The ability to focus is crucial to your success…and an easily forgotten art form. Because we may not all have ADD or ADHD, but we are all living in a world so full of distractions and temptations that can keep us from doing what we need to do.
Those funny people on Twitter, those TV shows, and those drinks you can have with friends, they can give even the most disciplined among us the attention spam of overexcited Labradoodle set loose in the park.
Focus, my darling reader, does not come easy. Not to me. But I need it both professionally AND personally, and that’s why I try to train my focus.
And I have taught myself how to get my focus back when I have lost it. Probably somewhere on Tumblr. Damn you, Tumblr.
How to get your focus back according to me, after the jump.
Jolijn, one of my coworkers*, thrusted ‘the Time Paradox’ in my hands on Thursday when I came into work. “You’ll love it,” she promised. “Read it.”
Anyone who studied psychology knows the name Philip Zimbardo. He’s a psychology professor who has done a TON of important research, most famously the Stanford Prison experiment, where students were divided up to act as either guards or prisoners. Things totally got out of hand. It’s one of the most famous psychology experiments of all time.
He’s also done research on the psychology of time, looking at time perspective and the consequences on people’s lives of their time perspective. Together with John Boyd, a fellow professor, he wrote the book ‘the Time Paradox’ on how you think about time and how you can use that to your advantage. Who doesn’t want that?
I started reading as soon as I came home and I started to race through the book. It’s absolutely armed to the teeth with helpful and practical information, and funny too. During just TWO chapters of this book, I got so inspired that I wrote down the most important things I got from these first two chapters. I couldn’t wait to share.
1. We give our time away more easily than we should.
If an acquintance you are not too fond of asks you to invest in her new company, you really think about it. You weigh pros and cons. If you think it is a bad investment, you say ‘no’. You don’t care that it might offend her, because you’re not about to waste your precious money. You could buy like, cool stuff with that. But what do you do when this same woman asks you to have dinner?
You don’t think about it in the same way. Even when you don’t really want to go, you sacrifice time out of your busy schedule to be bored by someone over a pizza. An hour, mind you, that you’ll probably spend feeling stupid for not saying ‘no’ when that was really what you wanted. You have just wasted time that you will never get back.
The lesson here is simple. Think carefully about what you spend your time on. If it helps, think of time as if it’s currency: Don’t spend your time on shit you don’t care about, don’t spend it on trivial stuff, and don’t spend it all in one place.
2. Be future-oriented. Think about the long term consequences of the stuff that you do today. Think of the long term goals you have for yourself and how today can help. When you have the Future You and your Future Life in mind, it makes sense you make smart choices about food and health, work, academics, time management and relationships. Instead of looking at today as a mean for instant gratification, look at how today can assist you with your life as you’d like it to be long-term.
3. The present defines your past and your future. That too, is an important reason to use today to your advantage.
What you do today becomes a part of your Past Self. If you spend today being productive, sweet and taking care of yourself, you will think back on doing that later. You use that information to construct a self image based on your past. In this case, that’s going to be a positive one. But if it’s a negative one, the idea that you have about who you are can hold you back. You give your negative past power that it doesn’t deserve.
Simultaneously, what you do now has consequences in the future. Study now, get a better grade on your exam next week. Drink green juice now, have more energy today (and probably tomorrow). Work out today, be healthier tomorrow. It’s a no-brainer, but we forget about this all the time. We give all the power to the future, because that’s that magical time and place when we’ll do it. Promise. Right after this episode.
The present is powerful. Try not to focus so much on what you have done before. Pay no attention to what you still have to do. Use it to your advantage to positively construct your past and positively impact your future.
4. Death is real**. We pretend that death doesn’t exist to make ourselves feel better. But it also devalues our lives and the time we have. I’m pretty sure the whole freezing-people-thing isn’t going to be happening in our time, so guess what? You’re like that one dumb blonde character in every horror movie ever: You’re gonna die. Our time is limited, our time is a finite resource. We should treat it like that. We should make the time we have here count, because it’s our only shot.
