How does one improve their ability to focus and create more calm in their lives? I’m sure you’ve seen this question addressed a time or two through the endless content available. Between self-help books, blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc. you’ve come across solutions in some form or another.
My personal solution is to be present.
I used present tense in the title for a reason. I’m always working toward more focus, more calm, more peace in my daily life. I haven’t arrived at a destination. I’m simply staying in the present and working toward said destination with the purposeful intention to never arrive.
Life will always evolve with its challenges. Additionally, we are also malleable creatures continuously adjusting, contorting, and bending to what’s asked of us. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect to ever arrive. I feel I should always be building on and cognizant of life’s wonderful and sometimes cruel intentions. I should be, as Bruce Lee would say, water. Always conforming and flowing.
From a present mindset we can come to awareness. Becoming aware of what you’re doing, what has your attention, what is on your mind, or even what’s not on your mind can affect our ability to focus on what’s important.
Awareness, however, is something I feel is lacking today, and I’m not immune. So many of us seem to be on autopilot, running our lives on cruise control and going through the motions. We also let others and other things dictate what we see, read, listen to, consume, and are exposed to. From social media algorithms to digital tools spitting out what is “supposed” to be relevant, we are sitting sponges under a content waterfall. We are becoming less concerned about what exactly we’re consuming as long as the water keeps falling over our minds.
So, the first step is to stop and turn our attention to awareness. Lift our heads, take off the blinders, and stretch our necks. Take a few deep breaths and feel the quiet. Feel the stillness without a constant influx of information, noise, and distraction.
I’ve written about distraction a few times. Once with social media and another with digital detox among others. As physical distractions take a backseat to their more insidious digital relatives, we find ourselves unprepared to take on their temptations.
Physical distractions have been rather easily dealt with due to their physical nature. We see things in the real tactile world and deal with them accordingly. Is our room cluttered? Clean it up. Is the TV on? Turn it off. Are we trying to work in a crowded area? Move to a quieter space.
Digital distractions, however, are relatively new with regards to how we manage them. Hacks and utilizing other apps can only go so far. These tricks are just that, band-aides to make us feel a little better in the immediate future. Not a long-term solution.
In Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism, he more or less states that if you feel that the enormous amount of time spent on a platform is worth the minuscule amount of productivity you gain from it, then it’s time to reevaluate your use.
I often find myself reevaluating my relationship with social media. I’ve come to a somewhat of a terminal conclusion asking myself if I need a relationship with social media at all. As a freelance writer one would assume I would need a comprehensive social media strategy to promote my work. That it’s imperative to my success to execute campaigns, promotional posts, and interact with followers to increase my exposure and chances of landing more clients.
I’ve found that the more I ignore these platforms, the more time I can dedicate to my work. More awareness and more focus. I’ve let the ones I write for do the promoting. They’re better at it anyway.
Find awareness, stay in the present, and cut out distraction.
Once we can reduce distraction, all forms, we can achieve less stress. But, what does this really mean?
We tend to think of reduced stress as some sort of utopian destination replete with feel good vibrations and peace of mind. Yes, there is a bit of that going on, but to me less stress is an opportunity. An opportunity allowing the mind to relax and become open for deeper work, focus, and ideas.
Relaxation to me isn’t some sort of empty mindedness. It’s more of a state of flow and formation of ideas, memories, and distance from your current state of busyness.
It’s a bit counterintuitive in nature. If we let our minds go into default mode we crave a busy mind thinking it’s necessary for cultivating productivity. We must be “turned on” mentally in order to be in the trenches with our thoughts and solve difficult problems and come up with our best ideas.
I’ve pleasantly found that the less stress I feel the more my mind opens to focus. The more I’m open for new ideas, different perspectives, and a heightened awareness.
Again, there is no finish line to get there. We can only work at it daily.
As we move to less stress our focus will naturally improve. By letting go we allow ourselves to be more open to what is truly important. The noise starts to dissipate, the volume of our lives slowly decreases, and we finally develop an awareness of what our distraction truly are–distractions.
Focus must not be seen as some sort of rigid, stressful state of mind. It isn’t simply another level or dimension of stress. We must think of it more like a freeing state, a release from our busyness and an entering of a more quiet and productive state.
This is why walks in nature are so therapeutic (sans technology). Allowing our minds to lose its grip, steady itself, and ultimately feel more flow we will organically feel more comfortable focusing.
As a challenging step, I’ve been touching on this more and more each day. Interestingly, I’ve found it’s allowed me to realize how meaningless life’s distractions are. We are all guilty of setting all of our distraction (we unfairly call them important things) on a pedestal. We prioritize these time wasters and convince ourselves of their importance.
These false notions are stripped away once we learn to focus.
Finally, we arrive at calm. Once you’ve arrived at some level of calm you will quickly discover it is a state of mind you’ll never want to leave. It will become fleeting at first, almost surreal, but as you practice the discipline of focus you will become better at arriving at calm.
I will admit, it does take work. It takes increasing levels of awareness, a conscious effort on our parts to aim for this intentionally. This intentionality too will strengthen as long as we stay the course and practice.
Some will call it mindfulness while others will call it a form of meditation. One thing is certain, we must own this process, we must make this our new desire. Not one of the low-hanging fruit of trivial distractions, but of a deeper mindset.
This will permeate, trickle, and seep into the rest of our lives. It will show up in our day to day as a welcomed state of mind.
Cultivate an environment to support less distraction, less stress, more focus, and more calm.
I leave you with the ambient sounds below. I will often work with something like this on in the background. I find it help me reach these calming states so I can focus on my most important work (normally writing).
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