Think about the lens of an autofocus camera. Regardless of the distance, the focus adjusts itself in milliseconds to bring the object into sharp clarity and perfect focus.
Now, imagine if you could learn to use your brain to do that. Imagine if it could focus on various things in matters of milliseconds, seamlessly moving from one thought to another.
If you are the bridge of my ship, you will find a symphony of random information flow and an orchestra of quick decisions.
I stand in command. We are a massive mammoth entering the Mississippi delta, about to pick up Pilot at the Southern end of the Mississippi river. With a draft of 40 feet, my ship is in waters not nearly deep enough. I have little room to maneuver and no room for error! Small vessels are whizzing past my bow and larger ones are coming downriver, often loaded, sluggish, and unpredictable. The port control is of little help in guiding me in. There is an efficient bridge team working for me. Everyone is on high alert. I am getting inputs from all ends.
Here is the list of information packets that are reaching my brain at any given time:
Not everything is going right as planned, so I also have additional information to consider:
This continuous information flow is collected by my team and fed in real time into the primary central server — me. Besides, I also also have to control team frustration to prevent the system from crumbling.
Here’s the thing: the default setting of a brain so bombarded by information is to get perplexed and confused. I just do not have that option. All of these inputs are being prioritized and filtered in real time by mere instinctive reflexes in my brain. Decisions are being made in seconds. One wrong decision can lead to a disaster. I am the last line of defense here.
Overwhelming? Well, that’s just another day for us out at sea.
In several professions around the world, decisions have to be made in seconds or milliseconds. And just like me, some people cannot afford to make mistakes — the price is too high. You have to know how to use your brain!
A concert master conducting an orchestra will pay the price with a ruined performance in front of an audience, perhaps a ruined career over one wrong gesture of his hand. A soldier in the battlefield is going to pay the price with his life for any wrong decision. The pilot of a Boeing 737 will pay with the lives of everyone on board.
In every phase and every sector of life, high achievers need to develop this habit of making the right decisions immediately.
To use your brain to its full potential takes more than intention. It takes training.
When you get hit by several information inputs at once, an untrained brain gets mesmerized and overwhelmed. Productivity declines. The ability to prioritize declines. If prolonged, this can lead to cognitive impairment, where you are unable to make any decision. Your productivity drops to zero.
However, that is not an option for some people. As I said before, our mistakes cost dearly. We have no room for error.
To make an operation succeed, you must have:
Prioritizing comes with experience in the job. We prioritize based on the balance between 3 things:
In the boating example above, if I make a wrong call on a vessel coming out of the harbour, it can lead to a severe disaster, hence the high Consequence factor. I may have just a few seconds to make that decision – meaning there’s also a high Urgency factor. However, the decision may be elementary for me, meaning a low Difficulty factor. This decision will have to be given a lot of attention in the moment, and once made, the brain can shift into things of lesser priority. How you use your brain for those few seconds can make or break the situation.
On the other hand, in the same example above, the agent is asking me for my itinerary. Even if I give him the wrong information, nothing disastrous is going to happen, hence a low Consequence factor. The information is easy for me to give, hence a low Difficulty factor and, frankly, it’s not very urgent either — a medium Urgency factor. This decision shall be postponed for later as it is not a priority at the moment for me.
What I have just explained is done by professionals all over the world. There are ways to improve on setting priorities, which we shall get into at a later date.
Let’s talk about developing the ability to shift focus in matters of milliseconds.
The problem with an untrained brain is that while you are focused on one thing, the remnants of your previous decision are still looming in your mind. It is distracting you and affecting your present decision. You are getting delayed. When there are several quick decisions to make, this will bring in undue haste and your brain may fail or refuse to decide quickly.
It takes a bit of practice to condition a mind so that it can focus on one issue and then immediately shift focus to a new one with equal attention. This way, you use your brain to pay rapt attention to every decision, which makes them impeccable and error-free.
That is my concept of the autofocus brain.
What if your brain could work like the lens of an autofocus camera, focusing itself and readjusting focus as needed in a matter of milliseconds? What if we did not get perplexed ever, no matter how many tiny bits of information come through to us? What if this was as easy for you as a walk in the park?
