Staying focussed

Distractions are everywhere. And our monkey brains are only too happy to follow each and every one of them.

Staying focused can be difficult. It requires us to be mindful. We must exert as much control as we can upon our immediate environment to avoid distractions.

I just switched on the ‘Focus’ function in Word. I’ve never done this before. I have noticed the little button at the bottom of the document, but I’ve never clicked on it. But since I literally just started writing this blog, I decided to see what happens when I do.

It enlarged the page I am working on to cover the screen entirely with only black margins on each side. I still get a little ‘x’ to exit out of this view in the top right-hand corner, but that’s about it.

This option eliminates at least visual distractions from my workspace on my laptop. I don’t see the navigation menu at the bottom, which takes me to my email or the open browser.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Perhaps. Until my monkey brain is fed up with staring at the page (in such cases that words don’t come easily or at all). Then I would probably minimize the document and seek distractions online. They are, after all, far more entertaining than an empty page.

But as I am writing this, I find this feature to be quite useful. Just now I found myself glancing at the corner where the time is normally visible. Why? Because the time is important right now? Or because I want to know how much time I have spent writing? Does it matter?

Earlier, I’ve turned off the Wi-Fi on my phone and put it away. Another distraction put aside. I have no need to check messages or social media right now, so I am making the effort of keeping my phone – this massive source of distraction – far away. It helps.

Depending on the writing I’m doing, I’d be better off switching off my Wi-Fi on my laptop as well. If I then wanted to check the news or go on a random research bout, I’d have to switch it back on again to connect to the Internet. Whilst not a difficult step to take, it might make me pause just for a moment as to why I feel the need to do this now and whether it is such a good idea.

If you leave your connection on, emails are certain to pop up sooner or later and it does require a bit more of a mental effort to withstand the temptation to move over to your browser. That is what I am doing right now, and it feels very conscious. As in, my connection is active and because I am writing about this topic, the idea of switching over using the combination of just two keys on my keyboard looms massively in my mind.

It would be so easy, but I am not going to fall for this trap. Because I am writing right now on the topic of staying focussed.

Of course, the Internet isn’t the only distraction I am referring to. Considering the goals I have, there is a host of other distractions I could succumb to. And inevitably will at some point.

My job is a distraction from my goal of writing. My sofa is a distraction from my goal of working out more. The TV is a distraction from reading. Shopping for my ideal travel backpack is a distraction from saving money.

Some distractions we can eliminate. Others we have to actively evade. I’m not going to throw my TV out, but I can leave it switched off. I will keep looking for that ideal travel backpack, but I am not going to hit purchase on an impulse buy anytime soon. I will set aside time for writing any opportunity I get. And I will not lounge on the sofa until I have done my workout.

Staying focussed is chiefly a mission of being as mindful as possible. It’s not a battle we will always win. I know my vices. I can work around them most of the time, but I also don’t feel the need to try and eliminate them entirely. As long as they don’t keep me from doing what I want to do.

And there are ways we can make it easier on ourselves. By using the ‘Focus’ function, leaving the phone out of reach and switching things off when we don’t need them.

When I actively work on my focus, I also become very conscious of my thoughts straying here and there, seeking distractions, or wondering about the time or my messages or whatever. It’s a strange sensation to become aware of, especially since I don’t give in.

Perhaps this is part of the dopamine detox everyone talks about?


Practicing mindfulness

Following up on yesterday’s post, which was really a repost from October 2019, I wanted to add a few things. I chose to repost this blog entry because it still felt perfectly timely. Yesterday in particular I felt this restlessness, haunted by too many thoughts and still going after the next distraction.

But I also realised, it is no longer as bad as it had been when I first wrote that post. I am much more mindful now and I catch myself when I seek distraction after distraction. I know better why that may be the case, which differs depending on the situation.

I can stop myself. Not always, but a lot more than I used to.

I listen to myself very closely. Why am I feeling a certain way? How can I change how I feel – especially when I gripped by negative emotions?

The pandemic has done a number on all of us. But it has given us also a lot of time to touch base with ourselves. Well, perhaps not all of us, but many of us were given more time than we knew what to do with and a lot fewer distractions – at least outside of our own homes.

Given that I live alone and have only a small circle of friends, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time by myself. Admittedly, much more than I would have preferred. And whilst it hasn’t always been easy, I am privileged in many ways and don’t feel a need to complain.

Instead, I am trying to do the best I can. This includes to not just chase distractions and to learn about new things (even if I have felt no inclination to obtain new skills). I’ve delved into my psyche, learnt to understand myself much better than I have in the past and I’ve been practicing mindfulness whenever possible.

Being alone so much has been a struggle, though, so I have given myself permission to indulge in mindless distractions. We might be stuck at home, but our minds need not be stuck as well.

I am more aware now when I am seeking distractions and why. And I am certainly much more present in the moment. Where else should I be if I have no opportunity to make plans for tomorrow, let alone next week?