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  • Jan Flynn

Three Surefire Ways To Achieve Focus

Observe the use of the words “three” and “surefire” in the title of this post, thus employing the time-honored schtick of motivational speakers and writers.

If you’re still reading, it worked. Your attention is at least momentarily caught, if not necessarily focused. Because who among us — navigating as we all must through a world so full of distractions it’s as though we’re all unwitting subjects of  some demonically conceived experiment to see just how much our minds can handle before they shatter into a million overstimulated shards — couldn’t use more mental focus? And a handy technique or three to achieve same?

Given the reams of advice about productivity that abound, you are no doubt familiar with the standard admonitions, which boil down to unplugging from technology (so, how are you supposed to get any work done?), meditating (in the free time you don’t have), and seeking Flo.

Or is it “flow?” Either way, they’re elusive. I don’t know anyone named Flo, do you?

I shall therefore proceed in the assumption that, advice-wise, this is not your first rodeo, and get on with my three promised methods.

Method One: Face Calamity

There are myriad ways to achieve this: a stern letter from the IRS;  a car heading toward you head-on, a phone call from your college-age child that begins with the words, “So, have you ever been subpoenaed?” I have experienced all three, but other such opportunities abound in life. In all such instances, any extraneous thoughts will be instantly driven from your mind.

This method has disadvantages that I probably don’t need to point out to you. But it is 100% effective, at least in the short term.

Method Two: Make Friends With Your Brain

This is neither as easy nor as obvious as it sounds. We’re so often frustrated with our brains, which we confuse with ourselves. All that unconscious negative self-talk you indulge in? It’s directed at your poor, overworked brain. How to stop? How to show the beleaguered, wrinkly organ dwelling in your head some love? So it can do what it does best, without you criticizing it all the time?

I recommend that you learn to think of your brain as a companion animal. Treat it as you would a beloved pet, and in return it will gradually come to trust you and do your bidding. In order for this to work optimally, visualize your own unique head critter as completely as you can. Is it a chihuahua with a rhinestone collar riding around in the designer purse of your skull? A riotously plumed and shrieking parrot dwelling within the gilded cage of your cranium? Devote some time to this; be specific.

Guru types like to refer to the random and unfocused activities of our brains as “monkey mind.” That’s because guru types tend to live in India, where there are more monkeys than squirrels. I am confident that my personal mental companion is indeed a fluffy-tailed squirrel, scampering around devouring chocolate-covered espresso beans and continually losing its nuts. It has yet to come when I call, but I’m working on it. I just need a little more — wait, is that a nut?

Method Three: Stop Trying

I know, I know. This recommendation flies in the face of all that self-help popular culture holds dear, the cherished belief that you are in control, that with enough sincere effort and teeth-gritting positivity you can achieve anything.

The hairy, stinking underbelly of this concept is that it’s so freighted with self-defeating judgment it becomes paralyzing. It implies that anything short of jaw-dropping, worldly achievement equates to failure. Wait, you’re not fabulously wealthy, successful, famous, and beloved by the masses? Your fault, dude. Moreover, this line of thinking doesn’t accord with reality. Let’s say I really, really want to play professional basketball. I can spend all my time practicing and all my money on coaches, but as a minimally athletic woman of a certain age and no exceptional height, it’s possible the National Women’s Basketball League will never make me an offer.

Let me be clear: to stop trying is not the same as to give up. In the above scenario the NWBL thing may be off the table, but I will for sure get better at playing basketball. And if I love the game, I’ll experience joy as long as I am able to let go of external results.

When you do something just to do it, you’re automatically focused. You become absorbed. You have a goal in mind, but what is holding your attention is the particularities, the specific activities along the way. The next handhold in the climb up the cliff face. The rhythm of your horse’s motion as you learn to post at the trot. The glisten on the egg whites as you whip them into a lofty meringue. Without thinking about it, without trying, you fall into the intense, happy focus of a child at play. You may even find Flo.

How do you achieve focus? Do you stumble upon it, or do you have a well-beaten path that leads you there? Please comment and share!

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