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Published on April 8, 2021

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

10 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.

So, in the spirit of that idea, here are 10 ways to tame that wandering mind of yours and turn it into a laser-focused brain that gets 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.

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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 work = 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.

3. 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?

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

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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

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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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

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9. 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.

10. 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.

Who Else Wants More Success?

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.

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

More by this author

Ericson Ay Mires

The life coach that helps you create your perfect life with his "Ignite Your Instinct" program.

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus 10 Motivational Apps To Help You Jumpstart Your Day What to Do If You Don’t Want to Do Anything 5 Powerful Ways Journal Writing Changes Your Life

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Published on April 8, 2021

How To Give An Undivided Attention To Be More Productive

How To Give An Undivided Attention To Be More Productive

When was the last time you found yourself experiencing one of these eight characteristics while working on a project?

  • Complete concentration on a task
  • Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  • Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
  • Intrinsically rewarding experience
  • Effortless and ease
  • Balanced between challenge and skills
  • Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  • A feeling of control over the task

Let’s be honest: have you ever felt this way? Most people haven’t, probably because they’ve never been in a peak state of “flow” that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in his research on attention and peak productivity.[1]

Your undivided attention doesn’t occur through wishful thinking. It must be earned, created, and consciously accomplished by structuring your environment to facilitate the sustained brainpower needed for proper focus and concentration.

Through his research in understanding the “flow state” of mind, Csikszentmihalyi realized that to accomplish a peak state of focus and concentration, one must be fully committed to the pursuit and positioned within a specific set of key parameters to create this heightened state of euphoria and bliss.

Sadly, very few of us learned about these simple techniques and learning objectives in school, primarily because schools don’t teach you how to learn. They merely teach you the content you need to know.

Like most things in life, learning isn’t uniformly accomplished across the human species in the same way. Some may learn better through audio while others prefer video. Some may choose to read where others may prioritize being hands-on. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to learn information, but there may be “better” ways to facilitate learning by increasing our attention span and mental endurance.

To truly maximize your brain’s ability to focus on a task and provide undivided attention to a project, we need to create an optimal environment and schedule our day with the proper intentions for success.

1. Eliminate Distractions Once and for All

If this one were easy, then everyone would be doing it. Distractions are one of the easiest and more efficient ways to distract our focus and waste precious brainpower on tasks that yield little to no long-term benefits.

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Simple activities like scrolling through social media, endlessly checking emails throughout the day, and scanning over at your phone to see your latest text messages can be a surefire way to prolong a project, especially since it takes around 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brain to return to the peak state of focus after an interruption.[2]

So, why do we do this to ourselves? Because we love the thrill of dopamine.

Every time you get a new text, see a new email, or find out that you received a new like on your LinkedIn post, dopamine floods your brain and lights up an area of your brain called the Nucleus Accumbens.[3]

The Nucleus Accumbens is an integral part of our reward system (along with the ventral tegmental area). It lights up like a Christmas tree whenever something exciting happens in our lives, regardless of whether we perceive or experience it. It’s also the circuitry responsible for the high felt while taking recreational drugs, with scientists noting that there very few differences in the reward pathways between all of these tasks.[4]

So, if getting an email in your inbox could amount to the equivalent hit of dopamine as doing a line of cocaine, why should you stop doing it? Because it’s killing your productivity (and potentially brain cells).

Distractions are a surefire way to make your day more complicated, and it doesn’t just stop there. They also use up coveted brainpower and energy resources, causing the brain to switch from task to task, which is an inefficient use of neural activity. Switching from a task requires the brain to refocus, which also entails new circuits to be used, different pathways to fire, and more energy exerted to start up the new task at hand.[5]

When Mihaly Csikszentmihaly was doing his research, he realized that the power of sustained focus and undivided attention was accomplished by repetition, frequency, and intensity. As the saying goes, the more you use it, the easier it gets.

Eliminating distractions must be the first step in the process because the brain thrives off simplicity and can function at a higher level when it doesn’t continuously change focus.

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2. Set It and Forget It – Schedule Your Day

Take a moment and think about that one thing you will never get back. And no, it’s not money, fame, or your ex.

It’s time.

Time is the most precious resource we have because regardless of your physical, social, or financial status, it’s the only constant we have that we cannot trade for. Time is of the essence, and sadly, most of us waste it on activities that provide short-term gains at the expense of long-term rewards.

