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The Complete Guide To Increasing Your Focus In Life

The Complete Guide To Increasing Your Focus In Life

We all know how important focus is.

Think about it, when was the last time you were so focused on your task that you weren’t distracted?

Focusing nowadays is harder than ever. You know what it’s like when you’re at your job and you think about “just checking” your Facebook feed. One thing leads to other and you’ve spent over an hour looking at what your friends are up to.

The traditional view of procrastination is as that “a stitch in time saves nine,” that in order to be efficient we should not procrastinate. But can you really stop procrastinating?

We have this one-sided belief that procrastination is bad, but if you look at well-known philosophers, they literally just sat around and spent time thinking. Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s because they did not have many distractions. Well, yes and no.

The lives of ancient philosophers like Descartes, Socrates, and Plato were filled with government roles and societal responsibilities, but they chose to think, simply think. Their “overthinking” led to many founding principles today, like Descartes’s mind and body principle.

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Scientifically, procrastination is really just a battle between two parts of our brain — the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system fights for short-term pleasures while the prefrontal cortex for the long-term goal. However, given that the prefrontal cortex is the only thing that makes us different when compared to animals, there is nothing automatic about this part. Thus, we constantly need to give it a push to get stuff done. Our limbic system, on the other hand, takes over as soon as we stop pushing forward, leading to procrastination.

Procrastination is only natural and not always something to label as negative. Now that we have that out of the way, let us introduce 6 powerful methods to increase focus in your life.

1. Exercise

Have you ever had those days when you just don’t want to go to the gym because you’re very tired, but then you end up going?

If you’re like me, then you probably felt a euphoria of energy flowing through you. The reason for this is because when you exercise, your muscle contracts and releases a protein called IGF-1. This very protein travels to your brain and releases many chemicals, one of them being BDNF. The BDNF stimulates further connections between neurons, and these connections form the basis for learning. Even though this takes some time, an immediate response to this change is increased concentration and focus.

2. Make a plan

When I say make a plan, I mean be as specific as possible.

Let’s say you want to finally start writing your book. Instead of adding “Work on novel” to the to-do list, be a little more specific. How about:

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  • Make a character list
  • Write down what the book is about in less than 150 words
  • Break down the chapters and summarize each one in a line or two

When we get specific on what our target goals are, our attention is invested in accomplishing these small tasks. As our beautiful brains have it, they can only handle two complicated tasks at a time, so why not make them focus on the specifics instead of broad concepts?

3. Discover your most productive environment

The relationship between your brain and you is interdependent. If you want a peace of mind and calmness, you have to treat and exercise your mind. Here, we shall focus on treating it right. You see, the environment in which you study really does affect the brain — after all, this is why coffee houses are filled with students studying.

There are many factors existing in the environment that end up affecting our focus — noise, smell, music, appearance, and comfort are some amongst many. Good and calm music, for instance, helps us be more productive as this background noise is more soothing. It’s no surprise why it’s recommended to listen to Beethoven instead of Eminem while working. To find out how other factors in the environment affect our focus, read this article by Western Governors University.

4. Wake up early

Okay, so let’s say you went for your 7 AM jog, made a specific plan, and currently are sitting at your local Starbucks, trying to work on a paper and still finding it hard to focus. Why’s that? Maybe cause the energy you are working with is minimal.

It’s said often that the reason why the greats sustain their greatness is because they wake up early in the morning and get most of the important stuff done well before the world wakes up. You see, after all that sleep your brain got, it’s re-energized and ready to help you learn new things and change the world

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “but I’m a night owl.”

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So am I, but creativity and productivity are two different things. The former is more about thinking about that one idea, for your next song or your next artwork. The latter is more about order, and that is why they are managed by two different modes of thinking: focused vs diffused.

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    Productivity goes well with the focused mode of thinking wherein information in your brain enters and travels in an orderly fashion. On the other hand, creativity requires a diffused mode of thinking.

    Thus, if you’re looking to learn how to increase focus, it’s important to wake up early, as that’s when our energy levels and creativity peak.

    5. Prioritize your tasks

    This one goes without saying, as mentioned before: our brains can only focus on two complicated tasks at one time. Ever wondered why to-do lists simply don’t help you get stuff done? Because there isn’t any scheduling done. Why not try this approach: list everything you think you can achieve in one day and then number them.

