It’s Here: A Practical Way to Get Your Focus Back

English: The spotlight model of attention.

The spotlight model of attention. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Come on!! FOCUS!!!”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that in my life in different contexts….in musical groups who have been rehearsing a tough section, in a classroom that was a bit too warm during a lecture (or lab) that seemed to go….on….for….ever…., or that internal voice when I’ve been staring at the screen for awhile working on research or a project and notice that my eyes have blurred and so has my mind.

You’ve probably heard it too…

As an entrepreneur, you put a ton of time, attention and energy into your business, both the business pieces AND the product or service delivery (then there’s the ongoing customer service and support bit, too…..). Staying of top of everything can burn you out, leave you sleep and life deprived, and make it much harder to do the A+ job you normally do. Even making a bit of space becomes a challenge since your brain doesn’t necessarily “walk away” from your business (even if you do), so you could be “taking a moment” but you’re churning away inside. If that’s going on, you’re not in the moment of rest and relaxation, you’re distracted and those around you can tell, aside from the fact that the restorative nature of a break is severely diminished.

If you don’t take care of yourself, your life, your relationships and your business suffer.

In his excellent book, “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence“, Daniel Goleman writes that our tightly focused attention can get fatigued like an overworked muscle when we push it to the point of cognitive exhaustion.  The sustained focus depletes the glucose that feeds neural energy, and noticeable side effects include a drop in effectiveness and a rise in distractedness and irritability. The antidote is get some rest, but what rests a mental muscle?

A number of studies have been done showing that taking a break in a restful setting works well…..the most restful of which are in nature. Letting attention go is a big part of this, but only certain kinds of letting go work towards restoring energy for focus. What we tend to do, like surfing the web, playing video games, watching TV or answering email, do not work. A walk in a park or arboretum works better than a walk downtown (no lights or traffic to navigate…). Even just a short walk of 5 – 10 minutes can help. Really paying attention to the moment (the color of the clouds, the light on the leaves in the trees or a butterfly’s flutter) rather than composing that next email in your head before you get back is helpful. This can allow your brain’s circuits to replenish their energy a little, restoring attentiveness and memory, and improving cognition. According to Goleman, even sitting by a mural of a nature scene – particularly one with water in it –  is better than the corner Starbucks.

While this is a good thing to include in your day, what if you were even more intentional about restoring your focus? You could switch off your busy mind by fully focusing on something relaxing. This could be an immersive experience…one where your attention can be TOTAL but largely passive. Pretty much anything you can get enjoyably lost in will do. Total, positive absorption shuts off the inner voice. It’s the main effect of virtually every contemplative practice that keeps your mind focused on a neutral target, like your breath or a mantra. Traditional retreat settings are ideal…like a monastery.

But you don’t need to book a year in the Himalayas to get your focus back!  Goleman tells us that William Falk had a simple remedy: “…he stopped his work and went to play with his daughter in the waves. “Tumbling and hooting in the pounding surf with my daughter, I was fully present in the moment. Fully alive.” – Goleman, Daniel (2013-10-08). Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (p. 58). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

After I finish this post I’m going to go on a short walk by Hood Canal (about a quarter mile from where I live in Washington) and gaze at the water and the Olympic Mountains.

What kind of break will you give yourself today?

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