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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 November 29, 2021

How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

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How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

From modern technology to interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers, distractions are practically unavoidable. This makes it very hard to focus, especially for a sustained period of time on a specific task. Becoming indistractable, then, is an important skill to learn if we want to be truly productive.

Distractions aren’t going to decrease any time soon with advances in technology. Therefore, there is no better time than now to learn the best strategies to help you defeat distractions head on. Remember, many distractions may be out of your control, but you can learn to take charge of whether or not they take control of you.

In this article, you’ll learn not only why distractions are so destructive, but also why they exist in the first place, and a powerful technique that can help you get rid of them for good.

What Is a Distraction?

A distraction is anything that draws attention away from what you’re doing at a given moment. Examples include looking at your phone each time a notification pops up, chatting with people who stop by your office space while you’re working, or checking social media or emails while trying to finish a big project.

Distractions can cause problems for more than just a few seconds. When you switch your attention, you create attention residue, which can linger for an extended amount of time, getting in the way of your focus.

If you really want to become indistractable, you’ll need to overcome each distraction that steps in your path.

Traction: The Opposite of Distraction

We’ve come to the conclusion that distractions are bad, and we don’t want them interfering with what we need to get done. What we want to achieve is the opposite: traction. Now, there aren’t any official antonym for distraction. However, I propose it so as by definition traction is any action that moves us towards what we really want.

Traction is an action that you fully engage in with intent—following through with what you say you will do.

    How To Tell If You’re Distracted

    Most people find it quite common to be distracted. The bustle of everyday life, heightened by social media and other means of escapism into a reality that’s not ours, has offered everyone things to pass their time with.

    Today, being distracted leads to wasting a significant amount of time during the day. Yet, it is not addressed as seriously as it should be. If you can spot the signs of distraction, then you can tackle the issue in time and live the life you want to.

    “Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.”
    [1]

    We have become so used to being distracted that we hardly see it as a bad thing anymore. Distraction can look different in various kinds of people. However, if you’re looking to become indistractable then here are signs to look out for to check if you’re becoming distracted so you can address the issue in time.

    • You find yourself wanting to check your phone frequently: Checking your phone often or feeling the need to constantly be active on social media during work hours or when you’re doing a task is one of the biggest signs of distraction.
    • You look at an object for a long time unable to figure out what to do with it: Although you have something to do, and the materials to do it with, you find it hard to figure out how to go about the task
    • The thing you’re working on feels so boring you want to do something fun: This stems from dissatisfaction with the work you’re doing. This dissatisfaction leads to you feeling bored with your task and seeking external comfort in something ‘fun’.
    • When you’re doing something mundane, you’re thinking about doing the things you like: Constantly thinking about things you like is what most people do when they cannot keep traction with the work in front of them. This usually happens when they are thinking about activities they look forward to once the task is over.
    • Audio-visual stimuli around you make it hard to focus on the task at hand: Although you’re working on the task, every voice or passing visual catches your attention. This may cause you to forget about work and listen in on a nearby conversation instead.

    The Reasons for Distraction

    When we talk about distractions, we’re talking about human behavior and reactions to the distractions themselves. And, all human behavior is marked by external or internal triggers.

    External Triggers

    External triggers

    are cues that we take from our environment that tell us what to do, such as pings from our phone or computer that prompt us to look at whatever the alert is announcing: an Instagram update, an email, a text from an old friend. These external triggers compete for our attention with whatever task we’re ultimately trying to focus on. Sometimes, the mere presence of an object itself, such as having your phone nearby, can prompt you to give it attention.

    Internal Triggers

    There are also internal triggers, which are simply cues that come from within, such as hunger, anxiety about an upcoming event, or feeling cold.

    All human behavior is prompted by external or internal triggers; therefore, traction and distraction both originate from the same source.

    How to Overcome Distraction and Become Indistractable

    Distractions can easily take over your life, but below I outline 4 simple tactics to take back your control and become indistractable. This concept I am sharing with you now draws from my book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

    1. Master Internal Triggers

    To overcome distractions and slip into deep work, you first need to understand your root cause of distraction. Humans have a natural tendency to want to escape discomfort. Even at times where we are going after pleasure and positive events, our drive often revolves around freeing ourselves from the discomfort of wanting.

