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Last week I focused my attention on focus itself.
I was interested in figuring out how and why I allocated my time and energy in the ways that I did. I also wanted to see what was causing me to lose focus, and to see if I could identify any tools that might help me focus better.
What Makes It Hard to Focus?
I was both surprised and unsurprised at what caused me to lack focus most often: negative feelings.
While it’s been extremely validating that my physical therapists are able to identify issues and acknowledge pains I’m experiencing, the process of healing is sometimes painful and scary. When I’m in pain, both sitting and standing feel bad, and I struggle to focus on my work. Thankfully, the intensity of my pain comes and goes, but I’ve definitely learned that it’s hard for me to focus when I can’t get comfortable.
I mentioned before that I’m working through some intense trauma that has kicked up my CPTSD, but I’m also just living my daily life of ups and downs that come with being human. Sometimes I spin out into anxiety or micro-managing, and I have a hard time focusing when that happens.
And sometimes I’m just plain crabby, tired, or hangry.
Once I realized that feelings of pain and anxiety and just plain crabbiness were holding me back from focusing, I knew it was time to find some tending tools so I could get back on the focus grind.
Fake It Until You Believe It (or Become It)
Amy Cuddy mentioned this idea in her book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, and I’ve been calling on it when I’m feeling nervous or uncomfortable. I’ve got to admit that I remembered her phrase as Fake It Until You Believe It, whereas she actually said Fake It Until You Become It, but my version has been working well.
When I’m feeling imposter syndrome or feeling nervous that I’m not good enough or smart enough to do a particular thing, I tell myself to Fake It Until I Believe It, which is me giving myself permission to just start the damn thing and go for it like I am already a pro (versus not going for it at all because I feel like a dummy). This Huff Post article breaks down Cuddy’s frame into a few more applications, but basically the idea is this: “It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or undeserving from time to time. The key is to recognize when these moments are happening—and to get out of your own way.”
Change Your Energy
Binaural Beats, or Meditones
There are these things called binaural beats, or meditones, that help to relieve anxiety and calm your brain by doing magical things with sound. Officially, they “are precisely tuned frequencies of sound, that when heard with headphones, guide your brain into effortless relaxation and deep meditation” (Sonescence). I learned about them on Kate Snowise’s interview with Tahlee Rouillon in the Here to Thrive episode, “Tahlee Rouillon of Sonesence: Peace, Brainwaves & Following Your Bliss.” You can preview some of Tahlee’s meditones on her Soundcloud or listen to her meditones on Spotify. The cool thing about meditones is that they work even if you aren’t sitting down to focus on meditating—just remember that you have to listen via headphones, or else they won’t work because you won’t receive the particular sound frequencies!
Emotional Freedom Technique, or Tapping
The Tapping Solution describes Emotional Freedom Technique, or tapping, as follows:
Tapping is based on the combined principles of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. Tapping with the fingertips on specific meridian endpoints of the body, while focusing on negative emotions or physical sensations, helps to calm the nervous system, rewire the brain to respond in healthier ways, and restore the body’s balance of energy.
This is something I do to calm myself down when I’m feeling triggered, but I find that it also helps me to focus when I’m feeling distracted by anxiety or stress. What draws me so much to tapping is that it acknowledges the reality of the negative feeling while welcoming in positive feelings. I like this way of holding space for both things and not just pretending everything is fine.
If you want to practice tapping, I recommend checking out Gabrielle Bernstein’s guided tapping session about stress in this video. You can access more guided tapping sessions here (note: I only practiced the demonstration video on this page, so I cannot speak to the others, although they look helpful, too!).
Make It Fun
Some people focus best in silence. I used to be one of those people, but I found that there are a couple of playlists that energize me and actually help me focus when I’m feeling “meh” about my work. My go tos are the public Spotify playlists “Jazz Vibes” and “Lush Lofi.” They’re kind of a combination of jazz and nature sounds and electronic beats, with almost no voices, and they make me really happy. I bet if someone did a study about how they affected my brainwaves there would be some cool things happening there. I’ve listened to these playlists so many times when I’ve worked, and I’m still energized every time I do. Whenever I put them on, my brain automatically goes into focus mode, whether I’m grading, outlining, or revising.
Also, I know I like to quote statistics, studies, and research, but few things boost a crabby mood and ground me in my body quicker than a time out and dance party.
Track Your Focus…or Lack of Focus
Spend a few days monitoring your focusing practices. Do you lose focus at the same time of the day, or after a particular event or experience? I know that I struggle to focus after physical therapy, when I’m stressed about a deadline, or at the end of the day on the days I wake up at 6:30am. On the other hand, I focus really well over coffee between 8am-12pm, at particular libraries, or when my home is newly clean. What helps you focus or not focus? Can you add more of the focus energizers and take away or prepare for the focus drainers?
Schedule Non-Pressing Problems For Later
If something is distracting or irking you, can you put aside worrying about it or fixing it to a designated, later time? This obviously won’t work with immediate concerns, but it can help you to reassure yourself that you will figure it all out later… and allow yourself to focus now. I’m currently nervous about planning my summer travel and dissertation writing around what might be a very busy work schedule, but instead of letting it knock me off my grind, I put a task in in my Todoist to look at my schedule next weekend when my sweetie and I can pull up our calendars and examine it together. The problem isn’t solved yet, but I trust that it will be, so I’m allowing myself to forget about it for now.
Remind Yourself: You Got This
Write yourself a note that will inspire you to focus. Put the note somewhere strategic, or set it as a reminder that will pop up on your phone.
I have a stickie on my laptop screen that says “Even though I feel nervous and worried, I will always protect my energy and time.” This is a reminder and a promise to myself that I will always get my work done and that I won’t sacrifice my mental or emotional health to do so. I also have a post-it hung on my bathroom mirror that says “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” This is from a character named Socrates from a Dan Millman’s novel, Way of the Peaceful Warrior. I haven’t read the the novel, but I found the quote online and it totally resonated with me, so now it’s on my mirror! Feel free to make up your own quotes, mantras, or messages, and get creative with design and pictures if you want to!
Additionally, I encourage you to check out Emotional Freedom Technique and Meditones if you’re struggling to focus because of physical anxiety. They both really help me to feel clear and calm, which allows me to regain focus.
*Please note that the original version of this blog post was published here.