You’re finally alone. After all the noise and time-snatchers you had to deal with for the past two hours, you managed to place yourself somewhere no one can finally disturb you. You start with the real work for the day. And you’re actually enthusiastic about it.
But—you’re still interrupted. That is, if you have actually started. You try to look for other things to do instead, but you remember that the one you’re doing is top priority.
Mental focus could be an everyday battle; at least it gets distracted once a day. The effects can be annoying or worse, exhausting. Imagine you’re already doing the most important task at the right time when you’re most efficient, but you seem to be distracted without any reasons at all.
Well, the truth is something’s distracting you—your mind.
The following are some things you probably didn’t know about your mental focus. You know how important it is to stay focused on everything you’re spending time on; when you’re not focused, time sure becomes wasted.
Be thankful for breaks. Really.
Isn’t it great to hear about studies that talk about how important it is to take breaks? Whether you’re the workaholic type or the one who seems to simply have all the time in the world, it’s always good news. We all need to have a break. Breaks are indeed nice, and it is apparently great for our mental focus.
Research shows that breaks actually improve mental focus. “Vigilance decrement” or the decrease in one’s “attentional resources” isn’t necessarily true, as what has been implied by other research works for the past 40 to 50 years. Attention is not the problem; the problem is that it’s being used on other things rather than those with which it’s truly needed.
Let me emphasize that we should take breaks as brief as possible. Don’t make breaks as an excuse to move your deadlines, however tempting it is. It would be wise to have for yourself a clock or a watch or any other gadget with which you can monitor your time.
Include breaks in your daily schedule. I personally do that. I follow an everyday hourly schedule—both for weekdays and weekends. And I don’t ever intend to be stiff with that schedule, it only serves as a guide.
The important considerations you should take are the amount of time per break you’re comfortable with and the actual time when you’d most probably need it. I take one in the morning, then another in the afternoon (a nap, usually). And when I’m on fire, one in the evening.
Scheduling your breaks could be fun. Be comfortable with yourself. Don’t miss them. Research must be right anyway!
Mind-wandering comes before unhappiness.
When I heard this, I asked myself, “What in the world does daydreaming have to do with my happiness?” If anything, daydreaming should make me happy, not the opposite, at least at that moment. I thought I should imagine all my goals to keep me moving forward, to motivate me. But I figured I may be wrong. It’s still mind-wandering—it doesn’t matter if I’m thinking about where I’m treating myself this weekend, or the long vacation I’m taking in a few months, or anything else, really.
A research tells us that mind-wandering is likely to be a cause of unhappiness, but the opposite isn’t necessarily true. The big reason we let our mind wander is everything unpleasant—our worries, anxieties or regrets. Interestingly, participants who thought about anything from the “neutral” to the “pleasant” scale even felt slightly less happy than when they didn’t mind-wander at all.
It’s a different way to look at it, but it does make sense.
Be present. Live in the present. Be in the now.
Mind-wandering can perhaps make you smile. It could bring you to a happy memory. But you can’t be any happier if you decide to stay with a memory every time. Memories are all about the past.
Life isn’t really about thinking about where you’re not.
How wonderful it would be if humans only daydreamed with no reasons at all, but if we think about it, we daydream because most probably we only want to think of anything better than the current situation. No matter how happy our thoughts are, there will be an underlying sadness. The purpose of daydreams, isn’t it?
If you didn’t quite appreciate the cliche “Live in the moment,” now you know—it’s actually backed by research!
You can have a healthy brain—regardless of your age!
Have you imagined your 60-year-old self playing video games?
A study shows that playing a brain training video game for a month can restore the multitasking abilities of people in their 60s and beyond. It is noted, however, that there are other ways to keep your brain sharp, such as reading difficult books or solving math problems.
Does the study promote multitasking? It necessarily does not. I don’t believe in multitasking myself. You only get to focus on one thing at any given time, then shift to another, which happens at another time—you can do “many” things in a span of time, but you can never focus on all of them simultaneously.
So why multitask if you can’t focus on just one?
Multitasking is inevitable when it’s part of your job; I suppose that’s alright. Avoid it as much as you can, however. Stop believing your mental focus is golden even when you’re multitasking.
Video games may not be that bad. Playing video games for a healthy brain is actually a great excuse for one who’s already old! Okay, I reckon that you’re still “young,” but take note of this development and use it to avoid cognitive decline down the road. You can always start to take care of your mental health at any age. Be consistent. If you’re like me who’s not quite interested in puzzles or any other sorts of brain games, then be “inspired” by the benefits of watching for your mental health as early as now. Those crossword puzzles, sudokus and other simple brain games could take you a long way.
I know I wouldn’t want to be one of the old guys who’d blame old age for some memory lapse. It can be avoided!
Don’t underestimate the power of meditation.
So you think you only need to meditate when you’re stressed?
A study shows that meditation can help improve your mental focus and sustain it even on the most boring of tasks. There’s even a twist to it—the meditators who performed better than those who didn’t meditate in the experiment were found to react slower to stimulus.
Which boils down to a question of efficiency: Would you want to react faster to any mental stimulus even though you’re not sure whether you’re missing anything? Or would you react slower but more attentively and thus probably be more efficient? And another question follows: Are you willing to be patient for the sake of a quality work every time?
Meditation doesn’t have to be done in a strict manner. Lately I found that I could actually conduct a quick meditation “session” just about anywhere, at least in quiet places or those with only a little noise. No particular thoughts to begin with. Simply any thought that comes to mind. If I have an errand downtown I could meditate on the way. Who says you can’t be productive on the road? When I’m on a break, I can do it; it does help condition my mind for the coming work in the next few minutes. Even when I feel stressed, it pays to stop for a moment to redirect my brain to things that only matter.
We know that meditation is good in general. However, sometimes we may be trapped to only thinking, or wanting to meditate, without actually doing it. A very easy trap.
Try it if you haven’t already. Let mental focus be your reason—that’d be a great start!
Think About It
These are all simple things to remember.
But of course, sometimes it’s just hard to control what goes on in your head. Mental focus could be simple but if you lack control then there could be a problem. Remember, however, that among all things, your mind is the only one you can have complete control over, and it shouldn’t be hard if you’re at peace with yourself and you have a positive outlook in general.
Simply put, if you can mentally focus on one important thing, you can most likely do it on anything else.
Speak Your Mind
Do you know of any other studies that could help us deal with our mental focus? Besides distractions, what do you think hinders mental focus? Join the discussion on the comments section below!