    In truth, we will turn to social media, emails, video games, and Netflix not necessarily for the pleasure that they provide, but because of how they free us from psychological discomfort within. While it provides temporary relief, it is an unhealthy way to deal with your life. Even though you can’t control all outside situations and occurrences, you can control how you react to those circumstances.

    Various studies show that when humans don’t give into an urge, craving or impulse, it can trigger rumination and make the desire grow even stronger. So, when you eventually give in, your reward is increased, which can turn quickly into an undesired habit.

    Identify the Feeling or Thought Behind Your Urge

    When you find yourself wanting to give into your distraction, stop and become familiar with the internal trigger. Are you feeling anxious, overtired, or maybe you’re underprepared for the task at hand?

    Write Your Feelings Down

    Using a log and writing down the time of day and what you were doing, along with the feeling that accompanies it. Doing so will help you link your own behaviors with your internal triggers, which will help you better notice the thoughts and feelings that precede certain behaviors and better manage them.

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    Get Curious and Explore Your Feelings and Sensations

    Have a sense of curiosity towards your feelings. Notice if you have butterflies in your stomach, or a tightening in your muscles.

    2. Make Time for Traction

    Planning is critical to beating distractions, because if you don’t plan your day, surely someone else will! When you’re not clear on how you want to deal with your time and attention, anything and everything becomes a potential distraction.

    First, you need to turn your values into time. Of course, many of us want to spend more time with things that matter most to us: our family, friends and hobbies. But, we often fail to do so because we don’t make time for them in our day.

    So, you must acquire the attributes and values of the person you want to become.

    Examples might include becoming a contributing member of a team, spending quality time with your children, jumping into continuing education, becoming physically fit, or giving back to your community. Many of us wish to subscribe to these values, but without making the time to take actions to live them out, they’re simply empty aspirations.

    Timebox Your Schedule

    Timeboxing is, in my opinion, the most effective way to ensure time for your values. Timeboxing is the process of deciding what you’re going to do and exactly when you’re going to do it, helping you become indistractable.

    You simply create a daily calendar template for how to spend your time, so that you have no white space in your day. It isn’t important what you have planned to do, as long as you stick to it. If you feel a need to scroll through social media, just make sure you have planned appropriately for it.

    Be sure to include 15 minutes per week to reflect and refine your calendar, improving it week by week. You can ask yourself: When did I do what I said I would do, and when did I get distracted?

    At times where you became distracted, note what triggered it and come up with a strategy to use the next time the distraction or urge arises. Also ask: Are there changes I can make to my calendar that will give me the time I need to better express my values?

    Synch Your Schedule With Others

    Once your ideal week has been planned, be sure to notify others of importance in your life. Make a clear intention to stick with your plans and involve those who matter most. This could be related to sharing household responsibilities, alerting your boss to your timeline intentions at work, or even scheduling a date with your partner.

    3. Combat External Technical Triggers

    Tech companies are adept at using external triggers to hack into our attention. There are countless ways they do so, but our smartphone use is fueled by many of these triggers.

    Research shows that ignoring a call or message can be just as distracting as responding to one! If used properly, though, you can take control and rely on these external triggers to remind you to follow through with what you planned.

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    To do so, simply ask whether the external trigger is serving you, or if you are serving it. If the trigger leads you to traction, keep it; if it leads you to distraction, get rid of it. A few things to consider:

    1. Remove any and all apps you no longer need.
    2. Remove any apps that you enjoy, but you can use on your computer instead.
    3. Reduce the clutter on your home screen by rearranging the apps on your phone.
    4. Remove notification settings for each app that you don’t need updates on (social media, etc.).

    4. Make a Pact to Prevent Distractions

    Forethought is the antidote to impulsivity and key to becoming indistractable. Therefore, it’s useful to pre-commit to something in order to overcome distraction.

