In today’s always-busy world, it can be challenging to stay focused.
Distractions are everywhere: emails, news, social media, and companies competing for your attention. Many people play a catch-up game, trying to stay at the top of all the information. Although rest is important, it’s easily forgotten.
The problem is that our brains become wired to stay always-on-the-go. But, there is a way out: the art of refocusing.
Where’s Your Attention?
Close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. Don’t try to control your breathing; let it be as it is.
When your mind has settled on your breathing, count every breath. If your mind starts wandering, start over from “one” again.
How far did you get?
When I did this for the first time, my mind started to drift away immediately. "One, one, one, one", I counted. A few days of regular practice later, I could count to “three” before my mind drifted away.
How to Improve Your Focus
The first step towards spending more time in a focused state is to realize that when you focus on a task, sooner or later, your mind will drift away. (A phenomenon called mind-wandering). Trying to fight that is a waste of energy.
Instead, whenever you lose focus, be mindful of it and gently bring your attention back to the task at hand. At first, this is incredibly hard. But if you practice it every day, it will become a tiny bit easier every time.
You can think about your mind as a muscle. In the same way that you have to work out your muscles to get stronger, you have to work out your mind to get better at cognitive skills.
5 Useful Strategies to Refocus and Overcome Distractions
When your mind drifts away, try one of these simple strategies to refocus.
1. Practice Meditation
When we practice meditation, we practice refocusing.
- Pay attention to your breathing.
- Whenever you lose focus, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
The goal with meditation is not to never lose focus but rather to bring your attention back whenever your mind drifts away. It’s the same in life: whenever we lose focus on what is important, we have to bring it back.
2. Know Your Priorities
Getting your priorities straight can help you to know what to refocus on.
If you don’t know your priorities, answering these questions can help:
- What is essential for me in my life?
- On what things do I spend my time?
- What are my long term goals?
Beware though, sometimes our priorities and how we spend our times aren’t the same. In this situation, writing a “not-to-do” list with things you should avoid can help.
This leads us to the next strategy…
3. Make Lists
Lists are a useful tool to help you to refocus whenever your mind drifts away. Here are some ideas on lists you can make:
- Daily goal list / Daily todo list
- Weekly goal list / Weekly todo list
- Not-to-do list
- Yearly goal list
Every week, I make a todo list with things I have to get done to meet my long term goals. Every day, I break down my weekly list into small manageable parts that can be done in a few hours or less.
Do I lose focus sometimes? Hell yes.
But I always try to refocus myself as soon as possible. Making these lists help me understand what I need to do and where my priorities are right now.
(Did I say I’m a list-maniac?)
Remember, lists are tools. Sometimes we set unrealistic goals that we can’t commit to. In these cases, rewrite your goal list. Don’t be a perfectionist; don’t try to get it right from the start. Plot something down and try your best to commit to it—revise it later.
4. Focus on the Now by Setting Intentions
I’m a big believer in setting intentions.
For example, when first writing this article, my intention was to write consequently for an hour. This helped me stay productive. Whenever I lost focus, I could remind myself about my intention and continue writing.
So, what’s the difference between goals and intentions? While goals focus on the future, intentions focus on the present moment.
I like the idea of setting intentions throughout the day because it helps me stay in the present moment. It also makes it easier to refocus whenever my mind starts wandering.
5. Take a Deep Breath
Sometimes, the best way to refocus is by taking a deep, deep breath.
If your mind wanders, take a deep breath. First, fill up your belly, then fill up your entire lungs. Make sure that you relax your shoulders.
A simple breathing exercise you can try:
- Breathe in and count to five.
- Hold your breath and count to two.
- Breathe out on eight.
Do this four times (will take about two minutes) and pay attention to how your body relaxes and your mind slows down.
In life, whenever we lose focus on what is essential, we have to bring it back. We have to refocus.
At first, it can feel challenging. But, by training ourselves to refocus, it will become more intuitive.
I often write about this in my newsletter, so if you want to live more mindfully, you should give it a try.