BOOK REVIEW: 6 steps to improve your focus

Have you wondered how can you live a FOCUSED life with all the distractions we are having from technology to even our own thoughts? Focus is key in Education and Leadership. I have been researching this topic and got inspired especially by the book FOCUS by Daniel Goleman, father of emotional intelligence. I put together these 6 steps to improve your focus.

Unsplash.com, Romain Vignes

#1 Strengthen your selective attention by using more your top-down mind

We live in distracting times. The constant urge to respond to the overwhelming amount of information and stimuli in our environment leads us to a state of continuous partial attention in which we leap carelessly from one thing to another, from our phones to our email to Facebook and in doing so weaken our ability to select what we pay attention to.

However, it is possible for us to focus, even when we’re surrounded by activity and stimuli. What we need is strong selective attention. Choosing to pay attention to one thing rather than another involves a push-pull process between the bottom-up and top-down minds. The bottom-up mind, responsible for our automatic and routine mental activity, is very fast, driven by our emotions, and impulsive. In contrast, the top-down mind, in charge of planning, reflection and learning new skills, is slower and requires voluntary attention and self-control.

#2 Allow time for rest and mind-wandering

It might not always be valuable to have a narrow focus or a goal-oriented type of attention. Sometimes it can be more effective to maintain an open awareness or mind-wandering. This is because allowing our minds to wander provides fertile ground for serendipitous insights. It’s certainly a luxury to find a moment in the day when we’re alone and able to slow down and reflect. Yet such moments are extremely valuable, as they allow us to improve at tasks which depend on experiencing flashes of insight, like those which require quick, imaginative wordplay, or inventive and original thinking.

Like a muscle, focused attention requires rest. While it’s true that we have to exercise our focus to keep it “healthy,” tightly focused attention inevitably becomes fatigued after a while. It’s easy to notice when this happens: you’ll find yourself staring at the words on the page, unable to make sense of something that should be simple, or you’ll notice that your mind keeps slipping from the task at hand. When this happens, it’s a clear sign that you need to give your focus a break. The most effective way to restore your attention is to switch from top-down to bottom-up control. In other words, allow your mind to wander and to make whatever associations it makes. After a while, it will become clear that you’re ready to return to top-down mode, and you’ll do so feeling refreshed and clear-headed.

#3 Focus on improving your willpower – it’s one of the key factors in achieving “inner focus”

Accomplishing goals requires strong focus, motivation and determination – all qualities that constitute strong willpower. And the more challenging the goal, the more willpower we require. But self-control and willpower aren’t necessarily qualities you’re born with. They have to be developed throughout our childhood and even in adulthood. The most effective way to develop stronger willpower is to do what you love.

#4 Focus on building your empathy – it will help you navigate within any social context

In order to have fulfilling interactions with others, we need to be empathetic, and empathy takes two main forms: cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is the kind that enables us to see the world through the eyes of others. It can help us to comprehend other people’s mental states and the ways in which they understand the world. However, while this empathy allows us to observe, for example, that someone is sad – say, if their loved one had died – it doesn’t allow us to feel what they feel. Emotional empathy, on the other hand, does enable us to feel what others are feeling. Moreover, this is actually a physical phenomenon, as we sense other people’s emotions within our own bodies.

#5 Create focused and clear visions to direct the attention of a collective, whether a team or an organization

When it comes to leading a successful organization, focus is crucial. The ability to move an organization’s focus to the right place at the right time depends on the leader’s level of self-awareness. One reason that focus is crucial to being an effective leader is that the more focused and clear a leader’s vision is, the more likely they are to convince others to believe in and work toward it. A great vision is central to any strong business plan, but bringing such a vision to reality requires a brilliant leader who is able to communicate it clearly to others and convince them it’s a worthwhile cause.

#6 Meditate as it will help you focus on one thing and keep track of your attention span

Attention is not an innate gift that you do or do not have. Rather, it’s a kind of mental muscle – one that you can strengthen and grow by exercise. One way to do this is to learn to be aware of when your mind starts to wander and correct this by refocusing your attention on a given target. Training awareness in this way is the essence of one-pointed focus meditation, which involves focusing completely on one thing, such as your breathing. As you do this, you’ll notice that after a while your mind will probably begin to wander. But that’s OK. The main thing is that you’re aware of the wandering and that you refocus your attention onto your breath and keep it there. When you inevitably lose focus again, simply repeat the process. As with weight training, the more repetitions you perform, the more powerful the muscle gets. The key to training your attention is being able to maintain an awareness of your own mental processes – like noticing when your mind starts to drift away from the object of focus. This is called meta-awareness. This kind of meditation can greatly enhance your ability to disengage your focus from one thing and shift it onto another.

Datum konani 24.7.2018

Radka Dohnalová

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