In this article I will discuss the importance of staying focused in the contemporary world, as well as its most typical distractions and most effective ways to combat them. With most people being almost constantly glued to their devices, those who resist have a tremendous advantage.
If you find it hard to read a book in one fell swoop or stop checking your notifications while on a date with your BF or GF, this article is going to help you fight the temptations. However, you should realize that being distracted all the time is not a norm, but a problem which needs to be addressed.
What is Focus?
Focus is a muscle which can be trained with enough persistence and regularity. There are three types of focus: the inner, the outer and the other. All of them are critical to your success in personal as well as professional settings.
The inner focus means your inward awareness of your plans, dreams and aspirations. In order to develop it, you need to try writing down what’s important for you and how you think you can best attain those goals. Then you need to control how you behave on a daily basis by trying to stay away from common distractions like social media or your fridge, and striving to maintain focus for long periods of time. Knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses is the first step towards a happy life.
The outer focus presupposes your understanding of the outside world, its pitfalls and rules. No matter how good you know yourself, if you cannot navigate the surroundings, you are not very likely to get lucky and get rewarded for your efforts. The world is vast; it offers a multitude of various opportunities, and you will need to pick only those which best suit your personality and long-term aspirations. It is also essential not to get tricked by its empty promises and beguiling traps.
The other focus determines how well you can understand and connect with the others. Knowing your neighbor is a great countermeasure against disappointment and frustration. If you have at least a vague idea about what to expect from your friends, colleagues or family members, you are less likely to become sad if their actions do not meet your expectations. Moreover, building a powerful social network is crucial for a lifelong happiness and, of course, a good health.
Why Is Focus Lost in the Modern World?
As you might have expected, the short answer is social media. First of all, it is detrimental to people’s social skills. Nowadays the young often prefer texting to even calling, let alone meeting their friends in person. It leads to poor social skills which then transfer into bad relationships and miscellaneous conflicts. Especially it is dangerous for children, as it is especially important for them to have close ties with people around them. Otherwise, they grow up gloomy and detached from the society, which is very hard to correct in a more adult age.
In 2006 there was a buzzword for this phenomenon – pizzled (a combination of pissed and puzzled). Basically, it refers to a certain behavior of individuals who go to check their phones in the midst of a conversation. Unfortunately, this pattern is becoming increasingly common, and it often destroys really strong relationships. In addition, this inability to focus rewires the brain, which results in poorer cognition and being incapable to focus on something for long.
Once Herbert Simon, who won a Nobel Prize for economics, noted that technology, although having many benefits, would consume people’s attention and lead to its deficit. These words turned out to be prophetical, as people find it harder and harder to work without getting interrupted or distracted by something else. There are so many stimuli around, and many people have not yet learned how to keep their urges in check. It leads to massive issues when they try to learn something new or even have a meaningful conversation with their partner.
What Is the Science Behind It?
First of all, let’s delineate the two principal distractions which people face: 1) sensory (being cold or hot, having a need to eat or being irritated by a loud sound) and 2) emotional (ruminating on a recent breakup or hurtful words of your friend, thinking about the meaning of your life). As you might guess, the latter are much harder to control, and they are the ones causing the most problems.
In order to produce the best results, people need to get into flow moments. Those are periods when they forget about the rest of the world and focus entirely on the task in hand. It is, however, not as easy as many might think, as this state is achieved only by 20 % of individuals daily. The majority just feels bored, stressed or irritated, which, of course, precludes them from showing spectacular results at work.
It is the prefrontal regions which are responsible for focus and the basal ganglia in the bottom part of the brains near the spinal cord which account for mind wandering. Both of these states are useful in their own way, and a healthy person needs to switch between them from time to time. This is all about the balance, and there are effective ways to reach it.
How to Reach Stability?
It is obvious that focused attention consumes much more energy than a dispersed kind. When you truly strain your mind to keep riveted on something, you drain much more resources than when you just let it wonder. However, it is proven that in order to be effective, you need to be able to do both.
So, in order to stay focused you need to follow three basic rules. First of all, it is essential to do something you believe is meaningful and enjoy it. Second of all, you have to choose a demanding task which would really make your mental gears turn. Thirdly, you should add just a little bit of pressure like a time constraint or an obligation, which would push you away from any other pleasant activities.
Even though most people deem focused attention to be the most significant one, wandering mind is just as important from a scientific perspective. It stimulates creativity and lets your mind rest away from the cornucopia of information. In order to achieve this state, you need to get away from the city and spend some time in the nature. It may also help to do some meditation or relaxing activities like taking a bath or lying down for some time.
Student’s life can be tough, and knowing how to operate your mind in these extreme circumstances is a key to graduating with a high GPA and not losing your sanity. It is important to be exacting and pushing towards higher goals, but it is crucial not to forget about the power of a good relaxing weekend. Those are not only going to restore your mental resources, but might also result in breakthrough ideas and a general spike in creativity.
In any case, just remember that you can be trained. The more you force yourself to stay focused, the easier it is going to become over time. The more often you switch off all the gadgets and just let your mind wander, the easier it is going to be to understand your innermost feelings and desires and put them under control. You just need to be mindful of your actions and never give up.