Last week I was playing catch with my 9 year old. While she had her baseball glove in the right place to catch the ball, it was hitting the side of her glove. I kept telling her to turn her hand so that the glove would be more open toward the ball, but she continued to hold it the wrong way. Finally, in frustration she yelled at me, "Holding it that way is not natural!" After explaining to her that sometimes you have to train yourself to do things that aren't "natural," she caught several balls in a row. Success!
Staying focused is a similar quandry. We aren't wired to maintain intense focus for long periods of time. Our brain is constantly on the look out for new information, regardless of whether it is of value or not. This constant scanning grows out of a natural desire to maintain our safety and well-being. So, like holding your baseball glove correctly, it takes work to train yourself to focus.
To improve your ability to stay focused in the moment, try these tips:
- Monitor the average length of time you are able to focus. Notice what breaks your concentration and try to remove that distraction. If it's a lack of energy, get more rest. If it's noise, seek to reduce it, or block it out.
- Create the environment in which you CAN focus. Too often we try to focus, and then spend most of our time fighting with the distractions. Determine the best environment to really work on something, and create it before you start.
- Reward yourself for being able to focus for longer periods of time. My reward for getting the right work done after lunch (the 1-3 PM time frame) is a cold Diet Mountain Dew. If I don't use the time wisely, I have to forego this simple treat.
- Notice your normal body rhythms. Some of us are better able to focus first thing in the morning. for others it may be late at night. Find the time for you-and schedule those tasks that need your full attention.
Staying focused may not be natural, but it is critical to accomplishig anything of significance. Play ball!