    Focus on 1 and 2 (the most important) in the morning and then worry about the rest later.

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      Let’s say you are working in the middle of the day and you get an email that distracts you. There are two approaches to tackling this. First, you could turn off all connections to the outside world. This means no checking email. Second, you can react less.

      Those urgent urges to check your phone happen because your prefrontal cortex is tired later in the day and the limbic system is taking charge.

      6. Meditate

      We have this belief that focus is all about retaining attention. However, this leads to our minds becoming strained. What if our attention was more natural than manual? Meditation simply helps you do that. Human’s have an attention span of 8 seconds. Meditation changes the game and it helps in increasing your consciousness.

      bi_graphics_meditation

        In short, meditating helps our brain filter out the noise, particularly the distracting and negative noises. Even with 10 minutes a day, your brain can start filtering your thoughts and provide you with the clarity you need to increase your focus.

        Please share your own tips and experiences in the comments section!

        More by this author

        Sean Kim

        Sean is the founder and CEO of Rype, a language learning app. He's an entrepreneur and blogger.

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        Last Updated on December 3, 2019

        7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

        7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

        I often hear people say, “I want to be successful but don’t know where to start” or “I’ve achieved career success yet I’m not happy.” And then I ask, “what does career success mean to you?” And many have a hard time articulating their response with much conviction.

        It’s common that people lack clarity, focus, and direction. And when you layer on thoughts and actions that are misaligned with your values, this only adds to your misdirected quest to achieve your career success.

        A word of caution. It’s going to take some time for you to think about and work on your own path for career success. You need to set aside time and be intentional about the steps you take to achieve career success. In my opinion, this step-by-step guide is apart of your life philosophy.

        1. Define Career Success for Yourself

        Pause. Give yourself time and space for self-reflection.

        What does career success mean to you?

        This is about defining your career success:

        • Not what you think you ‘should’ do
        • Not what people may think of you
        • Not adjusting to friends and family’s judgements
        • Not taking actions based on societal or community norms

        “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms” – Zen Shin

        When you strip away all your external influences and manage your inner critic, what are you left with? You need to define career success that best suits your life situation.

        There’s no fixed answer. Everyone is different. Your answer will evolve and be impacted by life events. Here are a few examples of career success:

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        • Work-life balance
        • Opportunities for growth and advancement
        • Feeling valued that my contributions had an impact

        Now even as you reflect on the examples above, the descriptions are not specific enough. You’ve got to take it deeper:

        • What do you mean by work-life balance?
        • What do you consider to be opportunities for growth and advancement?
        • How do you like to be recognized for your work? How do you know if your contributions have had an impact?

        Let’s take a look at some potential responses to the questions above:

        • I want more time with my family, and less stress at work
        • I want increased responsibilities, to manage a team, a higher income, and the prestige of working at a certain level in the company
        • I’d like my immediate leader to send me a thank-you note or take me out for coffee to genuinely express her or his gratitude. I’ll know I’ve made an impact if I get feedback from my coworkers, leaders and other stakeholders.

        Further questions to reflect on to help narrow the focus for the above responses:

        • What are some opportunities that can help you get traction on getting more time with your family? And decrease your stress at work?
        • What’s most important for you in the next 12 months?
        • What’s the significance of receiving others’ feedback?

        Now, I’m only scratching the surface with these examples. It takes time to do the inner work and build a solid foundation.

        Start this exercise by first asking what career success means to you and then ask yourself meaningful questions to help you dig deeper.

        What types of themes emerge from your responses? What keywords or phrases keep coming up for you?

        2. Know Your Values

        Values are the principles and beliefs that guide your decisions, behaviors and actions. When you’re not aligned with your values and act in a way that conflicts with your beliefs, it’ll feel like life is a struggle.

        There are simple value exercises that can help you quickly determine your core values. This one designed by Carnegie Mellon University can help you discover your top 5 values.[1]

        Once you have your top 5 values keep them visible. Your brain needs reminders that these are your top values. Here are some ways to make them stick:

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        • Write them on cue cards or notes and post it in your office
        • Take a picture of your values and use it as a screensaver on your phone
        • Put the words on your fridge
        • Add the words on your vision board

        Where will your value words be placed in your physical environment so that you have a constant reminder of them?

