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Last Updated on January 1, 2019

How to Concentrate and Train Your Brain to Focus Better

How to Concentrate and Train Your Brain to Focus Better

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to concentrate better? What can we do to train ourselves to be better focusing on our work and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

More Resources About Boosting Focus and Productivity

Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on March 15, 2019

How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

When I began managing people 15 years ago, I thought having a fancy title was synonymous with influence. Over time, I learned that power is conferred based on likeability, authenticity, courage, relationships and consistent behavior. When leaders cultivate these attributes, they earn power, which really means influence.

Understanding influence is essential to professional growth, and companies rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership.

In this article, we will look into the essentials of effective leadership and how to be a leader who is inspiring and influential.

What Makes a Leader Fail?

A host of factors influence a leader’s ability to succeed. To the extent that leaders fail to outline a compelling vision and strategy, they risk losing the trust and confidence of their teams. Employees want to know where a company is going and the strategy for how they will get there. Having this information enables employees to feel safe, and it allows them to see mistakes as part of the learning journey versus as fatal occurrences.

If employees and customers do not believe a company’s leadership is authentic and inspiring, they may disengage, or they may be less inclined to offer constructive criticism that can help a company innovate or help a leader improve.

And it is not just the leadership at the top that matters. Middle managers play a distinct role in guiding teams. Depending on the company’s size, employees may have more access to mid-level managers than they do members of the C-suite, meaning their supervisors and managers have greater influence on the employee and the customer experience.

What Is Effective Leadership?

Effective leadership is inspiring, and it is influential. Cultivating inspiring and influential leaders requires building relationships across the company.

Leaders must be connected to both the teams they lead as well as to their own colleagues and managers. This is key as titles do not make a person a leader, nor do they automatically confer influence. These are earned through trusting relationships. This explains why some leaders can get more out of their teams than others and why some leaders experience soaring profits and engagement while others sizzle out.

Eric Garton said in an April 25, 2017, Harvard Business Review article:[1]

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“… inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.”

How to Be an Inspiring and Influential Leader

To be an inspiring and influential leader requires:

1. Courage

The late poet Maya Angelou once said,

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Courage is required in the workplace when implementing new strategies, especially when they go against professional norms.

For instance, I heard Lisa TerKeurst, bestselling author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, explain her decision to move away from her company’s magazine. While the organization had long had a magazine, she saw a future where it didn’t exist.

In order to make the switch, she risked angering her team members and customers. She took a chance, and what started out as a monthly newsletter, has grown into a multi-dimensional organization boasting half a million followers. Had Lisa not found the courage to change the direction of her organization, they undoubtedly would not have been able to experience such exponential growth.

It also takes courage to give and receive feedback. When leaders see employees who are not living into the company’s mission or who are engaging in behavior that may undermine their long-term success, one must risk temporary angst and speak candidly with the colleague in question.

Similarly, it takes courage to hear constructive criticism and try to change. In business, as in life, courage is necessary for being an inspiring and influential leader.

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2. A Commitment to Face Your Internal Demons.

If you feel great about yourself, enter a leadership position. You are likely to be triggered in ways you didn’t think possible. You are also likely to receive feedback that may leave you second-guessing yourself and your leadership skills.

The truth about leading others is that you get to a point where you realize that it is difficult to take people to places where you yourself haven’t gone.

To be an influential and inspiring leader, you have to face your own demons and vow to continually improve. Influential leaders take their personal evolution serious, and they invest in coaching, therapy and mindfulness to ensure that their personal struggles do not overshadow their professional development.

3. A Willingness to Accept Feedback

Inspiring and influential leaders are not afraid to accept feedback. In fact, they actively solicit it. They understand that everyone in their life has a lesson to teach them, and they are willing to accept it.

Inspirational leaders understand that feedback is neither good nor bad but rather an offering that is critical to growth. Even when it hurts or is an affront to the ego, influential leaders understand that feedback is critical to their ability to lead.

4. Likability

Some people will argue that leaders need not worry about being liked but should instead focus on being respected. I disagree. Both are important.

When team members like their boss and believe their boss likes them, they are more likely to go the extra mile to fulfill departmental or organizational goals. Likable leaders are moved to the front of the line when it comes to being influential.

Relatedly, when colleagues feel management dislikes them, they experience internal stress and can spend unnecessary time focusing on the source of their manager’s discontent versus the work they have been hired to do.

So, likability is important for both the leader and the people she leads.

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5. Vulnerability

Vulnerability is critical for being an inspiring leader. People want the truth. They admire leaders who can occasionally demonstrate vulnerability. It promotes deeper relationships and inspires trust.

When leaders can showcase vulnerability appropriately, they destroy the illusion that one must be perfect to be a leader. They also demonstrate that vulnerability is not a dirty word; they too can be vulnerable and ask for a helping hand when necessary.

6. Authenticity

Authenticity is about living up to one’s stated values in public and behind closed doors.

Influential leaders are authentic. They set to live out their values and use those values to guide their decisions. The interesting thing about leadership is that people are not looking for perfect leaders. They are, in part, looking for leaders who are authentic.

7. A True Understanding of Inspiration

Effective leaders are inspirational. They understand the power of words and deeds and use both strategically.

Inspiring leaders appropriately use stories and narratives to enable the teams around them to see common situations in an entirely new light.

Inspirational leaders also showcase grit and triumph while convincing the people around them that success and victory are attainable.

Finally, inspiring leaders encourage the teams they lead to tap into their own genius. They convince others that genius is not reserved for a select few but that most people have it in them.

As explained in the article True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss:

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“A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.”

8. An Ability to See the Humanity in Others

Inspiring and influential leaders see the humanity in others. Rather than treating their teams as mere tools to accomplish organizational goals, they believe the people around them are unique beings with inherent value.

This means knowing when to pause to address personal challenges and dispelling with the myth that the personal is separate from the professional.

9. A Passion for Continual Learning

Inspiring and influential leaders are committed to continual learning. They invest in their own development and take responsibility for their professional growth.

These leaders understand that like a college campus, the workplace is a laboratory for learning. They believe that they can learn from multiple generations in the workplace as well as from people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Influential leaders proactively seek out opportunities for learning.

The Bottom Line

No one said leadership was easy, but it is also a joy. Influencing others to action and positively impacting the lives of others is a reward unto itself.

Since leadership abounds, there is an abundance of resources to help you grow into the type of leader who inspires and influences others.

More Resources About Effective Leadership

Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: How to Be an Inspiring Leader

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