How to Get Your Brain to Focus
Have you noticed that from the time you wake up till you go back to sleep, your life mostly revolves around a series of screens? You wake up and immediately check your phones; watch videos on some device while eating and then move on to work in front of another screen. Of all the devices, there is one that you waste your time on the most- your phone. You spent hours of your precious time on it, scrolling through feeds, watching videos, checking messages, without even realizing the amount of time you have squandered.
As an experiment, this overuse of mobile was reduced to just thirty minutes a day maximum for all the activities and it was observed that it took almost a week for the brain to adjust to this lower level of stimulation. The three curious things noticed were that there was a growth in the attention span, an increase in the number of ideas and plans made by the brain and also more thoughts about the future. Detailed studies were conducted to find out how to retain focus in this distracted world and analyse how technology influences our ability to focus. It was found that when we work in front of the computer with phones nearby, it takes just forty seconds to get distracted and lose focus.
It is often thought that the reason behind this is distractions. However, the root cause is not that the brain is distracted but that it is overstimulated. The brain craves for this distraction. ‘Novelty bias’ is a mechanism by which our mind rewards us with a hit of dopamine, a pleasure chemical when we distract ourselves. Your brain is hyper-stimulated these days by shuttling between these devices of attention that are extremely stimulating.
When you reduce your usage of the phone, you transition from a high stimulation phase to a lower one and this transition is what we call boredom. It was observed that it took almost eight days for the brain to lower the stimulation, calm down and relax. Also, it was found easier to focus on things not because you are surrounded by fewer distractions but that the mind was much less stimulated that it didn’t seek distractions in the first place.
The reason why you are able to come up with better ideas and strategies in such a state is that you give your mind more freedom to wander than before. If you think of it, you must have been struck by some innovative ideas while in the shower or while walking from one room to another because your mind then has the opportunity to combine and materialize the various scattered ideas. This mode of deliberately letting your mind wander is called ‘scattered focus’ which enables you to come up with ideas as you allow it to wander, and collate the different ideas in your brain.
When you let your attention rest it goes to three main places- the past, the present and the future. To recall ideas of the past, the brain spends almost 12% of the time and around 28% while wandering in the present. In thinking about the future, it takes about 48% and this is why we should chart out our entire day while in the shower, even though the day has not started yet. The mind can be blank or dull the rest of the time and hence it is essential to do things that calm your nerves and help you relax to be more productive in coming up with new ideas.
After conducting studies, it has been found that we need to make two fundamental shifts with regard to how we think about our attention. Firstly we think that we need to fit in more, especially with the hustle mentality, which is not true. You need to create a block of time and space that lets your mind wander. What allows traffic to move forward is not the speed of the cars but the space between them and it’s the same with our lives and work. Secondly, we need to understand that distraction is not the enemy we think it is but acknowledge that our mind is overstimulated.
To deal with this effectively, you can start off by limiting your screen time, following a disconnection ritual where you consciously cut yourself off these devices and the internet and rediscover boredom in your own way. It is true that the state of our attention determines the state of our lives- the more distracted you are, the more overwhelming you will find your life to be. You can lead a better life with added benefits of productivity and creativity when you are much more relaxed and less stimulated.
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