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7 Strategies To Stay Super Focused

7 Strategies To Stay Super Focused

Staying focused on your task, priorities and mission is vital to your success. But it doesn’t come easily when you’re overwhelmed with daily distractions, a long to-do list, and multiple projects that demand your attention.

Here are seven strategies to stay super focused:

Say “no, thank you.”

Get clear on what you really want to achieve. Choose deliberately. Prune your to-do list. Declutter your schedule. Shed meaningless tasks. Forget about goals that no longer serve you. Switch gears or change the channel. Drop, delegate or barter assignments that don’t cater to your core strengths and true purpose.

Having too much on your plate weighs you down and creates leftover mess. Tackle three essential tasks to complete on a given day or three major goals to accomplish in a week. When something isn’t right for you, say “no, thank you.” This will give you more time and space to commit to things that matter.

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Mentally rehearse the task.

Visualize the ideal process, instead of obsessing over desired results. Picture yourself performing the task brilliantly and with ease. See yourself overcoming obstacles and maneuvering around hurdles. How will you feel when the deal is done? Elated? Excited? Evolved? Use these positive vibes to inspire you, pull you in, and take focused action.

Keep your energy up during breaks.

When you’re in a state of flow, it’s invigorating to stay on task. But forcing yourself to soldier on, when you’re drained, impairs your creativity and productivity. Regular breaks, for as little as 5 to 15 minutes, can do wonders. Take a walk, chat with a friend, grab a healthy snack, or get some fresh air.

Without consistent renewal and rejuvenation, it’s hard to stay alert and maintain focus. Set a regular bedtime routine and get a good night’s rest to avoid zoning out. Step away from the task when your interest in it begins to plummet. Go back to it when you refuel your energy.

Stop multitasking.

Doing multiple things at once or switching rapidly between tasks is the opposite of focus. So pick one important task and fully engage with it. Before you move on to the next thing, pause intentionally, take a deep breath, and bask in gratitude for the thing you just did.

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If you tend to get bored doing one task, you could set a timer to perform it in short bursts of 15 to 25 minutes. Or you could batch together similar tasks that require the same resources. For example, run your errands, file paperwork, reply to emails, and return telephone calls in designated time blocks.

Boost your willpower.

Focus requires self-control and the ability to resist short-term temptations for long-term gains. Breath-work, yoga and meditation are among the most effective ways to boost your willpower. These mindful practices help you take deliberate action, regardless of your shifting thoughts and volatile emotions.

You don’t have to follow through on each thought or act on every emotion that arises. You can simply sit with it without getting carried away by it. Come back to your breath. Do a body scan. Return to the present moment. Honing your willpower helps you stay focused rather than get distracted by mental chatter and unwanted feelings.

Make it automatic.

Develop regular habits and simple routines to make a task more automatic. Lay out the tools you will need to complete it. Pick a specific time to perform it. Set up reminders to work on it and reward yourself when you do.

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When an action step is part of your routine, you are bound to resist it less. This helps you preserve your energy and attention span for more difficult tasks that aren’t easily automated.

Create a supportive environment.

Constant interruptions and unnecessary distractions dilute your focus. Arrange your work space to discourage unscheduled visits. Plug in your earphones and listen to soothing music or white noise. Move to a quieter place if you can’t block out office banter. Schedule time blocks to focus on the task at hand.

If you want to complete a challenging project, turn off your phone, mobile devices and email and IM notifications. Disconnect from the Internet. Optimize your environment to keep your focus, find flow in your work, and experience real progress.

* * *

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Use one, all or a combination of these strategies to overcome internal busyness and reduce external distractions. Review what works for you. Make use of your preferred techniques to stay super focused and get meaningful things done.

Featured photo credit: Dani Ihtatho via flic.kr

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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