5. Tiny daily midlife crises. John Boys writes that the experience of his dad leaving his mother after twenty years of marriage made a huge impression on him. He didn’t understand why his father would suddenly do this. When he asked his dad about it, they came up with the answer that his father had been resisting change for so long that he now just couldn’t do it anymore. Not wanting that to happen to himself, John resolved to have ‘a little midlife crisis’ every day, in order not to have a big one at forty.
This struck me. There is a pose in the Bikram Yoga sequence that really makes your heart race and Bikram’s quote about this posture is “we give you a little heart attack now, so you don’t get a big one later.” I like the parallel. Have small moments like this, so it doesn’t blow up in your face later.
Second, I think one of the worst things that can happen to a person is waking up too late in their lives and be like “Hang on…this isn’t me” or “I don’t want my life to be like this.” You need to take moments all throughout your life to prevent that from happening. So in those tiny little midlife crises moments, you can look at your life and be like: “Is this me? Is this what I want? Do I like where this is going?” It will help you stay in touch with your life and the direction that you’re going in.
6. The world evolved a lot faster than our bodies did. Everything has developed at a super high rate: Technology, industry, cultures, medicine, all of that. Our bodies did not evolve that fast. Human Evolution takes a lot more time than the Industrial Revolution. The authors describe our bodies as “antique biological machines”, that were designed for success in the past. You know, the past? when things weren’t processed or sprayed with pesticides, and when we were outside a lot, running around and chasing after things?
I love our current world and all its advantages. I mean, we have Netflix. But our bodies have not caught up with what we have to deal with on a daily basis, like fast food and sedentary jobs. So give your body what it still needs for optimal functioning. Eat a lot of natural stuff, and exercise that “antique, biological machine” to make sure things keep running smoothly.
7. Holy cow, media intake. Research shows that we spend slightly under 8 (!) hours on electronic media in a 12-hour work day. Only 52 minutes (7% of our day) we spend reading books. The rest of the time we are multitasking, WHILE ON ELECTRONIC MEDIA. I don’t know about you guys, but this freaks me out. I mean, I know everyone spends a lot of time behind their computers for work as well, but even so: This is a high average.
Considering I used to read like 8 books a week when I was a kid, I gotta at least crack up the book reading to a double-digit percentage during my adulthood.
8. Everything cries out for our attention – and therefore our time. Emails flying into our inbox, movies to see, shows to watch, text messages, cool virals to check out (and the annoying commercials we now have to deal with on YouTube). We should govern what to give our attention to, because there is always going to be something that’s colorful and sparkly that can distractus. And the more we give into all of these impulses, the more what really matters is going to suffer.
It’s good to turn everything off every once in a while, for a couple of hours or so (a day if you can handle it) and let your overstimulated brain calm down a bit. Get back to what matters.
9. You should totally do the surveys the authors have on their website. It gives you a score on your time perspective and how you compare to what the authors think is the ideal time perspective. My score’s most interesting feature is that I am (apparently) pret-ty negative about my pas, in the sense that I can still beat myself up over past failures and mistakes. Considering I keep adding embarassing moments to the list every day of my life, I guess I should really do something about that. Hm. anyway, go check out the time tests.
10. You can’t change what has happened to you, but you can change how you think and feel about it now, for the better. You don’t have to magically transform your mental landscape over night, but if painful experiences are holding you back it would be good for you to process them, with therapy if need be. It’s not fun, but it can be worth it.
By now, after
two four-and-half chapters of this book, I gotta say… this is in my top 5 of 2013 New Self Help Book Reads. I can’t wait to read more and write a review. If you don’t want to wait for that, and you dig the lessons from this book I wrote about, you can find it for 10,49 Euros right here. Review up soon. Have a beautiful Sunday, babies.
*Friend, very good teacher and fellow Indian food lover.
