In this episode of the Lifehack Show, we have invited Chris Bailey to be our guest to share his thoughts on staying focused in a world full of distractions.
Chris Bailey is a productivity expert and the best-selling author of The Productivity Project, which has been translated into eleven languages; and Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction. Chris blogs about productivity and speaks to businesses all over the world about how to become more productive without hating the process. He has also recently released a new book How to Calm Your Mind: Finding Presence and Productivity in Anxious Times.
Check out the full interview here:
Here I will share some of the insights Chris shared with us during the interview.
Human Brain Is Wired to Distractions
We direct our attention to every new and novel thing because our brain rewards us with a hit of this neurotransmitter – dopamine. Dopamine does not give us pleasure, but it makes us feel as if pleasure is on the way, so when we use our phones, we feel anticipation rather than pleasure, and we never truly reach a state of satisfaction. But it is this constant anticipation that keeps the distraction cycle going.
We are so prone to distractions because we are so bad at measuring our own productivity. When we are constantly distracted, our brain cannot distinguish between genuine progress and empty busyness. When our minds are stimulated, we believe we are making progress because the gears in our minds are turning. We see it as a proxy for our productivity.
Also, when we try to focus, a lot of things get in the way that we didn’t expect and in many ways don’t understand, including our own minds. So our brain has all of these biological biases that we must actively combat. Furthermore, with our phone’s addictive nature, saying no to distraction or installing a distraction blocker on the computer to be more focused is simply not enough.
This is why we must control our attention. Our attention is a resource that we must manage if we are to be productive and act with greater intention.
How to Boost Your Focus By Calming Your Mind
Having a highly stimulated brain makes you prone to stress and anxiety, which can affect your ability to stay focused.
Researchers used to believe that anxiety progressed from mild to severe, but the most recent research indicates that anxiety is not simply a spectrum with anxiety on it. It actually ranges from high anxiety to high calmness, and is determined by how active our minds are and whether we feel satisfied and pleasant in the present moment.
The calmer we become, the more productive we become because we’re able to bring a level of deliberateness to the things that we do over the course of the day. — Chris Bailey
Here are some strategies to try in order to calm your mind:
1. Respect the Speed of Your Mind
People often rail against slow work, but for example with knowledge work, we must respect the speed of our minds and work at the speed of our minds.
We can’t force our minds to move faster. It will work at the speed it is designed to work at. We must account for the proportion of our work that is mental, and that requires intensive deliberateness and intentionality.
Speed is not the enemy of productivity, it supports us in ways that we don’t really anticipate. — Chris Bailey
2. Connect with Your Future Self
One of the reasons we procrastinate is because we’re not connected with our future selves.
If you put the average person in an MRI brain scanning machine and ask them to imagine themselves in the future and then imagine a celebrity, the two brain scans would be almost identical because they saw their future selves as a stranger with whom they had no connection. As a result, putting things off is almost like giving them to a stranger to do.
The truth is that the more chances we have to connect with our future selves, the better. Journaling and writing articles to your future self, as well as planning your day and setting intentions, are all good practices.
Personally at the start of each day, I fast forward in my head to the end of the day. I ask myself what three things will I have want to accomplished by the time that this day is done, and free phrasing it very deliberately as if I am stepping over the day and looking back at it at the beginning of the day. Setting intentions in a way where I’m looking back on a day that I wish I will have had. — Chris Bailey
So, try to picture yourself where you’ll be at the end of the year, the end of the week, and the end of the day.
3. Remember: It’s Often When You Look the Least Busy That You Make the Most Progress
Chris illustrated this point with an example:
The CEO of a Fortune 500 company went on one of those nature walks to get away from the office and clear his mind of all the meetings, emails, and problems. While on that walk, his mind wandered and he came up with an idea that changed the course of his company. It allowed him to grow and make the most significant difference of his career, adding tens of billions of dollars in value to his company. One walk through nature may be more effective than answering a decade’s worth of emails in terms of progress.
Another example is when we’re reading a non-fiction book and thinking about how it relates to what we’re doing and the problems we’re facing. An idea that drops into our mental pond can ripple, cascade, and connect with other ideas. We eventually have to close the book and break out our journaling pad because we’re drowning in ideas.
There is no productivity. There are only proofs of productivity. — Chris Bailey
When we look at someone else’s work, all we have to go on are their productivity signals. It’s difficult to assess a person’s genuine progress because you don’t have control over everything on their plate. As a result, we tend to interpret signals that other people are busy as proxies for their productivity, and we do the same for ourselves. However, true productivity is slow and deliberate.
4. Embrace Boredom
The feeling we have when we go from a state of high stimulation to a state of low stimulation is known as boredom. What most people don’t realize is that boredom is a great way to bring our minds down to a lower level of stimulation where we can focus more deeply, and ideas and plans emerge. This happens because our minds have more freedom to wander.
The lower stimulation height also leads to greater depths of calm, allowing us to bring more deliberateness to whatever we do with less stimulation. In fact, Chris tried embracing boredom for an hour a day for 31 days.
During the “boredom experiment,” Chris read the iTunes terms and conditions, painted a canvas with only one color, and sat for an hour watching a clock ticking away. He tried a variety of boredom-inducing activities and discovered that, at the end of the experiment, he didn’t mind the boredom-inducing activities. He realized that boredom was when we began to try to make something new out of whatever situation we were in.
Meditation is an art of focusing on the breath — the breath, the ins and outs of the flows; and the breath is extremely boring.
(If) you can become engaged though with your breath, you can become engaged with pretty much anything. — Chris Bailey
Meditation helps with focus because it leads us to seek less stimulating novel things in the moment. When you focus on your breath, your mind will wander constantly during meditation. But if you can bring your focus back to your breath, you can bring your focus to other things too. This is like a practice for sharpening our attention.
Chris recommended meditating in the morning to start the day on a positive note without immediately overstimulating our minds, which leads to more distraction, less focus, fewer ideas, and fewer plans for the rest of the day.
When we are stressed or anxious, our minds are often preoccupied with worry or racing thoughts, making it difficult to focus. We can quiet our minds and better direct our attention to the present moment by cultivating calmness. This can help us be more productive and focused in our daily activities, as well as feel more present and engaged in them.
If you want to learn more about how to calm the mind to boost your focus, check out Chris’s latest book How to Calm Your Mind on Amazon.
|||^||WebMd: What Is Sensory Overload With Anxiety?|
|||^||NIH: The impact of anxiety upon cognition: perspectives from human threat of shock studies|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: To Get More Done, Let Your Mind Wander|