The Quality of Your Life Depends on How Much and What You Focus On

Pranay Suresh
Feb 5 · 9 min read

Most people can’t concentrate today because we are never taught how to concentrate and we don’t practice concentration. How can you do something if you are never taught how to do it? And how can you be good at it if you don’t practice it regularly? Moreover, the distractions are getting stronger and better every day.

Interestingly enough, I experienced first hand that it’s easy to focus for short durations but it is the sustained focus over periods of months and years that I am talking about here. I will admit first off that this is hard to do. The environments around us are making this harder. We need to take action and better ourselves. I started to contemplate what these actions might be and what it truly means to be focused.

I come to realize that what makes one extra-ordinary is their ability to focus relentlessly.

Perhaps, a good life experience a.k.a quality of life is directly related to what you choose to focus on and how much you focus on it.

No-one on twitter is talking about this

So, we need to talk!

Consider This

7 bits of information at a time

1/18 of a second to differentiate between information

126 bits per second

7560 bits/min

185 billion bits for 70 year life span

60 bits to listen to one person

60 bits to listen to one person. No wonder we have trouble when 2 or more people talk at the same time. It’s because we can't process all the information at once.

Do you remember being in school and being told by your teacher to concentrate? “Pay Attention,” they said. What they were trying to do was to get you to submit as much of those 126 bits/sec to what was being taught in the classroom. But they never said how to pay attention and why.

If you can weed out the distractions and grow your focus, great things can happen. The quality of your life depends on the quality of your experiences. One experience at a time. Remember we have a limited number of bits/sec we can process. The degree of concentration directly affects our ability to absorb and experience something 100%.


What is Flow?

This is also more commonly known as “being in the zone” — performing an activity, being fully immersed and energized by that activity alone.

In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihályi lays out the following three conditions:

  • Goals are clear
  • Feedback is immediate
  • A balance exists between opportunity and capacity

When these conditions are met, it is said that an individual is in a flow state, enjoying the process along the way. In the absence of any of these conditions, some external factors need to come into play as a forcing function to make flow happen. We will dig into these external factors below.

Have you ever been involved in an activity like reading or painting or maybe studying for an exam and you were so focused that you disregarded your need for food or water or maybe even sleep? If so, you have experienced a flow state. I have been in the zone many times while coding, playing musical instruments, preparing for a job interview, studying for exams. I once remember studying and losing track of time only to realize that it was 330am. I was fully energized and making some amazing progress. I almost had to stop myself and go to bed and restart the next day.

Notice that passive activities cannot trigger flow. You need to be actively involved in doing something. You need to be a producer, not a consumer. Passive activities like watching Netflix, online shopping etc. will never set you in flow.

Finally, flow can be attained collectively amongst teams and companies. This is harder to achieve because it requires a mind-meld of sorts and requires everyone to be on the same page. In my experience, I’ve seen this in startups with small teams and team-based sports.

With that in mind, let’s dive into those 3 conditions:

Clear goals

Immediate feedback

Sir Andrew Wiles, had a childhood fascination with Fermat’s Last Theorem and decided to undertake the challenge of proving the conjecture, at least to the extent needed for Frey’s curve. He dedicated all of his research time to this problem for over six years in near-total secrecy, while he had a full-time job. He only released small units of work and eventually presented to the world. This is an example of an individual using his desire and determination to overcome slow feedback and maintain a flow state.

A balance between challenge and skill

Oliverbeatson at English Wikipedia

For example, when you are starting to learn to play tennis, just hitting the ball to the other side is an achievement. But as you get better at it, you need to increase the challenge. Maybe you need to learn to serve, maybe you need to play a game, maybe you need to play a game with a good player.

To maintain flow, ensure that you have a balance between challenge and skill level. First practice and upskill, then challenge that skill and finally, repeat. I have had some really good teachers through my childhood that have helped me maintain this balance. I was lucky.

When in flow, an individual

  • loses track of time
  • loses worry for self
  • lacks awareness of surroundings

It’s only when someone comes out of flow, that they become aware of themselves and their surroundings.

Photo by Jan Střecha on Unsplash

Musicians, especially soloists, have often said to have experienced flow state. The staggering thing is there is a strong correlation between the quality of experience and performance when in flow. The musicians in a study exhibited lower heart rates, blood pressure, and muscle tension, when in flow, at the same time heightened their performance levels. Flow, thus becoming a state of effortless high performance.

Software engineers also experience a flow state. Noise-canceling headphones have a small but important part to play here by eliminating the distraction information bits. The headphone rule is thus important.

So, how do you attain flow and thereby increase your focus?

Exercise, Sleep & Diet

Practice continuous awareness

Single-task, don’t multitask

Saying No

Journalling

Environments

Serve others

  • Compliment when someone does well
  • Give constructive feedback when you wish someone did differently (using Thanks For…Wish That… syntax)
  • Challenge/Question if it’s no that the above
  • Share your learning

Detach


Applying these methods in the workplace can improve morale by fostering a sense of greater happiness and accomplishment, which may be correlated with increased performance. In the book “Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning,” Coert Visser introduces “good work” in which one “enjoys doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself.” He then provides tools by which managers and employees can create an atmosphere that encourages good work.

Life is a manifestation of your focus. A distracted mind leads to a distracted life. Let’s all vow to increase our focus and build things bigger than ourselves.


I think building a resilient next generation is the best thing we can do for the world. If you have ideas on how to teach flow and concentration to school students let’s talk.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Pranay Suresh

Written by

Engineer @Bolt | Ex-Tesla | Silicon Valley Startup Guy| MS CS from Georgia Tech | Blogger | Speaker | Mentor website: https://pranaysuresh.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 100,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Pranay Suresh

Written by

Engineer @Bolt | Ex-Tesla | Silicon Valley Startup Guy| MS CS from Georgia Tech | Blogger | Speaker | Mentor website: https://pranaysuresh.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 100,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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