**I kind of want to start a metal band with that name.
Oh Internetz, how I love you. So much inspirational material available, countless hilarious Internet memes and all these awesome people only a click away. I love it. The Internet is in my top 5 Abstract Concepts I Would Marry List*. But let’s face it: Too much Badluck Brians and brainless Youtube videos isn’t good for a person.
We spend shitloads of time on stupid websites while we could be doing other stuff. We all know checking your e-mail every 5 minutes is neither effective nor productive. We basically overstimulate our brain with a load of crap (which makes our brain less useful later in the day) as well as procrastinate on more important things as well as miss out on a lot of other way more fun, creative and awesome things we could be doing in our free time.
And I’m the worst addict when it comes to the Interwebz, so I really have to make it easy for myself to not be on the Internet. Here are some easy ways to start taking down your Web-Time and start having some more Real Life Time (I’ve heard it’s really fun, you guys).
*Writing, Internet, Bikram Yoga, Teaching and Coffee. Yes, still.
I remember someone telling me a story about their favorite writer, who refuses to wait. He thought time was precious, waiting was a big, useless waste of that time and so: he just never waited. He wouldn’t storm into any meeting still going on, he wouldn’t cut in line and he wouldn’t throw a fit over appointments running late, but he just didn’t spend his time waiting. Whenever he had to wait, he would write. Always. No exceptions. The moment he had to wait, he just grabbed his notebook and picked up right where he left off. That’s how he wrote his bestsellers.*
How cool is that?! Do you have any idea how much of our lives we spend waiting? Apparently it’s averaged around two to three years of our lives! Two to three years of our lives, we sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for public transit, the doctor or our friends to show up!
So might as well do something while you wait, right?
- A very revolutionary idea would be to practice mindfulness while you wait: really be where you are for a moment. We spend a lot of time up in our heads and not paying attention to our surroundings, it can be really centering to come back to them. So use all your senses and start being in the moment. Be in the Now. It’s an excellent relaxation technique.
- Bring reading material with you wherever you go (I might as well cover the other revolutionary idea while I’m on topic). Believe me, all those little peeps of time in between appointments and classes can add up to a ton of literature, scientific articles or time management books you will have read after a few months. I read Spirit Junkie mostly while using public transit and waiting!
- Write a to-do list for that day, week, month, project, birthday party. Kills time and sorts out your head all in one!
- Write, in general. Whether it’s articles for your blog, the introduction for this course’s paper, a letter to someone, a detailed description of the day you’re having, venting frustration about a fight you had on paper. Clears your mind, lifts your mood and before you know it, the wait is over.
- Talk to someone! Whoever is around, whether they’re waiting too or just look interesting to strike up conversation with, chat with a stranger. It’s great for your social skills and getting to know other people can be a great lesson sometimes. After a great conversation you can walk away very happy and inspired. That would be nice, right?
- Eat or drink something, especially if you’re waiting for a no-food-allowed kind of thing. It’s good to be well-fed and well-hydrated. I always bring a banana and a bottle of water with me**.
- Give your hands a little pampering. My hands are often neglected: I use them for everything and when I go to bed I suddenly feel how dry they are. I like to rub in a little hand cream whenever I am reminded. I love the smell of Dove, so that’s my usual pick, but Lush, Sabon and any fancy perfume brand have wonderful hand lotions as well.
- Send love and light to someone you care about. Picture them basking in a bright white light with a smile on their face. Try surrounding them with love and positive energy. It could be to anyone; from your parents to your friends to a colleague you know is having a hard time in their personal life. I believe this is good for your own mental state as well as how you approach your relationship with that person; by doing this exercise you’ll be more open and loving towards them. Add to that I personally do believe my energy must have some effect on the world and other people, and that by doing this exercise I make sure the effect is a good one.
- Do some of the exercises to increase positive energy (click)! I’m guessing you’re going to do mostly the silent ones like me: I like to do the Energy Shower Visualisation!