        3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

        When writing your short-term and long term life goals, use the SMART framework – Specific Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Treat this as a brainstorming exercise. Your potential and possibilities are limitless.

        How you define short-term and long-term is entirely up to you. Short-term can be 30 days, 90 days, or 6 months. Maybe long-term goals are 4 months, 1 year, or 10 years.

        Here are a few self-reflection questions to help you write your goals:[2]

        • What would you want to do today if you had the power to make it the way you want?
        • If no hurdles are in the way, what would you like to achieve?
        • If you have the freedom to do whatever you want, what would it be?
        • What type of impact do you want to have on people?
        • Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or what they have that you’d want for your life or career?
        • What activities energize you? What’s one activity you most love?

        Remember to revisit your core values as you refine yours goals:

        • Are your goals in or out of alignment with your core values?
        • What adjustments do you need to make to your goals? Maybe some of your goals can be deleted because they no longer align with your values.
        • How attainable are your goals? Breakdown your goals into digestible pieces.
        • Do your short-term goals move you towards attaining your long-term goals?

        Get very clear and specific about your goals. Think about an archer – a person who shoots with a bow and arrows at a target. This person is laser focused on the target – the center of the bullseye. The target is your goal.

        By focusing on one goal at a time and having that goal visible, you can behave and act in ways that will move you closer to your goal.

        4. Determine Your Top Talents

        What did you love doing as a kid? What made these moments fun? What did you have a knack for? What did you most cherish about these times? What are the common themes?

        What work feels effortless? What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work? Think about work you can lose track of time doing and you don’t even feel tired of it.[3]

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        What are your desires? Try it out. Experiment. Take action and start. How can you incorporate more of this type of work into your daily life?

        What themes emerge from your responses? How do your responses compare to your responses from the values exercise and your goals?

        What do you notice?

        5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience

        Do you have tendencies to use your head or heart to make decisions?

        I have a very strong tendency to make rational, practical, and fact-based decisions using my head. It’s very rare for me to make decisions using my emotions. I was forced to learn how to make more intuitive decisions by listening to my gut when I was struggling with pivotal life decisions. I was forced to feel and listen to my inner voice to make decisions that feel most natural to me. This was very unfamiliar to me, however, it expanded my identity.

        Review this list of Feeling Words. Use the same technique you use for the values exercise to narrow down how you want to feel.

        Keep these words visible too!

        Review your responses. What do you observe? What insights do you gain from these responses and those in the above steps?

        6. Be Willing to Sit with Discomfort

        Make career decisions aligned with your values, goals, talents and feelings. This is not for the faint hearted. It takes real work, courage and willingness to cut out the noise around you. You’ll need to sit with discomfort for a bit until you build up your muscle to hit the targets you want.

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        Surround yourself with a supportive network to help you through these times.

        “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them” – Rumi

        7. Manage Your Own Career

        Not to be cynical, but no one can make you happy but yourself. If you don’t take control of your career and manage it like your own business – no one will.

        Discern between things that you can control and what you can’t control. For example, you may not be able to control who gets a promotion. However, you can control how you react to it and what you’ve learned about yourself in that situation.

        Summing Up

        For many who have gone through a career change or been impacted by life events, these steps may seem very basic. However, it’s sometimes the basics that we forget to do. The simple things and moments can edge us closer to our larger vision for ourselves.

        Staying present and appreciating what you have today can sometimes help you achieve your long-term goals. For example, if you’re always talking about not having enough time and wanting work-life balance, think about what was good in your work day? Maybe you took a walk outside with your co-workers. This could be a small step to help you reframe how you can attain work-life balance.

        Remember to take time for yourself. Hit pause, notice, observe and reflect to achieve career success by getting deliberate and intentional:

        1. Define Career Success for Yourself
        2. Know Your Values
        3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Life and Goals
        4. Determine Your Top Talents
        5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience
        6. Be Willing to sit with Discomfort
        7. Manage Your Own Career

        “When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.” – Lolly Daskal

        Good luck and best wishes always!

        More Tips on Advancing Your Career

        Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

        Reference

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