Problems with concentration? Learning to focus
Practices how to
Sometimes it can be difficult for us to focus on one thing – so much so that it even pisses us off. As soon as we begin to do things that require focusing, how attention is lost, different thoughts get into our heads … And now we ourselves don’t notice that we are hovering somewhere in the past or in the future, but certainly not in the present moment.
“But even in our world, where there are too many distractions, strategies can be used to train concentration,” writes Donald Altman, a psychotherapist and formerly Buddhist monk. “It may sound illogical, but just the very moments when you get lost in your thoughts are the most suitable for focusing on the present.”
It’s simple: when we understand that we are in the clouds, we turn on what Altman calls “re-awareness” – a reminder that it is time to return to “here and now.” In Sanskrit, there is even a special term for the process of “collecting” oneself. We gain integrity by transferring back at the moment all separated, fragmented, distracted and overloaded parts of ourselves.
A little neurophysiology
Scientists have identified what happens to our minds when we lose concentration and become distracted — for example, during meditation or on any task. Researchers have identified four neural networks in the brain that are activated depending on whether our attention is concentrated or distracted. One of these networks is related to the ability to notice when we stopped concentrating on the current task.
This seems to be a “re-awareness,” Altman adds. Having discovered that we are distracted, we can go back and focus again on the current moment.
Of course, this process takes time, and special practices help to train it. Donald Altman recalls that it is completely natural to forget and be distracted during such classes. There is no need to demand perfection from yourself.
In fact, “re-awareness” helps us to look at life as a continuously unfolding process, as opposed to the usual goal-oriented thinking. The latter significantly limits the perception of many events and objects and drives us into the narrow framework of dualistic consciousness: good-bad, right-wrong, luck-loss, and so on.
Fortunately, the mind is highly adaptable. With the necessary inner kindness and compassion, we can begin to practice concentration. Donald Altman offers three simple strategies for staying here and now and training vigilance to help keep your attention focused.
1. Notice thoughts without evaluating them
Start cultivating awareness to catch moments when the mind is distracted and immersed in thoughts of the past or future. You can even record exactly when the switch occurs. What topics take him aside? Explore how familiar patterns work. Each time, noticing the slipping of attention, you strengthen the mechanism of inclusion of awareness and change old mental habits.
2. Take three slow breaths
In moments of loss of concentration, focusing on breathing will help you return to the current moment. Feel how good you feel. This exercise will not only help focus again, but also trigger a body relaxation system.
3. Look around in detail
Feel your position, push your feet to the floor. Notice the colors in the interior or the surrounding landscape. Listen to the sounds. The author suggests performing these practices regularly in order to develop awareness and attention, and focus on one’s own life and every moment of it.
How to concentrate: body exercises that increase concentration
The states of the body and mind are connected. Anxiety and disturbing thoughts provoke characteristic tensions in the body: in response to excitement, we are physically tensed. Anna Vladimirova, a specialist in Chinese medicine, is sure that if we learn how to relax them, we will be able to cope with our emotions, increase our concentration of attention, and return to calm thinking about tasks and making informed decisions.
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