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Last Updated on March 19, 2019

Can’t Focus? Why You’ve Been Doing It Wrong and How to Focus Better

Can’t Focus? Why You’ve Been Doing It Wrong and How to Focus Better

What comes to mind when you think of the word focus?

The attention or concentration it takes to complete a task? The amount of will power needed to finish writing a report without touching your phone? Or, is it having to sit in complete silence and away from distractions so that you can study for an important exam or prepare for an interview?

I’m sure many of you can relate to the above statements and agree that the ability to focus is about staying on task for a period of time. Breaking that concentration would mean that you’ve lost your focus; and you’re either doing something else, or trying to gain back that focus to finish up the intended task.

With an ever increasing amount of information–that is easily accessible online and offline–we’re faced with a lot more opportunities and avenues to create possibilities to experience things on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, that can make it a lot harder for us to make progress or get things done, because we’re either easily distracted or overwhelmed by the constant influx of information.

That is why many of us end up having problems ‘concentrating’ or ‘focusing’ in life–whether it be on a smaller scale like completing a task on time, or something much bigger like staying on track in your career and climbing the ladder of success. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we blame our failures due to a lack of focus.

So, how does one focus better?

Focus Is Not About Paying Attention

What if I tell you that you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time?

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Focus isn’t just the attention span of giving 20 minutes to a task. It actually goes way beyond that.

The real reason why we focus is because we need to do something that exceeds our existing capability. We need to devote large amounts of time and energy to move the needle in life, to make that progress and positive change.

And why do we want to do that? Because we want to become a better version of ourselves! Isn’t that true?

At the end of the day, the reason why we stay focused on any task, project, or goal is because we want to succeed. And with that success comes progress in our lives, which means we eventually become better than what we were a month ago, or even a year ago.

Let me give you an example:

Say you’ve been tasked to manage a project by your boss. You have targets to meet and favorable outcomes to achieve. Your focus and attention has to be on this project. Once the project has been completed, your boss is happy with the results and your hard work. He rewards you with praise, a promotion, or maybe even a juicy year end bonus.

That’s your success right there, and you feel good about your achievements. So looking back at who you were before and after the completion of this project, wouldn’t you say you’ve become a better version of your previous self?

Focus Is a Flow

This is what focus is and how focus works! It’s not a one-off task by task mode that you jump into whenever needed. Rather, focus is a flow.

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Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. And because focus takes energy, time and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you.

So why is it that we sometimes find it so hard to focus?

Usually, it’s because we’re missing two major elements. Either we don’t know where we want to go–in that we don’t have a clear goal–or we do have a goal, but we don’t have a clear roadmap.  

Trying to improve your focus without these two things is like driving to get somewhere in a foreign country with no road map. You end up wasting a lot of gas but you don’t really know if you’re getting anywhere.

Let’s go back to the example of your boss assigning you a project to manage. The company is opening a new office. Your boss wants you to oversee the renovations and moving-in process of this new location. Now, if you didn’t have a clear goal or end result of how the new office should look, you could be busy arranging for contractors, interior designers or movers etc to come, but have no clue what to assign or brief them on.

The second scenario is that you know exactly how the new office should look and when it should be up and running. But, because you don’t have a clear roadmap to get to that end result, you end up working all over the place; one moment you’re arranging for the contractors to start renovations, the next moment you’ve got furniture coming in when the space isn’t ready. What do you focus on first?

The Focus Flow

Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with wrong turns; and you also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow can help.

So let me show you how the Focus Flow works.

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  1. It starts from a clear objective.
  2. This becomes a clear roadmap.
  3. Then it manifests into a state of targeted attention and effort.
  4. This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.

Setting a Focus Objective

To start off, you need to set an effective focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on what things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.

Like driving a car, you need a destination.  

In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.

A good focus objective therefore needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize. Such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in project. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.

Setting a Focus Roadmap

The second step is to lay out a practical Focus Roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.

There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal. But, what comes first? What’s more valuable? How long will it take?  

That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to at least have a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.

Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.

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So to create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your road map should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve.

Power Up Your Productivity

I hope you now have a better understanding of how focus truly works. By harnessing your focus using the Focus Flow, you’ll be able to work on a task more productively not because you’re able to ‘concentrate’, but rather because you know exactly what your end goal is, and you have a game plan in place to make that happen.

Once there is clarity, I can assure you that you’ll be less likely to get distracted or ‘lose’ focus on your tasks at hand.

You may think it’s going to take you extra time writing out an objective and setting out a road map. You may believe that you are better off getting right down to the actual work.

But, as I’ve mentioned, there’s no point in rushing your efforts that lead you to nowhere or cause you additional detours. You’ll end up expending more mental energy and time than needed.

Applying one of the 7 Cornerstone Skills as covered in this article can already make a difference in your life, imagine learning the whole set of skills to live your best life! How to learn them all? We’ve got the solution at Lifehack — Find out More About Our Solution Here!

Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

If you pay attention to your everyday life careful enough, you’ll know that you can learn from everything and everyone you come across. Our life is basically full of useful lessons that we should learn.

Here are 26 useful things to learn that Abhishek A. Singh shared on Quora. Let’s see how these life theories would lead you to live a different life.

1. Primacy and recency: People mostly remember the first and last things that occurred, barely the middle.

When scheduling an interview, ask the employer the time slots they do interviews and try to be the first or the last.

2. If you work in a bar or in customer service of any kind, put a mirror behind you at the counter.

In this way, angry customers who approach you will have to see themselves in the mirror behind you and the chance of them behaving irrationally will be lowered significantly.

3. Once you make a sales pitch, don’t say anything else.

This works in sales, but it can also be applied in other ways.

