Improving focus through mindfulness: a practical guide
While I am not promoting the adage — easier said than done — but even Hanuman had to be goaded into action by the bear-avatar named Jambhavan
From our childhood, we all have heard our parents harp on ‘focus’. God forbid, you flunk a test, and you will never hear the end of your inability to focus. Worse, you ace a test and they will appropriate the credit for arm-twisting you into focusing! What do they know about the difficulty in focusing on something so trivial as a life-defining test when your heart is pining for your loved one or your mind is restless to catch a fresh episode of your favorite series? Bare your heart only to get an earful from them! You trying hard to focus while letting your mind wander is just like Dolores Umbridge making rules to stop the Weasley brothers from pulling off any pranks. Both are not possible!
To have the last say, you first need to convince your mind to let go of its strong will and cooperate with you. After all, if you decide not to give in to your mind’s will, your mind will gradually learn to respect your will. Sounds difficult? Well, you can easily achieve this by implementing mindful thinking in your daily life. All you have to do is to continue practicing mindfulness with patience, determination, confidence, and positivity. And soon, your mind will stop dancing around when you want to focus on the work at hand.
What is mindfulness?
Our minds are like those little birds, which wander from one place to another. While those birds do not get lost, we do because they have their internal compasses pointing towards their main goal, which is survival. But we humans must do more than merely survive. That is where mindfulness kicks into action. Making our minds stay in the present, and focusing on the current activity, instead of pondering over the past, decoding the future, or just daydreaming is what mindfulness is all about.
How does mindfulness help improve focus?
The practice of mindfulness traces its roots to the Buddhist tradition, Sati, to guide people to recognize, acknowledge, nourish, and value their current abilities. When you become mindful, you become more aware of your surroundings, thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. This allows you to tune your thoughts to what you think or feel in that particular moment without drifting away. As a result, you get to focus on the work at hand and your retention span enhances significantly.
Once you become mindful, your mind starts grasping more information effectively and stops behaving anxiously. It realizes that if you do not check the unread emails, pay the future bills, or scan the latest online summer collections at that very moment, you won’t vaporize like KJo’s Bombay Velvet. When you start acknowledging each of your thoughts, not only do you become more focused on the present but also a better critic of the past and planner of the future.
How to practice mindfulness?
If you are a beginner, you need to take things slowly to acquire the art of mindful thinking. Hurrying up would not fetch you anything but frustration. Here’s a simple guide for you.
Start a daily routine
The first step toward implementing mindfulness is starting a daily routine. Think of an activity that you do daily. Just like exercises, you benefit from mindfulness through practice. Decide upon a time of the day when you can perform that activity mindfully every day, with no interruptions. As you stick to a particular time and duration, mindful thinking becomes a habit. Gradually you can increase the frequency of practice or the duration.
Think, act, and believe
Mindfulness is more than just thinking. It is a way of perceiving, observing, and behaving. You can use several tools, such as meditation, exercises, or conscious breathing, to develop this skill.
Perform an exercise
Performing one of the following exercises can help you implement mindfulness and improve your focus.
Mindful breathing: Find a peaceful spot where nobody will disturb you. Do not carry any gadgets with you. Sit and make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes and relax. Free yourself from negative thoughts and focus on your breathing. Inhale deeply and then exhale slowly. You can start with three seconds per inhalation and exhalation. Use your breath to control your thoughts. If you find your mind hopping around, think about your breath and again inhale deeply. You can stretch the session to three minutes and then slowly increase the duration.
Mindful stretching: You can follow any of the stretching videos you find online. Concentrate on your breathing as you stretch and feel its impact on your body; feel the tension in the muscles. Try to focus on that activity alone by shooing away distracting thoughts.
Mindful meditation: Mindful meditation is similar to mindful breathing, wherein you sit in a relaxed position and focus on your breathing. However, the duration is longer. You practice mindful meditation for at least 10 to 30 minutes.
Identify your surroundings
Whichever exercise you perform, try to become aware of your surroundings. Activate your basic senses and see how are they affecting your moods, emotions, and thought process. As you inhale while performing the exercise, realize the smell you are absorbing.
You have to commit before you begin practicing mindfulness. Remember the tortoise who defeated the hare in the race? Success doesn’t come easily always, but if you do not give up, it will be yours.
Apart from performing the exercises, you can also choose one activity that you can perform mindfully every day. It can be eating, showering, driving, cooking, etc. For example, if you choose to eat, do not rush through your meal. Instead, enjoy it. Feel the texture of the food, let its flavors trigger your senses, try to identify the condiments used, and acknowledge the efforts that went into making the food.
Other benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness not only helps you improve focus but also handholds you to a better future by increasing your overall wellbeing.
Mindfulness and planning greatly complement each other. Planning helps you to practice mindfulness better by reducing the burden of thoughts from your mind. And when your mind stops piling up thoughts, you get to think about them in isolation and arrive at effective conclusions. You get to plan your future activities better after considering every probable scenario that may arise. This way, your future remains sorted and you find fewer things to worry about.
Less stress and anxiety
As you adapt more to this tech-driven world, the chances of having high stress and anxiety increase. However, research has shown that practicing mindfulness-based therapies significantly helped people deal with anxiety and stress. When you think mindfully, you respond to stress and do not react or act instinctively without being aware of the motives or emotions driving your decision. Mindfulness inspires you to be aware of your physical and mental state and better process your emotions rather than panicking.
According to a 2016 National Library of Medicine Study, insomnia affects around 33 percent of the adult population of India. Practicing mindfulness meditation or exercises helps them control stress, anxiety, or other negative thoughts by giving them a better grasp of reality. Mindfulness therapy helps their mind to relax and reduce fatigue. As a result, worries fail to destroy their sleep time.