How to Focus

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Focus-kitty-250xCan’t seem to keep your mind on the task in front of you?

Does that squirrel outside on the tree have more power over you than your boss—even if that boss is you?

Is there a way you can get control of your wayward mind to help you stay on track without a shock collar?

Yes, you can increase your mind’s focus and drive thoughts toward specific goals with clarity. To do this, we have to start with the body.

Through practice we can sharpen and focus which of our senses—and which aspect of them—we would like to pay attention to, even to the exclusion of all our other senses.

We can then use this process to sharpen our internal experience so we can get a hold of seemingly wild or runaway thoughts that won’t let you focus on the task at hand—or the imminent deadline.

Sometimes our internal experience, which is both a coupling of internal and interpreted external stimuli, overwhelms directed thought. Focused thought.

We get to the point where our internal prioritization becomes something close to mercurial; we have difficulty separating those elements that truly need attention from those the mind seems to prioritize based on whimsy or the call of some emotional context.

One way to start steeling the mind and enforcing focused prioritization is to tune and specify the influx of data coming into our sensory vehicle, the body.

If we look at the body as our metaphorical mind, we can understand that it is continually being assaulted with data and information. Through the process of evolution, sense prioritization ties in directly with our ability to stay alive and directs thought and action toward movement that satisfies our continued existence.

…we can choose—at will—to focus and direct our thoughts toward a prioritized purpose

However, this automatic filtering of environmental stimuli can be mind-directed, meaning we can choose—at will—to focus on any particular sensory experience to direct our thoughts toward a prioritized purpose.

It is through practice with tuning this bombardment of external information that we can then tune our internal environment. All in all, it’s a matter of focusing the mind.

The benefit of being able to control the mind’s awareness of the body, and putting directives to it that it must obey, generates an internal clarity that we can then use to focus thought. The difference between the physical body and thought is that the physical body has a concrete experience, a definite association of boundary and reception of data that is, for the most part, universally accepted as truth.

Thought, on the other hand, is fluid, dynamic, and open to a world, a universe, of concrete and ethereal boundary or even no-boundary. Many of us don’t realize that we can control the internal experience, this mélange of happenstance and experiential fluidity.

We can.


Set Boundaries

Commitment to a focused thought (project, task, etc.) cannot have social propriety attached.

An example is you are writing, or involved with some other focused task, and someone wants your attention for a non-emergency. Put up a hand, or finger (how many of you jumped to that middle finger image? No, no. Be nice.) in a way that denotes you would like them to wait a moment while you finish your thought. (If they’re worth anything—meaning they value you and your expression—they’ll wait for you.) Then give them attention in your time, your terms.

This boundary setting is an important part of showing the rest of humanity that there are limits on intrusion into your experience.

You teach people how to behave toward you.

This is prioritization. You matter. Your thoughts matter.

You don’t do this in a rude way, unless the situation calls for rudeness, but it is a necessary part of the process supporting focus.


Trick Your Body; Tune Your Mind

Now people who are able to focus their minds to the exclusion of their environment remove themselves from that awareness—which can be harmful. You have to determine whether or not an environment is safe enough for the level of focus required for the task you may need to perform.

Sometimes I fake listening to music. We can trick our mind into pattens by engaging in patterns. We can also trick it into patterns by associating sensory stimulus.

If I put my earbuds in my ears and listen to music, and the music eases me into a more relaxed mindset, or to a more focused mindset, I get into my own safe little world of creativity.

I can use the physical stimulus of putting my earbuds on to generate that same internal focus.

With the earbuds, body recognizes 3 types of stimuli, primarily: the pressure/feel of the earbuds in my ears; the sound of music in my ears; the reduction of sound of the environment.

What I can do to help my focus, without removing full awareness of my environment, is to periodically wear the headphones and then turn off the music playing in them. I still have 2 of the 3 primary stimuli affecting me without terribly reducing my awareness of my environment.

This is an example of reduction, where one reduces the stimuli in stages, while still reaping the benefits of the original pattern.


Seeing Things Clearly: Focusing

We are now going to take a direct line to practicing focus, literally. Stay with me, there’s a reason we are doing this, and it will become clear why later. (Heh. Okay, go ahead and groan.)