My previous boss was training me and just gave me pointers. I was working at a gym trying to sell memberships. He told me that once I got all the small talk out of the way and presented the prices, the first person to talk would lose.

It didn’t seem like a big deal but it actually worked. Often there were long periods of awkward silence as the person tried to come up with some excuses, but usually they bought.

4. If you ask someone a question and they only partially answer, just wait.

If you stay silent and keep eye contact, they will usually continue to talk.

5. Chew gum when you’re approaching a situation that would make you nervous, like public speaking or bungee jumping.

When we eat, our brain tell ourselves, “I would not be eating if I were danger. So I’m not in danger.” This has helped me to stay calm.

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6. People will always remember how you made them feel, not what you said.

Also, most people like talking about themselves; so ask lots of questions about them.

7. When you’re learning something new, teach it to a friend. Let them ask you questions about it.

If you’re able to teach something well, you will be sure that you’ve understood it very well.

8. If you get yourself to be really happy and excited to see other people, they will react the same to you.

It doesn’t always happen the first time, but it will definitely happen the next time.

9. The physical effects of stress — breathing rate and heart rate — are almost identical to the physical effects of courage.

When you’re feeling stressed in any situations, immediately reframe it : Your body is getting ready to be courageous, you are NOT stressed.

10. Pay attention to people’s feet.

If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don’t want you to join in the conversation.

Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you and their torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing in another direction, they want the conversation to end.

11. Confidence is more important than knowledge.

Don’t be intimidated by anyone, everyone is playing a role and wearing a mask.

12. If you pretend to be something for long enough, you will eventually become it.

Fake it till you make it. Period.

13. Not to be creepy, but if you want to stare at someone unashamedly, look directly past them and wait for them to try and meet your eyes.

When they fail to do that, they’ll look around (usually nervously for a second) they won’t look at you again for some time. This is your chance to straight up stare at this person for at least 45 seconds.

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And as suggested by Brian Stutzman:

If you’re staring at someone and get caught, DON’T turn your head or your body to look away, because that just confirms that you were staring.

Just move your EYEBALLS off the person. Unlike turning your head, it’s instantaneous. And the person will think you were just looking at something behind them and that they were mistaken for thinking you were staring. Do it confidently, and ignore any reaction from the person, and you can sell it every single time.

After a second, you can even look back at them with a “Why are you staring at me?” look on your face to really cement the deal!

14. Build a network.

Become the information source, and let the information be yours. Even grabbing a beer with a former colleague once a year will keep you in the loop at the old office.

Former coworkers might have gotten a new position in that office you always wanted to work in, great! Go to them for a beer, and ask about the office. It’s all about connections and information.

15. If you are angry at the person in front of you driving like a grandmother…

Pretend it is your grandmother, it will significantly reduce your road rage.

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    16. Stand up straight.

    No slouching, hands out of pockets, and head held up high. It’s not just a cliche — you literally feel better and people around you feel more confident in you.

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    17. Avoid saying “I think,” and “I believe” unless absolutely necessary.

    These are phrases that do not evoke confidence, and will literally do you no good.

    18. When feeling anxious, clean up your home or work space.

    You will feel happier and more accomplished than before.

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      19. Always buy the first pitcher or round of drinks.

      You’d be surprised how long you could drink on the phrase “I bought the first one.”

      20. Going into an interview… be interested in your interviewers.

      If you focus on learning about them, you’ll seem to be more interesting and dynamic. (Again, people love to talk about themselves.)

      21. Pay attention parents! Always give your kid a choice that makes them think they are in control.

      For instance, when I want my son to put his shoes on I will say ,”do you want to put your star wars shoes on or your shark shoes on?”

      Pro-tip: In some cases, this works on adults.

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        22. Your action affects your attitude more than your attitude affects your action.

        As my former teacher said “You can jump and dance FOR joy, but you can also jump and dance yourself joyful.”

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        23. When a group of people laugh, people will instinctively look at the person they feel closest to in that group.

        Notice who you look at and who look at you when you laugh with a group of people!

        24. If you want to build rapport or gain someone’s trust quickly, match their body posture and position.

        If someone is sitting with her legs crossed, cross your legs. If they’re leaning away from you, lean away from them. If they’re leaning towards you, lean towards them.

        Mirroring and matching body position is a subconscious way to tell if someone trusts you or is comfortable with you. If you’re sitting with your arms crossed and you notice someone else is sitting with her arms crossed, that is a good indicator that you have/are successfully built/building rapport with that person.

        25. The Benjamin Franklin Effect (suggested by Matt Miller)

        I find the basis of the Benjamin Franklin effect is very useful and extends far beyond pencil borrowing. This knowledge is useful in the world of flirting too.

        Asking a girl in your class if you can borrow a pencil or her notes or to explain the homework will make her more likely to like you than if you let her borrow your stuff or are the one to help her. Even just asking a girl to buy you drinks (facetiously) leaves a much bigger impression than offering to or actually buying a girl a drink.

        The best part is it kills 3 birds with one stone: you get the advantages of the favor itself, the person subconsciously likes you more, and it makes them more open to future favors and conversation.

        26. Handle panic and anxiety behaviors by tapping fingers (Suggested by Jade Barbee)

        When you’re feeling stressed, worried or angry, tap each finger tip while thinking (or speaking quietly) a few specific words about what is bothering you. Repeat the same words while tapping each of your 10 fingers, including thumbs.

        For example, tap while saying, “I’m so angry with her…” Doing so will likely take the charge out of the feeling and return you to a more resourceful (better feeling) state of being. It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or “tapping,” and it is useful in many life situations – emotional sadness, physical pain, food cravings, traumatic memories…

        Featured photo credit: Nicole Wolf via unsplash.com

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