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Last Updated on November 8, 2021

11 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

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11 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?

“Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

And this belief is even more important today than it was years ago. At your fingertips is a literal world of information and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder we all have such wandering minds nowadays.

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it.

Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within the reach of this type of person.

What Is a Wandering Mind?

Have you ever sat down to think about a specific subject or relax for a period of time? When you do this next time, you need to watch your mind. A wandering mind, as the name suggests, flits around like a fly.

It keeps asking questions, thinking, worrying creating problems, imagining, and coming up with effective solutions. This not only happens while you are relaxing but also while driving, eating, or cooking.

A wandering mind is a hotbed of negative and vain thoughts. A Harvard study reveals that wandering minds are directly related to unhappiness.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” – Killingsworth and Gilbert, Psychologists of Harvard University

A wandering mind makes it harder for you to focus and deal with issues effectively. It will also prevent you from completing important tasks by focusing on a task unrelated to the important ones, and falling asleep. Other common names of mind wandering are daydreaming flights of fancy or fantasy.

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What Causes a Wandering Mind?

While the exact cause of mind wandering hasn’t been understood, research studies in laboratory settings have shown that there is a network of neurons that have been linked to mind wandering. This network interacts with some regions of the cortex which deal with behavior and emotions.

This network is usually active when a person is at rest or working on tasks that don’t require you to pay attention. Changes in this network’s default mode have been linked to changes in brain activity and a wide range of mental diseases such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Is It Bad to Have a Wandering Mind?

Having a wandering mind harms your productivity and performance in different ways. Plus, it affects your quality of life. Here are a few reasons compiled by cognitive science that suggest that mind-wandering is bad for you:

  • Lack of awareness: When you are preoccupied with your thoughts, it’s difficult to be aware of your environment. This usually leads to accidents like banging into people or objects, falling, and ignoring traffic signs. Lack of awareness is one of the leading causes of accidents on most roads.
  • Failure to comprehend: An employee or student may fail to understand what’s being explained to them. And this will lead to huge errors. A wandering mind makes it harder for someone to follow their train of thought or read and listen in their day-to-day activities.
  • Poor focus: A wandering mind reduces your capacity to focus on important tasks. And this can be interpreted as a lack of interest in being uninvolved in tasks. It also makes it harder for you to stick on time-consuming, tedious or boring tasks. And when you work on a task at random times, you’ll end up making careless mistakes.
  • Depression: One of the common consequences of a wandering mind is anxiety and depression.

How To Control a Wandering Mind?

Here are 10 ways to tame and refocus your mind to get more things done.

1. Find Your Totem

Remember the totem in the movie, Inception? It’s an item that reminded people they weren’t in a dream when they touched it, and it was able to keep them grounded in reality.

You can replicate this idea when it comes to staying focused as well. All you’ve to got to do is find something to be your “focus totem,” and it’ll remind you that you should stop daydreaming and get back to work. Ideally, it’s something you can see and touch.

In the movie, a chess piece and a spinning top were used—both are good ideas. You could also use a picture of your family, a mini trophy, or even wear a ring to focus your mind as well. (In fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this.)

2. Promise a Reward

Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.

For example:

  • Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
  • Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
  • A successful day of being in the state of flow = a whole movie on Netflix

Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.

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3. Enter the State of Flow

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a notable psychologist in positive psychology, suggests the idea of state of flow by saying that when someone is extremely concentrated on a specific activity, one’s mind is fully occupied because the human nervous system is incapable of processing too much information. [1] Entering the flow state prevents your mind from wandering and is one of the ways to achieve a sustained feeling of happiness.

Let’s say you are a musician composing a piece of music. It is not hard to imagine that your mind will be fully occupied with musical notes, leaving you with little room to even think about what to eat for lunch. Within the State of Flow, most of our worries and concerns take the back burner as we are living in the present moment.

Entering the state of flow is like riding a bike:

Pick a Route You Enjoy

When you ride a bike, your journey becomes more enjoyable if you pick the routes you like. To enter the state of flow, you should also find one interesting thing in the task you’re going to work on. It is not uncommon for people who get their hands dirty immediately without realizing the fascinating parts of whatever they do. It is very unlikely that they can enter the state of flow without seeing something intriguing.

