The powerful effect of Focus.
Your favourite artist posted a new comic on Instagram. A sponsored event that interests you appeared on Facebook. Somehow, you are looking at the top 100 most important cat pics of all time (Get back here!).
You found an interesting article that’s related to your job, one more to add to the list of saved articles to be read sometimes near March 2865. You are reading a book and found a bit of history you don’t know, so you google it- for the 57th time because you just can’t remember what it means. You receive a text from the person you’re currently dating -or, you check your phone every 5 seconds to see if they replied to that text you sent 10 minutes ago-.
This list could go on for another 200 lines, but they’re bits of my own life that I’ve experienced before (or still experience, for some), and that annoy me a great deal. Why? Because I feel like I can’t focus at all, and that I never go beyond scratching the surface of whatever I’m doing.
And I know this is not a personal problem only I have -and, by the way, as Mark Manson says, there’s no such thing as a personal problem- just search for “focus” on Medium and you’ll find a bazillion articles on the matter. We’re a very easily distracted generation, and that’s perfectly normal. There’s just too much noise in this world to listen to one thing at once.
There are several reasons for this. The internet, social networks -yes, those eeeevil things!- have made it so that we constantly receive way more information than what we need or what we can possibly absorb. Seeing notifications pop up from one of your 26 apps (The average number of smartphone apps installed) usually procures a shot of dopamine, making it very easy to skip whatever you’re doing. And also, seeing pictures of your friends at fantastic events make whatever you’re doing at the moment seem lame, and makes you want to go do the same.
And when these distractions happen repeatedly, you become kind of permanently bored -or permabored- by a lot of things. Reading a book becomes a grueling task, spending a day by yourself just chilling is not relaxing at all, because you could go to one of the hundreds of cool events currently happening. It can also lead to bigger issues, such as finding your current relationship boring, because come on, those couples on Instagram seem to be having such fabulous lives, and there are literally thousands of single people waiting on Tinder, why even bother trying to solve problems in your relationship?
Internet is an amazing thing, really. But most of us reaaaally suck at using it, and it ends up making easily distracted, unable to focus, and ultimately unhappy.
“So”, you’re going to ask me, “Malik, how the hell do we focus better then, you little genius?”.
Well, I’d say that the only way to focus is to focus. There is no how, no magic trick, you really just need to do it. But, before you throw all kinds of vegetables at me, I personally think there are ways of making this magical process easier, which might or not apply to you. Here they are :
- Take your time: Other than being omnipresent and invading our daily lives, internet and telecommunications have another property : they are fast. Notifications and texts happen in a second, and you can feel forced to reply as fast. Don’t. Unless it’s a friend asking you to drive him to his wedding or some such, take your time to reply and keep on doing whatever you’re doing. Consider disabling some or all notifications, because when something urgent happens, people call. Notifications are a thoroughly short-term thing. Think long-term.
- Meditate: I used to believe that meditation was something crazy people do and absolutely useless. I. Was. So. Wrong. Meditation is literally the same thing as focusing on your work or on a book, except that it consists of focusing on your body. I started practicing it 5 months ago, and now I simply can’t spend a day without my 10–15 minutes of daily meditation. Meditation, to me, is the It’s Okay World. Just sit and focus on your breathing or whichever part of your body you want, it’s okay. It’s okay if you let your mind trail off for a bit. It’s okay if you fall asleep. It’s okay if you’re not doing it perfectly. In meditation, you’re in pure acceptance of everything that happens, and cultivate satisfaction in what you have. If you want to meditate, you can start by using Headspace or Le Petit Bambou, they’re both great apps to start, but after a while you won’t even need any of them.
- Understand that nobody’s life is exceptional: This is a very important principle for me. When you look at Instagram pictures and see how people seem to have the perfect life, think about what is not shown. In this interconnected world, it’s very easy to believe that your life sucks, but if you’re reading this article, chances are that all your basic living needs are fulfilled, and that’s the most important. When you look at people’s pictures, remember that in this world, you are very much encouraged to post your best moments, and leave out all the negative parts. Accept that your life isn’t going to be exceptional, and that it absolutely doesn’t need to be exceptional to be happy.
- Write down what’s important to you, and organize your life around it: Lack of focus means you’re going to spend your time doing things that are not useful/fulfilling to you, and sometimes you may need to force yourself to do the things that are important to you. It helps to also write down why they are so important to you and your personal development. As a personal example, I love reading, and it has contributed a lot to my development, but I don’t do it as much as I would like. And that’s because I get distracted by Netflix, buying stuff, worrying (Yes, I spend a lot of time worrying about many different things) and going to way more events than I need to. So, sometimes, in the week-end, I go sit in a park, put on some music, put my phone on plane mode, and read without stopping for a few hours. You can do it in several small sittings instead of a big one like me, but the point is that you need to do what’s important to you.
- Work hard: This is not going to be easy. It’s absolutely uncomfortable and it will feel unnatural at first. But it can make your life sooo easier and happier in the long-term, I promise you.
Of course, I’m not a Guru or anything like that, and I’m definitely not a master at focusing on stuff yet. So if you’d like to talk about this, have anything to add or some criticism to give me, then fire away!