If you’re like me, you have trouble focusing on what’s important. Hell, you’ll probably have trouble focusing on reading this whole article.
I’m guessing that halfway through this sentence, you’ll probably start skimming, looking for magic bullets to help you stop getting distracted.
That’s ok, I’d probably do the same thing to you if this was your article.
So, if you read nothing else, just read this: The most valuable commodity you have is your attention. Whatever you repeatedly give your focus to is what truly matters to you.
Where we focus our attention each day adds up to how we live our life.
You see, we do most of what we do because we’ve got used to doing it. This would be great if we all did only the things that truly mattered in our lives.
But, as you well know, in the modern world we have to fight against a forbidding enemy: distraction.
Distraction is simply fragmented attention.
There’s a great scene I always remember in the movie Back to the Future: Part II.
Marty McFly junior ambles into the lounge room and tells the futuristic TV to show him 6 channels at once “Okay, I want channels 18, 24, 63, 109, 87, and The Weather Channel!”
This seems ridiculous when you watch it, yet I can honestly say I have done this in my own way many times. I have caught myself watching TV, while typing on my laptop and texting a friend on my cell phone.
Our modern world attacks us constantly with distraction. Yet there are ways that we can fight back and learn to channel our focus and attention if we want to.
1) Know what’s most important to you
It astounds me that most people don’t know what’s most important to them.
If you sit down with a good friend and ask them what are the top 5 – 10 people and activities in their life, there is a high chance they won’t know. In fact, there’s a high change you don’t know.
Clarity is power. If you know what’s important, you are more likely to spend your time and attention on it.
I suggest taking a long walk in nature and thinking this through. Take a notepad and write down the people and activities that are the most important to you. Try to limit it to between 5 -10 if you can. The less you have on your list, the better you can pay attention.
Yes, this means choosing. You’ll have to omit some things to value other things. Some people won’t be as important to you as others. Some activities won’t be as valuable to you.
Choose. You will become more powerful when you do.
2) Do one thing at a time
I call this the master skill. Doing one thing at a time is the ultimate practice of attention. You can start small by doing simple things like brushing your teeth, washing the dishes or listening to someone who is to talking.
Try the practice of doing this one thing without secondary thoughts or activities. It’s excruciatingly hard to do, believe me. You mind will want more stimulation. It will want to wander.
Don’t let it. Keep focused till the end of the activity and you will be building your focus muscles.
True attention requires doing one thing at a time. All the way to the end.
3) Bring your attention back
When you try to focus your attention, you will discover that after a short time you start to fade out. It’s a sort of mental muscle fatigue.
I find my attention starts to wane after about 10 minutes or so. An idea will pop into my mind that I need to email someone, check my Facebook, or make some coffee.
That ‘fade out’ is a sign I’m needing to knuckle down. Stay the course. The power of attention builds right at the edges. The more you can stay in it, the stronger it gets.
Remember: Attention is a muscle you build. It is weakened through lack of use. But it can be built up and become very powerful if you will it to be.
The more you can focus your attention, the better chance you have of defeating distraction, and taking back control over how you live your life.