Spare Time To Warm Up

Everything takes time, riding a bike and entering the state of flow also take time. For example, before riding a bike you may do 15 minutes of warm up exercises and stretching to get your body ready to go. Your mind is similar. It needs some time to get into the state, and it takes even longer for you to be fully immersed, so you need to be patient. You might not be able to enter the state of flow in the first few minutes but you have to wait for a bit longer until your mind is warmed up. But once you have entered the state of flow, you won’t even notice the passage of time.

Keep the Wheels Rolling Till the End

You can’t stop to keep the wheels rolling. When you stop applying force, the bike will eventually stop and you can’t go on with your journey. Entering the state of flow means you shouldn’t be stopping in the middle as well. You need to be clear on what you want to achieve and know what you are working for, like you should know your direction and destination while riding a bike. Losing direction makes us distracted by other things easily, which makes it quite impossible for us to get into the zone.

Entering the state of flow, or in other words, being mindful is the first step to the road of true happiness. Happiness doesn’t come from the good old days you once had, the reality that you are currently in, or the golden future that you have been dreaming about. Happiness is a state of mind.

4. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind

I don’t know about you, but if I perceive my work to require more effort than I care to use, I’m instantly turned off. This then leads to distraction and procrastination. But you can offset this by breaking a difficult task into a bite-sized piece.

Case in point, what seems easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?

It’s obvious, but sometimes our brains need to be “convinced” we’re only doing a small amount of work to get things going.

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But here’s something cool about this tactic: You can (and most likely will) keep going past your stupid easy benchmark. You don’t have to, but my experience tells me once you get going like this, it’s easy to go beyond your bare minimum goal.

5. Empty Your Mind With Journaling

Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.

There are two basic ways to go about it:

  1. Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
  2. Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.

6. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method

Try telling yourself that you’ll work for “just 5 minutes” and then you can stop. You’ll find that the task feels far easier to handle. And like the “stupid easy” method, this tricks your brain into thinking the task is lower effort than it really is. After all, 5 minutes for even the worst task is psychologically manageable for any person out there.

The key is to honestly allow yourself to stop at 5 minutes—no matter what. That’s what allows your brain to accept the method as legit and also lets it overcome the mental hurdle that makes your brain want to wander around and focus on anything but your task.

7. Recite a Focus Mantra

I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.

I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”

Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power

Some examples:

  • If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
  • If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
  • If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.

As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.

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8. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach

One of the best ways to be distracted is to be tired. And sometimes, you’ll be tired in such a way that you’re “sort of” working but not realize that you’re actually constantly distracted.

If you can notice when you do this, one thing I like to do is crank out as many big, satisfying yawns as possible. Olympic athletes sometimes do this before their big events. It calms them down and helps them perform better in the process. And it works just as well for us regular folks. I find it has a similar effect to taking a good nap (and actually works best in unison), so you can imagine how effective this can be.

9. Find an Easy Win

Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.

10. Create a “Wins” List

Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.

Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.

11. Add Stakes to the Mix

If you were to lose $20 if you failed to complete a task, would you be more focused on completing it? Of course!

Try and find ways to put something on the line when it comes to completing your tasks, and you’ll find your focus, motivation, and ability to things done to be higher than ever before.

For example, if you’re at work, you could involve a co-worker by saying you’ll buy their food if you don’t complete a task before lunchtime rolls around. At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)

All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.

Bottom Line

Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.

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But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.

More Tips on Sharpening Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Clay Banks via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Daring to Live Fully: How to enter the flow state

More by this author

Ericson Ay Mires

Ericson Ay Mires specializes in writing copy for self-improvement niches. He helps businesses sell their products with content and copywriting, so they can reach more people and improve their business.

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Last Updated on January 5, 2022

The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home

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The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home

Suppose you finally took the plunge: resigned your corporate job, decided to follow the passion of your life and (by lack of a new office space, of course), you started to work from home. Welcome to the club! Been there for a few years now and, guess what, it turned out that working from home is not as simple as I thought it would be.

