What I Avoid In The Morning To Improve My Focus
Blaise Pascal wrote “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” And that was in a time without smartphones, the Internet and social media! If only he knew how much more difficult sitting quietly alone in a room would become.
I’ve always had trouble with focus. If you ask anyone I work closely with they’ll tell you I tend to jump all over the place when I have to answer different questions from different departments all at once. Or in having a conversation about what happened last weekend and I jump to an email I just read and then a food I’m thinking about. I’m pretty much the dog from the movie Up; “SQUIRREL!” When I’m in my design flow I tend to be quiet and I am quieter still in larger meetings. I prefer to listen more and not interject as much which I am constantly working to improve , but that’s another story. In the mornings I employ many things like meditation, routine, exercise, and other techniques to help, but what I don’t do is as important as what I do in the morning to help. These are the things I deliberately avoid in the morning.
Even though I do have to turn off my sleep app, Pillow, and I do use my iPhone for my morning meditation with my Muse app and Insight Timer, I do not open any browser or touch my laptop. Turning my phone to airplane mode helps this temptation.
A lot of us check our email first thing in the morning as it’s a part of our working lives. For years I justified the attachment to my Blackberry (in the pre-iPhone era) and it’s instant notifications as a requirement to run my business. It was a mirage. The emails are going to be there when you’re ready. If you give yourself time to prepare your mind for the day you will be much more effective when you dive in. It’s much easier to get my head in the game when it’s clear and focused.
I’ve moved away from too much social media already. Haven’t been on Facebook for a long time and I use Instagram to only follow artists and post my art. I enjoy Twitter, Medium and Flipboard to browse articles at times, but I don’t check any of these in the morning. I do love checking Instagram as the art gets me inspired, but once I’m in it’s hard to stop. So many good things!
Ok before you block-delete and call me a heretic hear me out. I LOVE COFFEE! I am a coffee addict! As my sister and I like to joke coffee is my spirit animal. The mornings however are reserved for clarity. It took me a while, but there’s a mix of wanting to wake up naturally and delayed gratification in waiting. The first sip of coffee is one the favourite parts of my day. Once I’m done my very lengthy routine and I’m showered ready to go I drink my first cup along side my overnight oats and morning writing. It never disappoints.
I’m pretty social at work, when around family and friends, and I like interacting with people. However in the mornings I enjoy being alone even if it’s for only the meditation time. I simply don’t speak, but it’s easy as no one is around.
I have been prescribed some help with my focus and Adderall has some benefit, but I found it intrusive with my healthy regimen. I don’t take any medication and I try to avoid it. I’m not suggesting not taking your doctor’s advice, but I am a big believer in that the mind can help the body in a much broader capacity than what we know. Check out You Are The Placebo for more on this.
There’s a great post by Craig Mod he called “How I Got My Attention Back” about how he unplugged from all technology for a month which led to him getting his attention back. In it he describes the conundrum with attention.
Attention is a muscle. It must be exercised. Though, attention is duplicitous — it doesn’t feel like a muscle. And exercising it doesn’t result in an appreciably healthier looking body. But it does result in a sense of grounding, feeling rational, control of your emotions — a healthy mind. Our measuring sticks for life tend to be optimized for material things, things easy to count. Houses, cars, husbands, babies, dollar bills. Attention is immaterial, difficult to track.
We deserve our attention.
We have no way to measure our focus which is challenging given we’re living in the age of the quantified self. How do we know we’re improving? I believe we can see it in our daily interactions, our anxiety levels, our ability to focus, listen, interact and ultimately in the relationships we foster. How deep can we connect with the people around us without being able to give them your attention?
I want to be in the drivers seat of my attention and focus. I always want to be present with whom I’m speaking. I want my wife, daughter, sisters, mother, friends, coworkers to know that they have my undivided attention. I also want to be effective at work, while making art and in life in general. This is why I need these disciplines in the morning. To be better. Always.