll ever face.
They are ergonomically designed to be addictive and control as much of your attention as possible. They utilize the same mechanisms as slot machines to get you addicted to notifications, and they analyze your patterns of behavior in order to put the exact image or video in front of you that’ll keep you hooked.
In short, having social media or your phone ANYWHERE near you when you’re trying to concentrate is like swimming in the ocean with a 3-ton weight tied to you.
You’re gonna go under. Fast.
Humans suck at focusing. Really. We do.
No, it’s not just you. you’re not special. We all suck at it.
We suck at it so much that some studies have shown that Goldfish have longer attention spans than us. I mean, really… Goldfish?
What the hell happened to us?
There hasn’t been a larger fall from grace since the Tyrannosaurus Rex evolved into the Chicken.
But if we all suck, how can we accommodate that suck?
One of the best methods I know is realistic workday structures. Sure, we’d all like to work for 10 hours straight and get everything we want done, but in reality, our minds are going to wander, and we’re going to lose focus.
So what should we do?
We should let them wander.
Enter: the Pomodoro technique.
The Pomodoro technique (named, of all things, after a tomato) essentially schedules a realistic amount of working time, followed by a scheduled amount of break time. It does this consistently throughout the day to maximize the amount of focus someone can realistically have.
Instead of working 3 hours and breaking for 1 hour. You work for 45 minutes and break for 10. Then repeat, multiple times throughout the day. The times and amounts vary from person to person (I like 25 mins on / 5 mins off) but the principle remains the same.
Every day I write a list of all the stuff I need to get done that day and that week. As I go through the day, I check off all the stuff I’ve got done.
Yeah, I know, revolutionary.
The next day, even though the list has already been written, I re-write it from scratch and start again. This helps me remain aware of what it is I need to do, so nothing slips through the cracks.
So far, pretty standard stuff.
But in the past, when I’ve struggled to focus, I’ve written down a list of things to avoid each day. This can be as simple as:
These helped remind me of the biggest obstacles I was going to face each day. Simple things that continually crept up on me if I wasn’t aware of them.
The days I wrote them down helped me stay on top of them far more than the days I didn’t.
When I’m not traveling, I work on a plain, Ikea desk, that’s in a plain, boring room, that looks out over a fairly plain (albeit nice in the summer) view.
It’s nowhere anyone would want to hang out, and it’s just about as far from interesting as I can imagine.
And that’s the point.
It’s incredibly easy to get bored here.
And because it’s either get bored or work, I usually choose getting the work done.
You want to create a boring environment, and then you want to allow yourself to either do nothing or get done what you need to get done.
Because when it comes down to those two, you’ll almost always do the latter.
Focus isn’t just built when you need it, you’re actually using it, or degrading it when you don’t even realize it.
Here are two classic examples:
Reading long content is far better for your brain than reading short content. Long content explores large ideas across multiple pages, paragraphs, and sentences, and helps to develop your ability to focus and grapple with challenging concepts.
Similarly, you want to watch movies and television less.
Because of the way they change shots every few seconds, this encourages your brain to not focus on anything for a long period. Don’t believe me? Check out any film with long drawn out shots that lasts forever, like Lawrence of Arabia (which every guy should watch at some point in his life). You’ll start getting ‘bored’ a lot faster, even though the content of the movie is about 10,000 times better than anything pushed out by Hollywood today.
In The Power of Concentration by Theron Q. Dumont, there are a few strange but potentially useful exercises that are recommended for developing concentration.
Here are a few of them:
– Sit perfectly still in a chair for 15 minutes
– Fix your gaze on your fingers
– Fix your eyes on a glass
– Focus on opening and closing your fists
– Focus on the smells around you
– Concentrate on the activity of your body – heart, lungs, etc
– Doodle / take notes
If nothing else, this will help clear your mind to START focusing.
Try some of these out and see what works for you, but if nothing else, get some damn sleep. It’ll help a lot.
About John Matich John is a writer from the UK who splits his time between travelling the world and trying to find unconventional solutions to dating and personal development. You can find more from him at www.lifeuncivilized.com.