- And why not try your hand at some light manifesting while you wait? I have some perfect exercises for that right here!
- Create a folder on your phone with the favorite text messages from your favorite people so you can scroll through them: declarations of love from your lover(s?), memories of a great night out with your best friend, funny things your sister said or a nice compliment of someone you don’t talk to often. It’s a great way to remind yourself of your blessings and the wonderful people in your life. On that note: Pictures from your Vision Board (hello, we heart it and pinterest!), wonderful inspiring e-mail exchanges and holiday snapshots have similar effects.
Time is so incredibly precious. How we spend out minutes turns into how we have spend our days. And our days are our lives in miniature. With that in mind, standing about idly doesn’t seem right now, does it? Don’t you want to use all of the time available to you the best you possibly can? Whether it’s waiting for the bus, in between appointments, a ten minute delay: it’s still time you could use. Why waste it?
Be like that writer. Refuse to wait. Use all the time you get in this life, and use it well.
*It’d be so much cooler if I remembered who it was about. The only thing I still know is that he wrote fantasy books with the protagonist in a moral dilemma of being able to do great things with bad powers but having bad powers. Or something. Any ideas?
**I’d be such an excellent chimpanzee.
Yesterday, one of my best friends in the world accidentally delivered an amazing lesson about why you should always do your absolute best to do what you say your’re going to do, or more specifically, to be somewhere when you say you’re going to be there.
I’ve known this friend for a long time, we met in early high school, she’s incredible. I’ve been coming around her place for almost ten years, and I know her parents quite well: very honest, hard-working and hospitable people. They are always happy to see me, they hug and kiss me, ask me how I am, how my parents are, and of course: why I don’t come around more often, stuff like that. They’re great, I adore them.
Last night I had some girlfriends over and we were talking about punctuality; they had arrived at my place an hour late, with only one exception. We were joking around: I was made fun of for not being the most punctual person in the world myself.
Now, I’ll make sure to be on time for official appointments like a dental cleaning, job interviews, classes: I hate being that one person that keeps everybody waiting, nor do I want to disrupt the schedule of a professional. I always make sure to be on time for stuff like that. But when it comes to social appointments, I’m not very punctual. Often I find myself running ten minutes late. If not more.
And then my friend said, laughing: “Did you know that when you’re supposed to come over and you’re late, my dad is just sitting there, waiting? He’s always supersleepy but refuses to go to bed, just so he can say ‘hi’ to you!”
And it hit home. Because I pictured that sweet, grey-haired man sitting there, yawning but looking out the window, waiting: just so he’d be downstairs when I arrived. Just so he could give me a hug. Just to ask me about my life and my family and see if I’m okay. Just to show me he cares about me. And I had been letting him wait unnecessarily, so many times. This man, who works a tiring full-time job, sitting there, and I let him wait.
And then I thought of the other friends I have let wait for me. Of the many casual social dates I came rushing into, for no good reason other than procrastination or bad planning on my part.
And I realized more than ever that it’s disrespectful. Even if it seems tiny and insignificant, it comes across as a sign that I don’t care enough to be on time for someone. It comes across as if I don’t value their time and presence. And giving off the impression I don’t love people is not something I want to do, especially when I adore them. I don’t want my friends to ever be under the impression I don’t value their time and presence.
So I’m going to show respect by being on time for them. So we can spend the time together that we had decided upon and so they know I know their time is valuable. They could have been doing a thousand other things that day; I should consider myself lucky when they want to spend time with me.
Of course you don’t have to be as dramatic about it as I’m being right now, and argue for circumstances for being late like public transit and lost keys. You can also say that “everybody does it” and “it’s not that big a deal”.
Well, fuck those excuses. All I keep picturing is my friend’s dad. It’s a really powerful image to me. And so is giving off even the tiniest signal I don’t value my friends as they should be valued.
I’m going to be on time from now on. Fashionably late is fucking lame anyway. Considerately on time is going to be the next big thing as far as I’m concerned.