“Forget past mistakes, forget failures, forget everything except what you’re going to do now, and do it.” ~Will Durant
Do you struggle to stay focused on your goals? Do you get easily distracted from the things that are most important?
These days, there is so much competing for your attention: commitments, responsibilities, relationships, your smartphone, your email, and much more. As a result, lack of focus is an issue for many of us.
If you’re like me, it can feel like your focus evaporates like cool water on Arizona concrete. It’s gone before you know it and you can’t even remember when or where it slipped away.
That’s a big problem, because focus is important for all of us. In many ways, the quality of our attention and focus determines the quality of our lives and what we can achieve in our short time on earth.
In work, in play, in love, and in life, focus is what allows us to get things done. It’s the doorway to deeper insight and self-knowledge, and it’s often the domain where we come to know our deepest strengths and our best selves.
It’s also how we know and engage with the world around us. Our capacity to slow down, pay attention, and appropriately respond to a dazzling array of life experiences is a big part of what makes you and me human.
4 Mindfulness Tips To Stay Focused
And lately, I’ve come to appreciate how much mindfulness and meditation can help me cultivate focus and attention. Perhaps more than any other skill or capacity, meditation has taught me how to identify the nasty little bandits that divide my attention and skewer my focus.
I’ll bet that if you knew how much meditation could support your capacity to focus, you’d probably jump on the meditation cushion as soon as you finish this article. Maybe I’m overstating it, but I think you’d be surprised how quickly you can harness and sharpen the quality of your focus through meditation.
And in the process, you can build your self-confidence and more effectively achieve your goals and mission in life. So how can meditation and mindfulness help you build the kind of life-changing focus I’m talking about?
1. Cultivating A State Of Relaxed Focus
First, meditation is the practice of training your attention. When you practice simpler forms of focused awareness meditation, you focus your attention on just one thing, like counting your breath. As you do that, you notice that your mind wanders a lot and you have to keep bringing it back to the task at hand. That is, counting your breath.
This is basically the equivalent of calisthenics for your attention. You’re building the muscles of your awareness through bringing your attention back to your object of concentration. This allows you to become one-pointed. And being one-pointed puts you in a state of deep and relaxed focus.
So that’s meditation in it’s simplest form, and it’s incredibly good for you. It stimulates your relaxation response, combats stress, and brings your nervous system into a state of balance and wellbeing.
2. Becoming Sensitive To Distraction
At the same time, you’re building sensitivity to distraction. You’re learning how to counteract the constant tendency towards distraction and lack of focus. This doesn’t all happen right away. Just like your muscles don’t get huge over night. It takes a little time.
But soon, through your practice, you’ll start to notice all the different ways that you get distracted in meditation. Becoming aware of that distraction is one of the core skills you’ll develop in meditation. And then, once you hop off the meditation cushion, you can learn how to bring that quality of focus to the rest of your life.
Here’s what I mean.
3. Establishing A Routine That Supports Your Focus
I’m a big fan of making meditation a habit. I start every day at 5am with meditation, affirmations, reviewing my goals for the day and the year, and then I do some reading and go to the gym. I start my day cultivating the focus to help me achieve my short and long-term goals. Without that focus, I’m pretty confident I won’t realize my dreams.
And I’ve also started to notice that there is always at least one primary thing that’s vying for my attention and pulling me out of my zone of focus. It could be a disagreement I had with someone or a disappointing result from work. And it’s nagging at me. Or it could just be the past itself and all the subtle voices in my head telling me I shouldn’t shoot so high and who am I to even try?
4. Practicing Mindful Awareness
In truth, most of us have a chorus of voices in our head that are aiding or abetting the forces of fear, doubt, and distraction. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some variation of these voices in their head—a dubious band of doubters, skeptics, critics, nay-sayers, and plain old haters.
This is where meditation training comes into play. Because I consistently cultivate this sensitivity to distraction, I am mindful of those voices. I see how they pull my attention away from my goal-oriented focus. Practicing this mindful awareness allows me to ignore those voices. I don’t listen to them.
Meditation and mindfulness help me to identify those potential obstacles and gently bring my attention back to my own purpose and my goals.
Because I am a writer and educator, it’s important for me to stay inspired and focused, since I want to help others and share my own insights and experience. But obviously this doesn’t just apply to me, it’s important for all of us to stay inspired and focused so we can give our unique gifts to the world.
When I find myself lost in these negative thoughts, I recognize how irrelevant and unimportant the content is. Becoming aware of those patterns of thought is important. Because often, if we don’t recognize them, they quietly consume our energy and attention and degrade our focus.
But it’s important for another and more important reason. Every time I practice that mindful presence and recognize these distracting forces, my purpose and focus grow and become even more energized. That’s amazing to me.
Identifying those patterns of thought restores my sense of purpose and direction with greater confidence and assurance. That is the simple but staggering power of awareness.
Let Go Of Rumination & Realize Your Potential
If you can cultivate this kind of attentive focus in meditation and bring it into your day, things are going to change. Of course, we all have these voices in our head. In mindfulness, they have a word for it—it’s called rumination. Mindfulness helps you to shift out of that rumination mode through the simple act of becoming aware.
I believe we all have something unique and amazing to bring to the world. You and I both. And there’s no doubt, these voices stand in the way of most of us giving our gifts.
But as you exercise your attention in meditation, you’ll enhance your capacity for mindfulness. And you’ll be able to identify and observe these obstacles in yourself.
The beauty is that you don’t need to push them away or try to change them. Identifying and accepting them is all you need to do in order to strip them of their distracting power. Once you do, you’ll soon find yourself tapping into a new source of energy, insight, and vision.
From that focused center in yourself, unfettered from the friction of fear, doubt, and resistance, you’ll find yourself moving confidently in the direction of your goals and actualizing your potential.
Just keep reorienting your attention back to your goals, your vision, and your purpose. You’ll be amazed at the result.
(Photos via Flickr Creative Commons: Ransomtech, Tom Check, Zach Bonnell, Justin Kern, Nathan Stang)