When you get a series of random information inputs, it apparently seems that the mind concentrates on several things at once. This, however, is not true. It is not possible for us to pay attention to many things at the same exact moment. What we really do is dissect the information into smaller parts, concentrate on each part at a time and, once resolved, move on to the next. This is how you use your brain.
What I am going to explain here is not theory. I have practiced this myself and I have trained my juniors to use this ability to their benefit. I know it works.
These five different methods can be used individually or together over the course of a day. Each of them, with the exception of number 5, takes about five minutes of your time. Even if you follow any one of them just once a day, you will be able to use your brain in ways you never thought were possible.
This is something practised by hypnotists and yoga practitioners around the world. It works like a charm.
For five minutes a day, sit in a relaxing comfortable position, close your eyes, and let go of your muscles. Now, focus on your breathing and nothing else. Feel the up and down movement of your chest or stomach. Feel the air entering your nostrils leading up to your lungs and feel the freshness in your body. Pay attention to this and to nothing else.
If you have not done this before, your mind will wander off. This is not a problem. When you realize that you have branched out into different thoughts, just bring your focus back to your breathing.
Do you spend a lot of time in front of computers? This option is ideal for you.
Open up 5 of your favourite sites in different windows. You can have them open on different browsers, like three on Google Chrome and two on Firefox, just to make it more challenging.
Now, open one of them and read the content with rapt attention. Really concentrate on it! Do this for exactly a minute and then shift to the next window. As soon as you are on the next one, read that one with your full attention.
It will seem difficult in the beginning and you will tend to think about what you were reading before. When you realize this, just bring your attention back.
Time yourself for one minute using your watch or mobile phone. If you can, set it for a single beep every minute. When you find this easy to do, shorten the span to half a minute and use your 5 minutes to browse through ten sites. Try changing focus fast, yet concentrate on each item individually.
If you are a social media fanatic, this option is great for you. Facebook is an ideal collection of random facts which can be used effectively.
Open your Facebook page. Now read the first post for a minute. Do this with rapt attention to it.
At the end of the minute, whether you have finished reading it or not, shift to the next one and pay equal attention. As before, this will be difficult in the beginning and you have to keep bringing your attention back to the post in front of you.
Even if you have not finished reading one post, you must shift focus to the next one. This can also be done using Twitter, Yahoo, or Google+. It slowly becomes easier to shift focus briskly and to use your brain in this fashion.
This one is for anyone who can spare five minutes of their time during the day to be alone and undisturbed.
I want you to sit on the ground in a quiet place with your legs crossed. Draw a small dot on the wall in front of you.
Now, with your hands and body relaxed, look at this dot. Concentrate on it. Think about this dot and about its shape and size. You will slowly see everything else fading away, even the wall will seem blurry and the only thing in your focus will be this dot. If your attention wanders, as before, bring it back.
When you think you can concentrate on this dot effectively for five straight minutes without distraction, put your ability to the test. Choose more noisy and distracting environments and do the same exercise. For example, while traveling, choose a fixed point in front of you and concentrate on it. Do not let the noise of the cars around distract you — needless to say, do not do this if you are driving.
What are you thinking about right now? Are you just reading this post or are you thinking about something else? Just start paying attention precisely to everything that you do from now on. Most of the things you do don’t take much of your attention. They are mostly reflexes and habits. I am asking you to start paying attention to them.
For example, the next time you peel an orange, peel it carefully and cleanly. Think about what you are doing. Once you’re done, pay attention to the taste and how it feels in your mouth. Consciously use your brain to concentrate on the immediate task.
While talking to someone, pay attention to the conversation. Do not let your mind wander off to other thoughts. If it does, just bring it back.
These methods, if followed diligently, will give you results within a relatively short time. They can work wonders for kids too. If your child is at an age where they can follow instructions, get them to do one of these during the day. Trust me, these five minutes can be far more beneficial than hours of study.
With a bit of practice, the mind works on autopilot, focusing on the essential things only. This will make you a winner in all that you do, big or small, and increase your productivity infinitely.
Featured photo credit: Liam Welch via images.unsplash.com
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