mind hacks By Thorin Klosowski
The moment you get effortlessly lost in work goes by any number of names: focus, concentration, escapism, flow, and countless others. It's the point where you're able to blur the world around you and calibrate your brain to pay attention to one single task. It's your sweet spot. It's when you Get Things Done. Your entire cognitive effort is concentrated on one task and when you're in that moment the outside world disappears. We all struggle to maintain focus in our daily lives. Endless distractions keep our brains from focusing on a task as we struggle to get things done at work and complete projects around the house. But what's actually happening in your brain when you're lost in a project? And more importantly, how can you train to induce that focused state in yourself? To get a better understanding of how focus and concentration work, I talked with Susan Perry, Ph.D, a social psychologist and writer for of the Creating in Flow Blog at Psychology Today . It's important to know what's happening in your brain when you're focused on something and what happens when you get distracted. From there we can look at minimizing those distractions and training your brain to focus better. After all, focusing is a skill and takes practice to develop.
From what I've studied, it seems that both the right and left brain are working efficiently together, but able to screen out peripheral distractions. Time seems to disappear and you and the thing you're doing feel as though they've become one. Such flow states have aspects in common with trance states, though it's tough to do MRIs of someone writing a book or playing a game. Photo by Mike Warot .
You can set up your environment to diminish distractions, decide on a routine or ritual that feels to you like a good way to begin your focused work. But in reality, our minds are so busy multi-tasking and keeping track of so many inputs that it's going to take a genuine decision, a commitment, to make that transition from "all over the place" to "right here, right now." Author and teacher David Rock describes this as paying attention to your attention . He suggests it's not easy to do, but it's possible to stop those thoughts from overwhelming you:
To inhibit distractions, you need to be aware of your internal mental process and catch the wrong impulses before they take hold. It turns out that, like the old saying goes, timing is everything. Once you take an action, an energetic loop commences that makes it harder to stop that action. Many activities have built-in rewards, in the form of increased arousal that holds your attention. Once you open your email program and see the messages from people you know, it's so much harder to stop yourself from reading them. Most motor or mental acts also generate their own momentum. Decide to get out of your chair and the relevant brain regions, as well as dozens of muscles, are all activated. Blood starts pumping and energy moves around. To stop getting out of your chair once you start will take more focus and effort than to decide not to get up when you first have the urge. To avoid distractions it's helpful to get into the habit of stopping the wrong behaviors early, quickly, and often, well before they take over. Learning to deal with distraction is great, but what's more sustainable in the long term is training your brain to focus better. Let's see how you can do it.
It's not easy to differentiate the sensation of being lost in something with a productive flow state. After all, there isn't any objective difference between one kind of absorption and another. You can be reading actively, watching a movie actively, or creating something or working toward a work goal actively. During any of those activities, you can go from engaged to bored and mentally drifting at any point. I think we all know when we're reading or watching something that requires no effort (what I would call media for the brain dead). You're in flow when you're slightly challenged, rather than bored, riding that line between too hard and too easy. You can use any type of entertainment you like, but the key point Dr. Perry points out is that it's challenging and you're doing it actively. Television doesn't work so well because ads break focus, but books, movies, and games are all ways to utilize your escapism as a means to calibrate your brain to focusing. The key is that you actively pay attention and absorb what you're consuming. That means no Twitter breaks, phone calls, or anything else. Turn off the lights, huddle up on the couch, and enjoy your media without distractions. These training exercises won't allow you to run off and start working on a big project without having to worry about distractions. Instead, they get you used to the feeling of being focused and that feeling transfers over across everything you do. Photo by niezwyciezony . When you understand what causes your brain to focus on something it's easier to train your brain to focus better and ignore distractions. No one-size-fits-all method works because everyone deals with (or even notices) distractions differently. But once you're focused, the last thing you want to do is let that feeling get away. Have some tips that help you maintain focus? Share them in the comments.