How many times a day do you look at your phone? How much would someone have to pay you to quit Facebook? Has your attention span increased over the last few years or has it decreased? Chances are, you probably looked at your phone less than 10 minutes ago, someone would have to pay you over $100 to quit Facebook right now, and your attention span has likely decreased over the last 2 years.
Today, we live in a world in which technology seems to have seeped into every nook and cranny of our lives. From the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night, we’re very rarely more than 2 feet from our phones, and we regularly spend 5+ hours of screen time per day. We are constantly connected, and interconnected to our friends, families, bosses, and colleagues.
Online we can make friends with strangers, build successful businesses, even fall in love, all with a few swipes in the time it might have taken our ancestors to carry water from the nearest well back home for a cold bath. We live in a wonderfully connected and convenient world, and we have fallen in love with it.
But it comes at a cost. The amount of effort that it takes to switch off from Netflix, to turn away from Facebook, and to stop swiping on Tinder means that our ability to stay focused on any one task for longer than a short period of time has been severely diminished. Today, young adults are said to have attention spans slightly less than 7 seconds long, which is less than that of a goldfish!
“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” – Buddha
That’s where mindfulness comes in. While mindfulness continues to carry many hippie and spiritual associations with Buddhism and meditation, it is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance as a practical way to reduce anxiety, develop self confidence, and even get better sleep. Apps like Headspace and Calm have done much to help promote this space as well.
In the spirit of being more productive in your day to day activities and reducing the amount of time you spend being distracted by things like streaming video and Facebook, here’s a 3-step mindfulness practice you can use to deepen your sense of focus. Like any form of exercise, repetition is the best way to see powerful results. A muscle won’t grow unless it is stretched and exerted. So, here we go.
This exercise can be done in 5, 10, or 15 minutes depending on how much free time you have. It should be done in a sitting position with your feet on the ground and your arms at your side or on your lap. You can close your eyes or leave them open, but most people find that by closing their eyes they’re much better able to concentrate.
Here is the 3 step mindfulness exercise you should start doing today:
1. Develop a clear intention
Define your intention in the moment. Consider what it is you want to accomplish from this exercise. What is the purpose of this activity? Do you have a task you need to be productive for? Is there something you’re putting off that you really should be doing but simply can’t? Consider these thoughts and then carefully choose a clear intention to focus on.
2. Focus on one thing, and one thing alone
This is a very hard request for people not used to focusing their minds very often. Choose what it is you will focus on and stick to it. Remember, this step is distinct from the “Intention” step because it requires focus, rather than intention. During the intention phase your mind may wander while you consider what your intention actually should be, but during the focus phase you must make a concerted effort to stay focused wholeheartedly on one specific thing. This is one of the hardest things to do in meditation and mindfulness, and will most definitely take practice before you get to a point where you can comfortably focus on one thing for more than a few minutes at a time.
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
3. Practice sustained effort
As previously mentioned in step 2, focusing on one thing, and one thing alone, can be incredibly challenging. Your mind has been trained over the years to look for distractions. In fact, your primitive brain has become incredibly good at finding and focusing on distractions, as they may represent opportunities for an easy meal or existential threats to one’s safety.
Now, most distractions are opportunities to like someone’s instagram pic or threats of missing out on the latest Amazon flash sale. Seemingly important to our primitive brains, but not important in reality. In step 3, practice holding sustained effort on that one focus area for as long as possible, but don’t beat yourself up if your mind gets pulled in other directions. Just remember to take a step back and realize that that is what’s happening before you bring the mind back into focus.
If you develop this into a regular practice, you will soon notice your ability to concentrate on your tasks becoming easier. Projects will become more enjoyable and you will be more fulfilled in the work that you do. Let me know if this is working for you, and any tips you might have to share with others.