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CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
The world is becoming increasingly noisy. As technology advances and invades our lives more and more, our focus is taking a massive hit. Whether at work, on a call with our best friend, or even with our self care practices- how the hell are we meant to keep up and keep it together?
Thankfully, by learning to eliminate distractions, investing time in our physical and mental wellbeing, our focus can be improved.
If you find that you’re addicted to social media, drifting off in that 3pm meeting or struggling with your meditation practice (or perhaps all the above) then have a read of our 4 top tips for improving your focus.
Turns out that multitasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) states that “multitasking forces you to pay a mental price each time you interrupt one task and jump to another.” In psychology, this mental price is called the switching cost. Switching cost is the disruption in performance that we experience when we switch our focus from one area to another.
Multitaskers might seem superhuman, but they pay a big price, according to a 2009 Stanford study. In a sample of 100 Stanford students, about half identified themselves as media multitaskers. The other half did not.
The test examined attention spans, memory capacity, and the ability to switch from one task to the next — and the multitaskers performed more poorly on each test.
To combat multitasking, we can look to it’s complete opposite; mindfulness. Neuropsychologist, Kim Willment states that “mindfulness is about focusing attention on the present moment, and practising has been shown to rewire the brain so that attention is stronger in everyday life”.
This can apply to any aspect of your life- work, exercise or simply on a phone call with your best friend. Allow yourself to focus on one task at a time, and your productivity will increase no end.
For example, next time you watch a movie, put your phone and/or laptop in the next room. When you eat your lunch, do so with no distractions and really indulge in the present moment (your digestion will thank you for it!). Seemingly simple yes, but this not only rewires the brain, it creates stronger neural pathways.
Moreover, if you want to become significantly better at anything- you have to fall in love with the process. Focusing on outcomes and goals is highly natural but concentrating on the process leads to better results in the long term. So instead of fixating on losing weight, focus on finding exercise and healthy food that you enjoy. Bringing everything into the present moment with a sense of enjoyment will reap dividends.
This is a biggie. It’s so, so easy to get sucked into the technology vortex, but this is so detrimental to our overall health. Instead, start finding moments in your day to be phone free. Not only will your focus improve, but your mental health will thank you for it. Try this at mealtimes, when walking in nature or reading your favourite book. Pop your phone in a draw or even in the next room and notice the shift in your state after just 10 minutes without it.
Managing your technology is especially potent at work. Next time you’re writing up that big project, close all your internet tabs and pop your phone away. Experts believe that every time you flip between tasks — whether it be responding to a friend on Facebook or checking your inbox — a little bit of your attention remains with the task you just left.
Sophie Leroy, a professor at the University of Washington, coined the term “attention residue” as the reason for why it’s so hard to change tasks. Removing online distractions can keep you from finding tasks to flip between and help you focus.
Disconnecting from the internet may mean unplugging from social media too. If possible, try limiting or all together getting rid of social media use during your work day. Designating time to look through social media, rather than checking it constantly throughout the day, can help you stay on task. In fact, attempt half a day or even a full weekend without social media and notice the positive shift in your body and mind.
Ever taken a look at your (never ending) to-do list, and get so overwhelmed that nothing actually gets achieved that day? James Clear advocates the power of prioritising. Try picking one task per day (yes just one!) and that will be your anchor task. If you typically have the most energy in the morning, then this is when you should complete your anchor task (or vice versa). Of course, other tasks may need to be completed but this is about managing your energy as opposed to your time.
Prioritise your anchor task and utilise your focus when it’s at its best.
Nevertheless, the importance of solid rest breaks should not be overlooked. Allow yourself regular breaks throughout a work day; even just 2 minutes will make a staggering difference to your focus.
Exercises like running, swimming, and weight lifting aren’t just good for the physical body. They promote brain health, too, which is important for memory capacity and concentration, according to John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
In particular, scientists think regular exercise may help stimulate the release of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which some research suggests helps rewire memory circuits to improve their functioning.
As well as moving your body regularly, a recent Harvard study suggests that a mediterranean style diet with limited alcohol not only supports brain health but also improves daily concentration. So if your focus has been lacking recently, consider the effects of your current self care regime.
Combining all these simple but highly effective techniques will reap dividends not only for your daily focus but also for your overall health and wellbeing. We advise starting small, slowly incorporating changes bit by bit and watch how your focus skyrockets…