I firmly believe that I had a greater attention span when I was twelve. The only digital technologies that were possible distractions at that time were AOL Instant Messenger and Frogger on my parent’s original green Apple iMac. I wasn’t allowed to do either often and my parents forbade most TV. Friday nights was special – it was TGIF with Family Matters, Full House and Dinosaurs!
Nowadays, as a 31 year old, I find myself having to force my brain to focus on one thing at a time, all the time. I open my laptop at work in the morning and find myself trying to do ten things at once immediately. Or I’m at my local ski mountain, Eldora and I find myself thinking about filing my taxes while this is in front of my face. (Yes, that’s Wyatt having a private moment, now made public).
That said, I do not want to be someone who is always on my phone, distracted by everything around me, focused on nothing at all. Time passes too quickly. To try to practice more focus, mindfulness or whatever you want to call it, I started doing the following everyday.
Meditate Every Morning
Meditating is something everyone knows they should do, but actually doing it is a very different story. The big game changer for me in the actual successful practice of meditation was downloading the app “Waking Up” with Sam Harris. The app is free, as are the first week of meditation lessons. I find that the lessons are short enough to be practical (max 3 minutes) and very relaxing. It also helps set me up for the rest of my day. If I can focus first thing on a Monday morning when I have a million things to do or think about, anything is possible.
Then, whenever I’m feeling stressed or distracted throughout the day, I try to take deep breaths, close my eyes and think of the image that brings me peace. The ocean tide going in and out. The ocean feels like being warm, care-free, and small.
Read For At Least One Hour A Day
By “read” I don’t mean stare at the words thinking they might magically communicate to your brain (without you) what they mean. By “read” I also don’t mean owning books so that they can collect dust next to your bedside (guilty). I mean actually sit for an extended period of time or a short period of focused reading time. Really consume the words so that if someone was to quiz you right after you read a page, you might pass.
The part of your brain that allows you to concentrate is a muscle. It needs to be worked otherwise it gets smooshy. No one wants a smooshy anything. Every evening before I go to bed, I read for an hour to relax me to sleep, but also to give my prefrontal cortex a good little jog.
Coincidentally (or not), I’m reading “Focus” by Daniel Goleman and it is blowing my mind. I am intentionally reading it slowly so that I absorb every morsel of content and because I’m in no rush.
Intentionally Forget Your Phone
This is not a drill. I started doing this a couple of weekends ago and it has been a game changer for so many reasons. The most recent time I intentionally left my phone at home, I went out with Wyatt to play ping pong (I know, so white). Even though this move was totally conscious, I still checked my pocket for my phone about ten times that night. However, I did not actually need it a single time. I just wanted to look at it it’s stupid face.
Because I did not have my phone, I also did not have a stupid time-kill distraction in moments of silence or boredom. You know what I did instead? I actually talked to the humans around me! I know, crazy.
I didn’t turn my phone on again until the next morning and alas, the world was as I left it. Full of stupid distractions and notifications that really do not matter.
I dare you to try it. This weekend when you go out with friends (assuming you’re safe and can get home without your phone) leave it. You’ll have so much more space for the humans around you that actually matter. Plus, you’ll find yourself relieved to not have to constantly tend to the master that is your phone. You can be present, in the moment with you and the people you love around you.