To master our ability to focus and practice honing our skills for undivided attention, we must become masters of time management. And the best way to manage your time is to plan it out.

We should be scheduling out time for physical exercise, social media, checking email daily. The list could go on forever and usually does, especially when this schedule isn’t utilized. Keeping yourself honest will always be the best policy, so don’t forget to prioritize booking out time for hanging out with loved ones. This policy can be a very effective way to manage your most precious assets while recharging the batteries after a long day at work.

Even with scheduling, time management can become erratic and get away from us, which is why setting aside specific times for projects can be the ultimate time management hack to take your game to the next level.

The Pomodoro Technique, created by Francesco Cirillo, utilizes a simple formula for managing time by setting 25 minutes of designated space for performing one specific task at a time. This technique is simple yet highly effective and aligns with our current understanding of neuropsychology and how the brain processes information.

The old-school strategies of multitasking are outdated and unfounded in neuroscience as research continues to show that switching tasks is very time and energy-intense. It also depletes the brain’s energy reserves and slows down central processing within the prefrontal cortex—the brain region responsible for executive function, decision-making, and motivation.[6]

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As you continue to switch back and forth between tasks, the brain becomes fatigued and error-prone, which can further delay progress and increase your chances of having to redo your work. Some research even estimates that task switching via multitasking can increase our error rates by nearly 50%, causing our tasks to take twice as long to finish.[7]

So, the next time your coworker starts to brag about their ability to multitask at their desk, enjoy the comforting feeling that you’re more likely to get the next promotion than they are.

3. Prime Your Brain for Success

The saying is true: “If you don’t use it, you truly do lose it.” It’s is a classic philosophy in neuroscience, specifically speaking about forming habits, optimizing physical and mental performance, and understanding how the central nervous system works in tandem with the body to execute activities.

Eliminating distractions and setting a daily schedule are essential steps for having undivided attention—and success. Still, these tactics can’t be utilized to their highest capacity if you approach your work feeling foggy, tired, in pain, or unable to motivate yourself to get ready to work.

The brain isn’t binary and far more complex than it may appear, but some tried and true principles will always remain foundational for success.

For starters, the brain thrives off of physical movement and exercise.[8] The best way to energize the brain is through physical activity because exercise can vastly improve blood flow, oxygenation, and neural activity in the brain’s executive processing regions. Exercise can also significantly impact our mental and emotional health, providing significant advantages for our overall well-being and a sense of purpose.[9]

Good brains also require good fuel to survive, which is why diet, nutrition, and giving your body a chance to heal can be advantageous for those who choose to utilize it. You wouldn’t choose to put regular unleaded gasoline into a high-performance race car, so why would you expect poor food choices to give you high-performance outcomes?

Your food choices provide fuel for your brain and body. More importantly, they also feed the gut bacteria that break your food into energy sources to produce neurotransmitters and optimize your immune function.[10][11]

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These little bugs have taken on a lot of press over the last few decades as gut bacteria and altered gut microbiome composition have been implicated in nearly every neurodegenerative condition ranging from Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and even cardiovascular disease.[12][13][14][15] You need to feed your body the proper nutrients to fuel your brain for success.

And lastly, you need to sleep like your life depends on it—because it does. There’s a reason we sleep nearly a third of our lives away. Sleep helps us recharge our internal battery and facilitates the consolidation of memories, allowing us to update our brain’s software and maximize our memory stores for enhanced learning and exploration of ideas.[16]

Sleep also accelerates our body’s healing processes, with new research uncovering vast increases in the brain’s movement of cerebrospinal fluid as a way to take out the trash accumulated in the brain throughout the day.[17]

Stressors Exist Where Systems Don’t

Knowing this information is great, but the application is where the magic happens. You need to create structured systems to elevate your standards and create your optimal work environment. Sadly, no one else can do this for you.

By owning your results and controlling what you can control, you will see your productivity skyrocket. And with undivided attention, you will see greater success levels, higher chances of advancing roles, and improved fulfillment in your work.

Being productive can be tedious, but anyone who has found success in their career will agree that most of their success resulted from the long hours of work where no one was watching. And always remember to keep your focus on things you can control.

More Tips on How to Focus

Featured photo credit: bruce mars via unsplash.com

Reference

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