1 simple technique to train your focus
Focus is a big topic now because people struggle with being able to focus more than ever before.
No wonder. Addictive easy-to-use technologies like the Internet and the smartphone train us to switch in between apps or tabs all the time and reach for easy entertainment at the slightest sign of boredom or discomfort. This is the opposite of being able to focus. This article is not about that, however. It’s about building your capacity to focus.
Mental focus follows visual focus
When we focus on something, our field of vision narrows down. We blink less often. This happens automatically and few of us ever notice it. Dopamine and nor-epinephrine are released in our brain, making it easier to focus and enter “the zone.” This makes us able to ignore things in the background or outside noises (passing cars, construction workers, or background noise in the cafe).
However, this is a two way street.
When we purposefully stare at something directly in front of us and even try to blink less often, our nervous system gets activated. Mental focus follows visual focus.
Focus your vision, focus your mind.
That’s the first principle.
This is the foundation for the focus-training technique that we’ll describe in detail. Before we do, however, there’s another potentially useful link between vision and focus.
Look up to become more alert
When we look up towards the ceiling, it sends a wakefulness signal to our brain. Simple 10-15 seconds spent looking up (as described here) can give you a boost of alertness needed to continue focused work.
How is this relevant to our everyday lives?
Well, it works the opposite way when we look down. When we’re looking down at our phone or laptop screen, we become less alert, less awake, less focused. It’s a subtle shift, but it is there.
This means that positioning your monitor at eye-level is a good idea. It might not be possible when you’re in transit, but it’s worth doing for your primary work station. Of course, this is a subtle influence, and if you’re able to focus looking down, then it shouldn’t be a problem.
The one practice to improve your focus: trataka
There’s one yoga practice that has been known for centuries that happens to copy the recent scientific discoveries quite closely. Doing this exercise will help you develop your ability to focus immensely.
All you need to try it is a candle. If you don’t have a candle, you can use another source of light (that is not blinding) or a video of a candle, but an actual candle is best.
Here’s how you do it:
- Light a candle in a dark room and place it so that it's at eye level when you sit.
- Stare at the unmoving flame for as long as you can, without blinking. (When your thoughts wander, re-focus on the flame.)
- Once your eyes start burning and you can no longer keep yourself from blinking, close them, and focus on the candle flame's afterimage in your mind.
- When the afterimage fades from your mind, open your eyes and focus on the real flame again.
And that's it.
Like with any meditation-like practice, consistency matters here. If you try it only once, the boost may not be that noticeable. If you repeat this exercise for 10-15 minutes, for 2-3 weeks, you will see a significant boost in your ability to focus.