“Concentrate all your thoughts on the task at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”Alexander Graham Bell
We are all gifted: gifted with the power to think about our thinking. You can focus your thinking to improve any area of your life; you are in control of what you choose to attend to. You can continue to allow your attention to be pulled by your environment, or you can decide now to direct it.
Many people believe super concentration is a magical state with which only a lucky few are born. For instance, do you agree with this statement: big muscular biceps are something you are born with? No of course not because we all know it takes many hours of training in a gym. Yet, people look at attention as something you have or don’t have. Concentration, like anything in life, takes practice.
Concentration is made up of many small choices consistently practised. Everyday brain research is telling us that the brain is consistently changing when we learn something new. The people that limit their attention are still using the ‘your-brain-can’t-change’ model. We know that concentration can and should be improved. You have everything in you now to take control of your bouncing monkey mind and to take your power back.
Here is the average person’s daily attention training:
They wake up in the morning, not peacefully, usually to some loud song or blaring alarm clock. They check their mobile phone for any messages, just to see if anyone missed them. Then they jump out of bed into the shower and there they think about a hundred and ten things that they need to worry about or need to do. Unfortunately, they haven’t allowed themselves enough time to get ready and can only manage a small unhealthy breakfast and fill up with coffee. They get in their car, put the radio on, make phone calls, or even try to text messages in the traffic. They get all angry, and they get all worked up about the traffic. The traffic is there and won’t change; yet, they think it should change. In fact, we worry and focus our attention on a ‘million’ things which can all wait for the appropriate time, but we allow our attention to be pulled in different directions.
Imagine your attention was an Olympic athlete. Would your athlete be able to be competitive? The reason our attention and focus isn’t that great is because we haven’t trained it. We keep on switching through the channels of our minds and never stop long enough on one specific channel. We pay attention half-heartedly on almost everything we do these days. We live in an activity illusion and think that ‘busyness’ is equal to good business. Busyness is sometimes just procrastination in disguise. Busyness may make you feel good and make you think you are more productive but when we look back at the end of the day we realize we haven’t done anything worthwhile. We are training our minds to have continuous partial attention, and our attention is being fragmented.
Training your concentration isn’t that hard. You just have to learn to become more peaceful and find the moment. You have to learn to be here now. When you are at work, be at work. When you are at home, be at home. “Learn to be silent. Let your quiet mind listen and absorb,” said Pythagoras.
We fill our minds up with all kinds of conflict, and this takes us away from the moment. Have you ever had a fight with someone at home, then you get to work, and the whole day you can’t concentrate? Conflict pulls your mind in many directions; when you fill your mind with conflict, your mind will be all over the place. Conflict is the opposite of concentration.
When you are peaceful, you enjoy the moment and your mind becomes like a laser beam. Peace and concentration are the same thing. There are four areas that you need to focus on to eliminate conflict and create more peace in your mind:
1. Take Control of Your Inner Voice
Do you have a little voice that talks to you in your head? If you are not sure, you are probably asking yourself, “Do I have a little voice or don’t I?” We all have a little voice, and it has a huge influence on our concentration and our lives. You are constantly talking to yourself but the only problem is that you catch yourself doing things wrong. Start to catch yourself doing more things right.
How or where did you concentrate well today? In what area of your life do you need to stop ‘beating’ yourself up?
Your inner voice has the ability to offer instructions so instruct yourself well. It is the center of your focus of control that helps you explain and make sense of your world. Don’t agree with the wrong voices; all self-hatred and conflict is just a thought or a little voice… so change the thought. It is not set in stone. Remember: if you give yourself bad commands, then bad things will happen.
2. Stop Multitasking
We destroy our concentration by multitasking the moment and our peace away. Multitasking is a myth!
If you watch a lioness hunting in the wild, she will focus on one wildebeest. She never focuses on two – because she knows the odds of missing both are stacked against her. She is single minded and does everything in her power to achieve her goal. In the circus when they train lions, they put a chair in front of their face to control their behavior. This confuses the lion and divides their attention. Now they have four chair legs to focus on, and they go into a type of trance. We humans are the same. Our brain can really only focus on one thing at a time. It is impossible to focus on two things at the same time. When you are multitasking, you are actually switching between tasks, you are always semi-attending, and it is not very effective. We cannot do more than one thing well at a time. It has become one of the most damaging myths out there.
We are training our brains to have an attention deficit. A lot of people simply cannot focus for an extended period of time anymore. I have heard that the average person looks at their mobile phone about 50 times a day. We are reading emails, the news, Facebook, and Twitter etc., during what should be family and relationship time. People these days even drive while talking on a phone. Driving with a mobile phone makes you hit the brakes 0.5 seconds slower. If you are travelling at 112 km per hour, in 0.5seconds you travel 15.5 meters… a lot can happen over that distance. If you are distracted in your car, you have a 9 times higher chance of having an accident. When your phone rings, you don’t have to pick it up… that’s why voice mail was invented!
Neuroscience consultant Marilee Springer says, “Multi-tasking is known to slow people down by 50% and add 50% more mistakes.” Multi-tasking is like putting your brain on drugs. There is a whole body of research that shows that multitasking is less productive, makes you less creative, and contributes to you making bad decisions.
