Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing your attention to the present moment. Whether you're at work, having a conversation, eating lunch or going to sleep, the practice of mindfulness asks us to focus solely on the task at hand. It's a skill that, for many, doesn't come naturally, but can be developed through meditation and other training.
Mindfulness is not something that comes naturally to me. In fact, I'm pretty bad at it! It's something I actively and consciously work on throughout my day. My struggle to achieve mindfulness comes from having a full mind, and I think many of you will be able to identify with my condition.
One of the struggles of my personality type - which I would describe as highly curious, creative, competitive and problem-solving - is that I become easily distracted by cool things and shiny objects. I tend to be involved with many things at once. It’s just my nature. I’m a voracious learner with a busy mind, and I just can’t turn off that part of my brain.
Every single day, I struggle to fend off the mental 'squirrels'. Remember the dog in the movie 'UP'? “SQUIRREL!” That's what I'm talking about! For those of you who can't identify, imagine you’re having a normal conversation and all of a sudden an idea comes stampeding into your mind, completely taking over the moment. That is a mental ‘squirrel’. I have LOTS of mental squirrels. They are both fascinating and relentless, and...they drive me crazy! My mental squirrels would create a constant distraction if I didn’t find a way to tame them.
I had to make the effort and learn to teach my brain how to be more focused. Over the years, I've developed a set of techniques to help me be more mindful, allowing me to be more present and focused in the moment.
Below is my 'toolbelt' of techniques to use when you catch your self in those moments where you're not being mindful. Use these mental tools to course correct your thoughts in the moment and regain focus. You can use these tools anytime you are distracted, overwhelmed or feeling scattered.
My top 7 Tips for Mindfulness
1. Walking meetings: I've always found that physical movement stimulates my mind to have higher quality thoughts. Combine this with the factor of no technology or internet to serve as distractions, walking meetings allow me to focus more intently on the topic at hand. This practice also aligns with one of our BGIS GoSpaces challenges!
2. Headspace.com: This is not a paid endorsement, just a app I really love! This guided meditation app is my first suggestion for beginners or people that have an initial aversion towards meditating. Andy’s soothing voice identifies the distractions I am faced with and guides me gently through mental exercises.
3. White noise: I often have a terrible time falling asleep and getting enough sleep throughout the night. When I need help calming my busy mind at bedtime, I watch the aquarium channel on YouTube or listen to ocean sounds. These resources help to calm my mind, allowing me to drift off into sleep.
4. Schedule short, disciplined bursts of progress: In 15-minute intervals - with no email, cell phone or other device to distract - make a commitment to sit, focus and make material progress on ONE topic/task. Surely you can get through 15 minutes before you take a distraction break! This exercise is for mental focus as well as productivity. Think of it like an athlete doing a sprint!
5. Make (and obey) a daily list: I am very list oriented! What matters today? This week? This month? I start every day and every week with my list of things I need to attack and finish. When I start to get distracted by other activities, I look back to my list and ask, "Is it on the list?". No? Then I can’t do this thing right now, I must focus my time on making progress against my agreed priorities.
6. Talk it out: Finding someone knowledgeable and trustworthy to talk to about your ideas can go a long way to create focus. 'Talking it out' ('it' being an idea, goal or problem) forces you to take an abstract thought, frame it with words and communicate clearly. By articulating your idea or goal to another person, you transition your nebulous conceptual thoughts to something more concrete; this is a big necessary step for discovering whether your ideas are actionable or whether they should be dismissed.
7. Deep breathing: It sounds simple, but you won't believe how good you'll feel after a minute of deep breathing. Absolutely everyone has one minute in their day to spare and adopt this practice! Deep, long inhalations followed by long, controlled exhalations relax the tension in your body and allow you to sharpen your focus. This works surprisingly well.
Well that’s it – that wraps up my 7 “go-to” methods to help me regain focus.
The last thing I will say is that mindfulness is highly personal! Different tactics work for different people, because we are all individuals with different personalities, different strengths and shortcomings, so if these tips aren’t for you, find what works for your unique self.
I would love to hear what tips YOU use to help you stay focussed.
Spread the focus on focus!