It certainly has a tons of advantages, but those advantages won’t come in a sugary, care free, or all pinky and happy-go-lucky package. On the contrary. When you work from home, maintaining a constant productivity flow may be a real challenge. And there are many reasons for that.

For instance, you may still unconsciously assimilate your home with your relaxation space, hence a little nap on the couch, in the middle of the day, with still a ton of unfinished tasks, may seem like a viable option. Well, not! Or, because you’re working from home now, you think you can endlessly postpone some of your projects for ever, since nobody is on your back anymore. You’re your own boss and decided to be a gentle one. Fatal mistake. Or…

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OK, let’s stop with the reasons right here and move on to the practical part. So, what can you do to squeeze each and every inch of usefulness and productivity from your new working space and schedule (namely, your home)? What follows is a short list of what I found to be fundamentally necessary when you walk on this path.

1. Set Up A Specific Workplace

And stay there. That specific workspace may be a specific room (your home office), or a part of a room. Whatever it is, it must be clearly designed as a work area, with as little interference from your home space as possible. The coexistence of your home and work space is just a happy accident. But just because of that, those two spaces don’t necessarily have to blend together.

If you move your work space constantly around various parts of your house, instead of a single “anchor space”, something awkward will happen. Your home won’t feel like home anymore. That’s one of the most popular reasons for quitting working form home: “My home didn’t feel like home anymore”. Of course it didn’t if you mixed all its parts with your work space.

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2. Split Work Into Edible Chunks

Don’t aim too high. Don’t expect to do big chunks of work in a single step. That was one of the most surprising situations I encountered when I first started to work from home. Instead of a steady, constant flow of sustained activity, all I could do were short, compact sessions on various projects. It took a while to understand why.

When you work in a populated workspace, you behave differently. There is a subtle field of energy created by humans when they’re in their own proximity, and that field alone can be enough of an incentive to do much more than you normally do. Well, when you’re at home, alone, this ain’t gonna happen. That’s why you should use whatever productivity technique you’re comfortable with to split your work in small, edible chunks: GTD, pomodoro.

3. Work Outside Home

In coffee shops or other places, like shared offices. It may sound a little bit counterintuitive, to work outside your home when you’re working from home. But only in the beginning. You’ll soon realize that working from home doesn’t mean you have to stay there all the time. It basically means your home is also your office and you’re free to go outside if you want to.

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I know this may not apply to all of the “work from home” situations, but for those related to information processing, when all you need is a laptop an internet connection, that usually works beautifully. It adds a very necessary element of diversity and freshness. It can also be the source of some very interesting social interactions, especially when you have to solve all sort of digital nomad situations.

4. Go Out!

Working from home may be socially alienating. After almost 3 years of doing it, I finally accepted this as a fact. So, apart from balancing your home time with consistent sessions of working outside of your home, you should definitely go out more often. Our normal work routine, the one that is performed in an office, that is, makes for an important slice of our social interaction needs. Once you’re working from home, that slice won’t be there anymore. But your need for social contacts will remain constant.

So, my solution to this was to grow my social interaction significantly over what I was having when I was working in my own office. Going out to movies, running in the park, meeting for drinks or just chat, whatever it takes to get me out of my home/working space. On a one to ten scale, my social life before was around 3 and now is at a steady 7.

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5. Thoroughly Log Each And Every Day

It goes hand in hand with keeping a personal journal, but this time it’s about work, not personal feelings and experiences. Keep a detailed log of each project and be always ready to pick up from where you left one day or one week ago in just a matter of minutes. It’s not only a productivity enhancer, although it will help you be more productive, but it’s more on the accountability area.

When you work from home you’re your own boss. And, for any of you who are (or have been) bosses, this is not an easy position. You gotta keep track of all the information about your team and of every advancement in your projects. That’s what a boss is supposed to do, after all. When you work from home you have to perform this bossy role too, otherwise you will be lost in your own unfinished ideas and endless project stubs faster than you think.

Featured photo credit: Ian Harber via unsplash.com

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