5 steps to laser-like focus

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I used to have undiagnosed attention deficit disorder (ADD). This was most apparent when I was at work. My other business is in video production, a large proportion of which involves editing.

The ADD part of my brain didn’t even want to start longer tasks like that, it preferred the instant gratification of a quick email, looking something up on google or having a chat with someone.

The consequence of that was that I would leave starting it to the day before the deadline and feel stressed about getting finished.

When I finally did come to do it, it was a real struggle to stay doing it for more than a few minutes. I kept craving stimulation from somewhere else.

This meant it took a lot longer than it needed to and it felt like a real struggle to get it done.

This also affected the way I read books. It had become far less likely that I would pick one up in the first place, preferring to do something with my phone, and when I did, I could barely read half a page without getting distracted.

Now I really enjoy getting absorbed by my video editing and I can read for half an hour without any desire to do something else.

One thing that helped me to turn this round, was learning the simple process for how you train your attention. It’s something everyone should be taught in school, surely! But I only came across it through learning mindfulness.

The steps are these:

1. Choose something to focus on

2. Notice when your attention has wandered

3. Celebrate the fact that you’ve noticed (sometimes I say to myself “Well done, Andy!”)

4. Bring your attention back to what you want to focus on

5. Repeat.

You can practice this when meditating, while walking, eating, brushing your teeth or standing on the tube. It’s a way of developing what is known as ‘Cognitive Control’, which is one of the most well evidenced benefits of mindfulness.

In the words of US Marine Corps Major General Melvin Spiese:

‘As we see the data supports it, it makes perfect sense that this is what we should be doing… It’s like doing push-ups for the brain.’

Celebrating the fact that you’ve noticed might sound a bit silly, but it’s absolutely crucial, because many people self-flagellate for realising they’re no longer concentrating, and this just creates more tension in the mind.

It’s like berating yourself for breathing. Everyone’s mind wanders, it’s what minds do. Appreciating yourself for increasing your cognitive control feels better, and works better.

Another reason for practising this, apart from improving your productivity and ability to read books is that a Harvard Study showed that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

They texted people at random intervals to find out if their mind was focused on what they were doing and they found that when it wasn’t, they were less happy.

Our minds tender to wander onto the negative — people we’re annoyed with, things we’re worried about, fearing not getting everything done, and so focusing on the here and now, brings you more contentment.

The hardest thing is remembering to do it. But I find the more I remember, the more I remember, so get practising!

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