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Weekly Wellness Word: Focus

Monthly Theme: Thinking

This week’s word is Focus

Perhaps it's hypocritical of me to criticize over-stimulation of the brain when I am offering more information for you to process and consider. No doubt you have enough on your mind. Too much probably. And maybe...just maybe perhaps that's the problem.

In our culture today there are specific behaviors that are normal, even encouraged as desirable traits to have. Multitasking, for example, is sometimes viewed as an effective time management tool to increase productivity. But does it really work?

You probably recognize this scene. You're on a phone call. The person(s) on the other end of the line is going on and on about something that you really could care less about. You decide to try to quietly do something else while they're talking. Then you suddenly realize that they said something important that you missed. You're embarrassed. You don't want to ask them to repeat themselves, so you try to tease out the information by asking for clarification or more details. You think maybe they didn't notice that you weren't listening.

Or perhaps you've been the person on the other end and knew full well that that person wasn't listening to a word you said. How does that make you feel about that person? Do you feel important to them or do you feel like a nuisance they'd rather get rid of so they can get on with something else they have on their agenda? Maybe you even cut the conversation short trying to be sensitive to their limited time availability.

Focus seems to be a lost art in modern society today. We sit around a table with friends and our eyes are glued to our smart phones instead of enjoying each other's company. Yet, our attention on our smart phone isn't even focused on one thing. We are bouncing from app to app, checking social media, then looking at email, browsing our upcoming schedule, catching up on the latest news.

One of the first small steps we can take towards wellness is to minimize multitasking. Research shows that focusing on one task at a time helps us get more done faster and reduces the amount of stress we experience while doing it. Those who pay attention to their body while exercising actually lose more weight and reach their fitness goals quicker. Undivided attention during a conversation more successfully builds rapport and trust in relationships.

This week's wellness practice is to try to minimize multitasking. Pick something small to focus on and then find a space with minimal distractions. Try to give your full attention to the task for a few minutes. Feel free to set a timer, but turn off all other notifications on your phone and lay it aside during this time. Notice any resistance you experience to your attempt to focus on the task at hand. Pay attention to how your internal self talk, your body, your surroundings affect your ability to focus. Afterwards, reflect on how you feel. Is there a shift in your level of stress or the areas of tension you normally hold in your body? Consider whether focusing assisted an experience of calm or whether it caused increased agitation. Journal about your experience if you feel it's helpful to you.

Quote of the Week

"While our education may have trained us in certain cognitive skills, others have been sorely neglected. The ability to pay attention is one of those undeveloped abilities. Perhaps because of the media's approach to keeping us always stimulated by changing images every few seconds or because of the enhanced pace of life in today's techno-culture, the mind's ability to focus and keep attention is rarely addressed.

Most of us know that we've got a ‘wild monkey’ running around in our brains, jumping from tree to tree, from thought to thought. If we have ever tried to simply watch one phenomenon for more than just a minute, we know how incredibly taxing and even impossible that can seem. The typical example used is that of trying to watch the second hand on a clock with full attention. In a short time we are feeling edgy, tapping our fingers or shaking a foot. Most people can't keep such focus for even a minute. Try it and see, noting when your attention wanders or your thoughts take you to another time and place altogether.

Yet the ability to pay attention is a treasure worth cultivating. Not only can paying attention be relaxing - as happens when attention can be focused solely on the movement of breath - it can be transcendental, as when the painter or sculptor becomes utterly immersed in the work.

In healing, the ability to focus attention is also essential, for picking up on subtle cues from our inner experience or for directing energy from one area of the body to another. Many of the mind techniques for enhanced health require an exceptional placement of attention and continuity of practice. But the effort is well rewarded. You can practice paying attention in any activity of your day. Preparing a pot of tea and drinking a cup with mindfulness. Working in your garden, experiencing all the sensory input that is flooding you even amidst a barren patch of earth. The possibilities are endless.

Paying attention is a prelude to living life in the present moment. And the present moment is the only place wherein the fullness of Life can be experienced. The only place where power, love, and creativity coexist."

- Wellness Workbook by John W. Travis, MD, & Regina Sara Ryan

Next Step

Having trouble focusing? Struggling with distractions? Check out these suggestions from wikiHow for improving your ability to focus.

Further Information

For a deeper dive on the dangers of multitasking, check out this article from Psychology Today.

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