When we are distracted we find our attention repeatedly being pulled away. We find it difficult to focus and tend to jump from one thing to another. This can feel mentally exhausting as we are constantly shifting gears from one topic to the next. Thankfully, Anna Black is on hand to share her tips t o improve your focus!
We can learn to focus by training our attention though practising mindfulness meditation. Research has shown that people who meditate regularly – that is for a short period every day – will actually change their brain and increase activity in the area of the brain to do with attention and focus.
Practice this simple meditation whenever you can. You can do them in the office, travelling to work, standing in the supermarket queue and no one would know that you are doing them.
60 seconds of mindfulness
The first time you do this you will need to set a timer or stopwatch to 60 seconds.
Find somewhere quiet to sit and begin watching your breath. Notice how each breath is made up of an in-breath and an out- breath. When you have spent a moment or two following the breath set your timer to 60 seconds if you haven’t already done so and begin counting each breath (an in-breath and an out-breath is one breath).
When the timer sounds, note how many breaths you have taken. It will vary from person to person and can be anything from 9 to 18 or 19. You can always do this a couple of times to get an average.
Whatever number of breaths you counted, remember this number and whenever you need 60 Seconds of Mindfulness just follow your breath, counting that number of breaths (remembering that each breath is made up of an in- and an out-breath).
If your mind wanders when you are doing this just bring it back to the count as soon as you realise without any judgement.
Do this as often as you can.
How often do you check your phone or Facebook page? When we start paying attention to this we may find that we are checking it every few minutes – sometimes out of boredom, sometimes just because we are in the habit of doing so. We are acting automatically and fueling our inattention by allowing ourselves to be distracted in this way.
We can kick the habit but like any habits first we have to notice when we are doing it.
Begin by paying attention whenever you check your phone. Notice if it seems like a habit that is out of control. When you check are you learning anything new? How does it make you feel? Just notice what the constant checking feels like both in the moment and afterwards, and how it affects you.
If you notice that your behaviour seems excessive, play with the idea of checking the impulse. Notice the impulse to check your phone and see if you can inhibit it. Paying attention to any thoughts, emotions and physical sensations arising in the body as you do so.
The next time the impulse arises see if you can check it again. Still paying attention to how that feels in the heard, heart and body. The third time the impulse to check your phone arises make a choice whether you would like to do so or not.
The more frequently we can inhibit this type of automatic behaviour and change a subconscious reaction into a deliberate one, the more we are going to improve our attention and be less easily distracted.
Whenever you do anything like this do treat it as an experiment and just see what happens.
About the author
Anna Black began practising mindfulness as a way of managing her own general and work-related stress. She has taught mindfulness in the workplace and has been teaching stress reduction through mindfulness since 2006.