    We cement these decisions far in advance of any temptations and distractions that may come our way. This should only be undertaken after you have followed the other three steps and learned to manage internal triggers, make time for traction, and reduce external triggers.

    Here are the three types of pacts:

    Effort Pact

    This is a kind of pre-commitment that requires you to increase the amount of effort towards something you would rather not do. Increasing your effort forces you make the decision as to whether the distraction is really worth it or not. Some great apps that can help you with this include SelfControl, Forest, and Freedom.

    Price Pact

    This pact puts money on the line, where you get to keep your money if you follow through with your intended behavior, and if you get distracted, you lose your funds.

    I committed to a price pact when finishing the first draft of my book, promising an accountability partner $10,000 if I failed to finish my draft by the set deadline. This was an incentive for me to finish writing my book and keep my money.

    Identity Pact

    This is the method of using your self-image to impact your behavior and become indistractable. By deciding on and undertaking a new identity, you will empower yourself to make decisions based on who you believe you are. Think about vegetarians—they do not have to expend much willpower to avoid eating meat because they have committed to that as part of their identity.

    To become a person who is indistractable, stop telling yourself you are a person with a “short attention span” or an “addictive personality.” Rather, tell yourself, “I am indistractable.” If you say to yourself that you are easily distracted, it instantly becomes a truth. Yet, if you commit to believing that you are indistractable, you will immediately begin to implement these strategies, which will empower you to conquer any distraction that comes your way.

    Easy to Use Tools That Help You Stay Focused

    Technology doesn’t have to be the enemy if you’re looking to become more focused and avoid distractions. Some anti-distraction tools and apps help keep you focused by blocking out possible causes for distraction.

    You might be the sort of person who faces distraction at work, or you just can’t make yourself sit down at your desk and get to work, but there’s always hope. Here are some of the best tools that remove distractions and bring out your best potential.

    1. Dewo

    This apps blocks all distracting social media apps automatically, keeping you free from notifications and the constant light-up of your screen. The best part of Dewo is that it gets accustomed to your focus patterns and can even go on ‘automatic’ mode for you.

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    You can ask the app to schedule meetings and appointments for people in your contacts, and it simply picks the most convenient time for you that won’t interfere with your focus schedule.

    2. Freedom

    The Freedom app, much contrary to its name, restricts websites and locks up the internet during focus hours. Once you’ve made up your mind to lock up apps then it won’t let you access them regardless of how you feel later.

    For those who find themselves distracted even on their laptop, this app will work on the computer as well. Most people may consider these methods ruthless, but they are incredibly effective.

    3. Focusme

    Readers who are looking for an app that helps them create healthy work patterns, minimize distraction, block attractive sites, and much more – FocusMe is the perfect app for you. This app helps block out certain apps and sites for selected periods.

    It also gets used to the owner’s work ethic and gives helpful tips and suggestions on what apps to block and when to take breaks. This increases productivity and reduces the chances of dissatisfaction and boredom.

    The Bottom Line

    To become indistractable, you don’t need to have superpowers. It’s truly as easy as following the few steps mentioned above. When you master internal triggers, make time for traction, dissolve any extraneous external triggers, and prevent distractions by creating pacts, you will reshape your entire life.

    However, the important part is to understand that to make a difference, you need to act now. There is no better time to regain control over your life than the present. Taking things step-by-step helps you sustainably achieve your goals. You want to be indistractable for the rest of your life, not just for the week.

    Once you have the ability to see tasks to the end after having committed to them, nothing in life can derail you from your path. This is why indistractability is important, it disciplines you to deal with the harsh realities of life.

    Here are some tips on how to work on your traction just as you finish reading this article.

    • Go through your apps and remove ones that are absolutely unnecessary to your life and goal. You may keep only two that you use for games or recreation.
    • Practice mindfulness through keeping a diary, making observations about your day, having a to-do list, and much more.
    • Whenever you find yourself distracted, re-evaluate the place of that distraction in your life and how it implicates your life’s goals.

    More to Help You Stay Focused

    Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Nir Eyal, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

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