A Guide to Effortless Focus
Lack of focus is a major struggle for a lot of people. Feeling unfocused can be quite discouraging and frustrating.
When we feel scattered, we get nothing done. So we look for new tricks to help us focus. I often say to myself: I need to learn how to focus.
There are numerous resources out there to teach you how to reduce distractions and focus on what’s important. Such resources give you tools to help you focus more. But they don’t teach you how to focus.
No one can teach you how to focus. Why?
Because you’re already an expert in focusing. It’s like breathing to all of us.
We are born focused.
Think of how a newborn stares at you, unmoved by anything else.
So what’s the problem? Why can’t we focus and get results?
The answer to this question is twofold:
Either we focus on the wrong thing—what’s not important avoiding what we really want (ineffective focus). Or
We jump from one thing to the next every few minutes—when we’re bored and can’t find something interesting to hold our attention for longer periods.
We don’t lack the skill of focus. We just choose to use it inefficiently.
When do we use our focus efficiently and effectively?
We not only focus, but we obsess—without much effort—in some situations, not others. So what makes the difference?
Let’s look at a couple of familiar examples.
Think of when you first fall in love—the prospect of a new relationship, the excitement, the thrill of being with the person that holds your affection. You’re consumed by the relationship. Even when you’re in a room full of people and noise, you don’t care. You have your eyes on one person only and the rest is just noise that fades in the background. You’re completely focused on that person.
Another example: ever had a crush on one of your schoolteachers, or really admired them? Did you enjoy his/her class? Chances are it became the most interesting subject and you wanted to do your best, without much effort.
The common thing among any experience with intense and natural focus is the strong positive emotional charge behind it.
This is not about the end result of such connections or relationships. I’m not saying it’s right to have a crush on your teacher. And you may fall in love with the wrong person for you. The aim is to just capture that raw unfiltered attention on what you wanted at the time.
If we can recreate that emotion, we can focus effortlessly.
When we’re in love, with someone (or a project), everything seems to fall into place. We feel good physically and emotionally which makes it much easier to focus mentally.
We are emotional beings. We might be rational every now and then, but we’re more emotional than rational. We feel and then we justify.
So why not use positive, motivating emotions to drive our focus?
It’s easy to focus when you’re dealing with something you’re passionate about. It’s much harder to focus when you’re doing something you don’t like.
How can you create good feelings when you’re faced with the mundane, feared or disliked task?
To create a positive emotion, you need to face the tyranny of resistance. Your mind will engage every possible excuse and distraction.
The trick is to reframe your feelings and approach. Here’s how.
Reverse your emotions.
For every dread and fear, there is a release on the opposite side.
Instead of thinking I hate this task, think of what it would feel like when you’re done. What a relief!
Let’s take the silly example of washing the dishes. It can be a great experience in awaking and having fun.
You don’t want to do the dishes. You resist it, big time—the water is cold, my hands are dry, I have so many other things to do and so on.
Your resistance grows with every dish you add to the pile. You do whatever you can to avoid the sink area in your kitchen. And the longer the dishes sit, the harder it will be to remove all the dried up food. More pain!
Instead of dwelling in the same emotional pit of frustration, think of the other side.
What would it feel like if you went to the kitchen and the dishes were done and your kitchen was spotless?
Go into that feeling for a few moments.
Engage your imagination.
Let’s turn washing the dishes into a little fun encounter.
Stand in the kitchen and have a conversation with the dishes in the sink. You can talk out loud if you’re okay with that.
Tell the dishes how you feel. Express your hate for them getting dirty and you having to clean up. Let them know what a relief it would be to have them out of there.
Now let the dishes talk. What would they say? They’d probably say something like this.
Hey you. We didn’t ask to be used and sit in the sink for hours. You ate the food we served.
If you don’t wash us, you can’t use us again. And if you want to use those paper plates, by all means, just don’t blame us for the added cost and waste.
We’re sitting here in the cold and we stink! We suffer because of your inability to see your part in this.
And by the way, how long do you think it would take you to bathe all of us in warm soapy water? How would you feel when we’re all clean and shiny and tucked in our cupboard?
We would be happy for sure. We don’t like sitting here anymore than you do. Take care of us and you will have your sink back. It won’t take that long … really.
What would you say to the dishes after you listen to their plea?
Would you feel like doing the dishes now?
Positive emotion + imagination = effortless focus
When you turn the emotion around and use your imagination, do your best to engage all your senses to intensify the positive feelings.
Here are a few examples.
You don’t want to do your taxes. Think of the refund and the relief that you don’t have to do taxes for another year. What are you going to do with the extra money? Can you feel the check in your hand?
You don’t want to clear your desk. Imagine the space after you’re done and what it would feel like to have your desk back, to liberate it from the occupying mess. You are the superhero and the protector of your helpless desk.
You don’t want to work on a project because of a difficult manager. Think of how it would feel when you give him or her an amazing piece of work—a masterpiece. You are the Picasso of your workplace. Every task is a work of art, colorful and genuine. What can your boss say to your brilliance, other than job well done?
Effortless focus x repetition = fun + effective results
When you’re not focusing on what you want, look for the feelings underneath your resistance and reverse them. Turn dread to fun and fear into an adventure.
Use your imagination to make things interesting. It’s your best mental faculty; it hardly gets used in positive ways. All of resistance is imagined negativity.
When you focus emotionally, distractions fade and excuses become irrelevant.
The end result might not be what you expect. Sometimes it will be better and other times not so much. It won’t matter because the journey was fun; you gave it your best and got the best possible result.