Take your wonderfully glorious index finger and hold it up in front of you about a foot away. I want you to pay great attention to that finger. Notice its curving shape, the smooth creases at the bendy parts, the color and shading difference, scars you may have, etc.

Stay with that a moment, and really look at your finger as if for the first time.

Still keeping the finger up, I want you to focus on a far away object. This can be a tree, a picture on a wall, a person, etc. With the same depth you explored with your finger, I want you to examine this object. Notice the things that stand out to you right away, and then pay attention to what doesn’t necessarily stand out. Is there a color, shading, or texture you can pick up you hadn’t before? Are there patterns in it that flow into one another? Are there lines or angles that pique your interest?

Stay with this object for a little while longer. If you feel the need to exhale and relax a little more, feel free to do so.

Now go back to your finger. Is there anything about it you hadn’t noticed on your first inspection? How about the different sizes in shapes from one joint to the other? The difference in width? How about the outside line of the finger—how it flows, dips in, bulges out?

Spend a moment with this, and then I want  you to focus on something halfway between your finger and the last object you observed. Explore this object, landscape, person with the same attention you gave the other two.

When you’ve looked at this enough, look back to the far away object again. Try to pick up small or large details you hadn’t noticed before.

Now, before you switch back to the finger, I want you to pay attention to how your mind feels as you look over this object. Do you feel calmer? More agitated? Do the colors bring about certain feelings? The shapes?

Now when you look back to your finger, I want you to pay attention to the way your mind feels from the shift in focus from the far away object to the finger. This is sometimes hard to define in words, but you may notice a slipping ease from one focused location to the other. You may do this more than once to focus on that feeling and how it is expressed in you.

This feeling of slipping ease is an important demonstration of shifting in focus from the physical world to focus on your internal world.

Also, if you were following directions and were deeply involved with the objects you were observing, you may have noticed forgetting that you were holding up your finger the whole time. Most people don’t realize certain physical acts one can perform by directing your mind elsewhere.

This exercise, and others practiced, helps set up patterns of focus that also shift us into a different level of awareness about our environment, about ourselves. They help tune and train directing the mind’s attention, and thus, focus. And the more we train focusing on something, the easier it is to reduce attention from distracting things.

This directly applies to focusing our thoughts on a project, writing or otherwise.

We start with training the mind-body connection because that is a concrete experience easily identified, stimulated, and controlled; the body is something that directly affects the processing and flow of the mind.

In truth, we are training the mind right off the bat, but we do best if we can get the body in a state where it isn’t using its sensory apparatuses as an excuse to distract us from our internal directives.

We also have an emotional mechanism within us that can distract us in the same way. Underlying thoughts that, if not dealt with or expressed properly, are their own stress and make difficult the ease of directing our mind to tasks with deadlines, or our life’s purpose.

Dealing with the emotional mechanism is another blog entirely. Keeping a journal and expressing yourself in a stream of consciousness manner will help you get to the underlying emotional point so that you can free your mind to write, draw, design, speak.

Exercise is also another expression that helps the creatively expressing mind. Discipline of the body disciplines the mind, disciplines the body, etc.

I also have a 20-minute audio meditation that is yours free by just signing up at the site. It will help you focus your mind to relax the body—or parts of the body—whenever you need. That site is updated about once a month due to the depth of the subjects and time I have available.

A few of the things that have helped me through the years achieve higher levels of focus are; meditation, people watching (where I can lose myself in the subtleties of variety, observing for pattern, etc.), and exercise. I also am subject to intense problem-solving with people I teach. This bumps me to a higher level of focus and is tied in with my curiosity to solve for a situation.

Having a degree of curiosity about what you’re doing is also a way to focus.

Imagine the cat ready to pounce on the string you’re pulling slowly across the floor. A cat, and other animals—humans included—demonstrate an intense focus because of their interest in a subject.

If you are having difficulty working on some task because of lack of interest, try to find a way to look at it anew or from a different perspective. Just the attempt at trying that will increase your focus for the work at hand.

I’ll be addressing that in detail in a future blog.

We are the vehicle that moves us through life. Directing your vehicle will help you get to your destination.


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