We are also not allowing ourselves to sit and enjoy the moment anymore. Blaise Pascal said, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” We get in the car, and we have to put the radio on. When we arrive home we have to put the TV on. When we watch TV, we flip through the channels. We even lack enough attention to watch the commercials. We are constantly filling our minds with conflict. Most people allow their attention to be pulled in different directions; very few people direct their attention. A lack of attention direction is the real disorder.
Stop overwhelming yourself by continually changing the channels of your mind. Sharpen up your intellect by returning to the habit of doing one thing at a time. Rediscover the value of consecutive tasking, instead of settling for the quality dilution associated with simultaneous tasking. Exceptional work is always associated with periods of deep concentration. Nothing excellent ever comes from a scattered effort. When you are all there, your brain power and resources will be all there, too.
3. Know What You Want
When people approach information they never really know what they want out of it. They don’t direct their minds. Learn to engage and be present with information by creating a strong PIC in your mind:
Having a clear purpose is important because clarity dissolves resistance. Always remember why you are reading or learning the information. Keep your purpose at the forefront of your mind. If you don’t know what you want, how are you going to know when you get it? Learning with a purpose increases your attention, comprehension, retention, and organizes your thoughts. The more specific the purpose, the more information you will get. A vague purpose would be: I want to learn more about memory from this book. A specific purpose would be: I want to learn at least six key strategies that will enable me to improve my memory. Focus on getting information that you can use – and then put it into practice. As David Allen said, “If you’re not sure why you’re doing something, you can never do enough of it.”
Your level of interest sets the direction of your attention and, therefore, your level of focus. If you are not interested, remembering what you read will be almost impossible. Whatever is highest on your interest list is where your mind is alert, disciplined, and focused. Whatever is lower on your interest list is where you hesitate and procrastinate.
You can remember mountains of information when you are interested in the subject. It almost feels automatic and your concentration is at a peak. Your deficits of attention are mostly interest deficits. Your mind never wanders away; it only moves towards more interesting and outstanding things.
We all know that interest improves concentration but how do we get interested in the ‘boring’ information? The first step is to find your interests and then to find links or connections between your interests and the new information that you are learning. For example, I’m interested in training and sharing knowledge with other people. When I read anything I’m always searching for new information relating to my interest. When I read or listen through my interest filter, I am focused and I can concentrate. I always ask myself questions like, “How does this connect to training? How is it going to improve my life? If I read or remember this, is it going to give me something that not many people know? Is it going to help me in the future? How does this material help me achieve my goals?” In other words, all ‘boring’ information can be made more interesting with the right mindset. Gilbert Chesterton said, “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.” So get interested!
Questions are the answer to improving curiosity. Before you start reading or learning anything, ask yourself motivational questions. Most people ask questions that don’t move them to take action. They look at the book and say things like, “Why do I have to read this book? This is too much to read. This looks really boring.” If you ask questions like that, how much energy are you going to have to learn? You want to ask energy enhancing questions that get you engaged in the information. Ask yourself, “How is this relevant and applicable to my life right now? How will this information help me achieve my goals? How can I apply this information to improve my work? How will this help me? How will this information make me more significant?” Get curious about your mind and how it works. Tony Robbins says, “If you want to cure boredom, be curious. If you’re curious, nothing is a chore; it’s automatic – you want to study. Cultivate curiosity, and life becomes an unending study of joy.”
4. Eliminate Worry
Imagine one day you woke up and you didn’t have to worry. What would you feel like? You would be peaceful; there would be no thoughts moving through your mind. No thoughts sending stress emotions through your system.
Imagine waking up and you didn’t have to run or control other people’s behaviors or control the government with your thinking. Imagine you didn’t have to believe the latest fear rumor.
Byron Katie says, “I could only find three kinds of business in the world – mine, yours, and God’s. Whose business are you in?” You become more relaxed when you decide to take up residence in your own mind and your own business. Life is easy when you simplify and make peace with your train of thought. When you believe your ‘bad’ thinking; you suffer. How many people, events, and things did you try to control with your mind today? Stay in your own mind and enjoy the laser like energy of having a clear mind.
You don’t worry because you care; you worry because that is what you have learned to do. Worry is a very creative mental process. The questions you ask in your mind create your worries. If you ask ‘what if’ questions, you set your mind up to worry. If you consistently ask, “What if I lose my job? What if I crash my car? What if criminals attack me?” All these ‘what if’ phrases create ‘movies’ in your mind that constantly loop different scenarios, which creates a state of worry. Rather, say to yourself, “What would I do if I lost my job? What would I do if I crashed my car?” These movies that are created by these questions don’t loop you into worry. They give you action steps that direct your mind. Create a procedure for different scenarios and make peace with your thinking.
Learn to practise peace because if you have no attention you have no retention.
Most people swing from one emotional extreme to the other. Concentration is about learning how to stay centered. When you concentrate your power, you can achieve anything. Imagine your mind was a torch. Most people allow their torch to jump and shine all over the place. You want your torch to stand still and shine brightly. Nothing outside of you is going to fix your concentration; it is an inside job.
You need to make a decision today: do you want to improve your concentration or don’t you? It is always up to you. Therefore, eliminate your excuses, clean up your beliefs, and be here now!