To learn to focus may be an art, but this I know: it is a natural art.
We all have the ability to focus. You have had it your whole life, ever since you were a child and got so absorbed in the game you created with the neighbor kid that you forgot all about time and suddenly realized "Oh my gosh, I'm supposed to be home right now. Dad is going to kill me!"
When you were a kid you didn't need coffee, chocolate, Kombucha, or Red Bull in order to try to stay involved in your game, your drawing, or singing into your Mom's hairbrush.
Focus came naturally.
The idea that you need a substance of any kind in order to focus is simply an idea that we've got used to. We got so used to it that we don't question it. But that doesn't make it true.
Focus is not found from the outside.
My suggestions on how to find focus, therefore are not tricks or substances or external things of any kind. Just some ways I've played with as I looked in different places for new ways of doing things (check my blog for more). Here's my take.
1. Ask Better Questions.
Ask yourself powerful questions, and listen for the answers.
When your mind does quiet down (and it inevitably will) ask yourself things like:
"What would most nourish me feeling good and feeling focused right now?"
"What do I do/Where am I when I'm naturally relaxed and happy?"
"When was the last time I felt really focused? How did that come about in me?"
"If I gave myself permission to do things my way, which project would I do now and which would I leave for later?"
You will get interesting answers. And the idea is that when you do things your way, you'll do them well and with more focus.
Maybe write some notes on these answers, or change the questions to suit you.
A variation on this is to ask other people what they notice about when you are most focused, yet relaxed. The next point builds more on this.
2. Know Yourself Better.
Notice your natural preferences more and work with them not against them.
We spend most of our time looking around us for what we can do or take or have that will help us focus. But as I said, focus doesn't come from outside us.
One way to really help ourselves is to work with and amplify what is already natural to us. In order to know that, begin to notice things like your natural rhythms, your preferred creative time during the day, your low times and your warm-hearted times. Start watching yourself more and notice the ways you support yourself and the ways you might be draining yourself. Are you saying 'yes' to too many projects for example? In that case you don't need more focus, you need to learn the word 'No.'
Without getting judgmental, think about ways you can start weighing in to support yourself and your natural tendencies. One thing I do is meditate. That supports me well. You can find what is really suited to you and your life, rather than just picking up what someone else says works for them.
3. Work on Your Project When Your Mind is Clear
Try working with your clear mind instead of trying to force yourself to overcome a fuzzy mind.
Find the state you most prefer that allows your mind to settle and come into balance. Notice what that feels like. The mind will do this naturally when we are not overly lost in thought, but some practices like contemplation, reading, meditation or journaling can help. If not, the best advice I've ever been given is just WAIT. Things pass. Our thinking passes. Moods change.
Maybe the old idea of taking a walk until your thinking clears up wasn't such a bad one!
4. Stop Motivating Yourself!
The amazing power of choosing.
Most of us have trouble focusing when we are trying to force ourselves to do something we don't actually want to do (see above, saying NO!). We have this funny idea that we will be able to do the thing and focus on it while we are spending the entire time complaining and bemoaning having to do it. We can't.
You can't focus and have a lot of negative mind chatter going on at the same time.
With the 'musts' in our lives, what most of us then do is to try desperately to motivate ourselves somehow. Feel free to use rewards and punishments if you like, but they never worked for me to improve my focus. And the question here was how to focus better, not how to complete things.
If you really have something you know you are going to do and that requires your focus (say, taxes rather than laundry), you will need to make a choice. A very simple choice to do the thing 100%. Make the choice to do the thing in front of you with all of your attention and energy. Just decide it's the most important thing right now. The most important thing in the whole universe.
Give it your full attention, instead of your half-hearted attempt. You'll see it will be done faster, better, and you'll feel focuses. With one simple decision you will hoick yourself into the now.
And in the end the only place where focus lives is in your now.
5. Trust Yourself
Some things that our own wisdom shows us can seem counterintuitive.
If we weren't so worried all the time about getting things wrong and having our personalities hurt, we would be much more curious about life. We would drop things that don't work for us much sooner. And we would do what we know is best for us no matter what anyone else said or did.
Try it. And pay attention to what happens. Sometimes we are too quick to register failures and we don't give ourselves time to get into a new groove. Sometimes we may even wrongly label a small step toward success as a failure. That's like pulling up the seedlings because you can't tell the difference between them and the weeds. Give yourself time and relax into this as much as you can.
It's ok to be learning and trying out new ways - and they can feel strange.
In addition to my recent show on Focus, here is a show where Thomas Sterner recounts some amazing an counter-intuitive practices that helped him increase focus: Focus on Demand. In one great story about tuning a piano under terrific pressure he tells how he saved 45 minutes out of his day by slowing down to simple movements, one-at-a-time.
See what you think. Try your own ways.
And let me know what you discover!
I also highly recommend that you read Steve Chandler's book "Time Warrior"