No one wants to be a passive receptacle for all their crazy thoughts 24/7 but that seems to be what happens to many of us. Our brain sends us between 60 000-80 000 thoughts each day and 80 – 90% of these are pure nonsense. They don’t help us in the slightest, they are just noise and create confusion and chaos in our minds. With this in mind, it is a good idea to start training your brain to be more focused. This is what Buddhost monks do when they meditate but you don’t need to be that extreme to train your brain to focus.
Mental focus means we are more efficient and we are more able to monitor and manage our mood. It’s a great mental skill to master.
Present moment focus training
Although focusing your attention on future possible negative events is unhelpful, it has become a habit for many of us. I know I still do it even though I know it isn’t helpful and can lead me to feeling anxious. As with all habits, practice will be needed to help you turn your attention away from internal worry thoughts, onto what is happening around you in the present moment. Practice focusing on the present moment, rather than on your internal worry thoughts is likely to help. Practice for at least 10 to 15 minutes each day. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to be fully present moment focused during this time. Your attention may well repeatedly come back onto your worry thoughts. That’s completely normal and to be expected when you’re trying to break a habit. When your worry thoughts pop back into your mind, just gently observe these thoughts and then re-focus your attention on the present moment.
Instructions for practising present moment focus
The world around us is full of different sounds, colours, objects, textures and events. During your practice sessions, I’d like you to become more aware of what is happening around you in the present moment. As you do so, you will probably find that you become less aware of your worry thoughts.
Each practice session should have three components.
1. Becoming aware of different sounds/sights
In the first step, try to become aware of the range of different sounds and/or sights around you.
Listen to a music CD or the radio: in turn pay attention to the different instruments that are playing (guitar, drums, piano, violin, clarinet, etc). Alternatively sit quietly and pay attention to the sounds in the room and any sounds you can hear outside. Now pay attention to what objects are around and the colours can you see? Where is there light and where is there shade? Pay attention to what it would feel like to touch these objects. What textures would they be? Would they be hard or soft?
Go for a walk outside: pay attention to the sounds around you. What sounds can you hear nearby? What sounds can you hear further away? Can you hear cars, people, birds etc? Now pay attention to what buildings, plants, traffic and people are around? What colours and shading can you see? Pay attention to those. What are the different textures around you?
2. Switching your attention between the different sounds/sights
In the second step you need to switch your attention between the different sounds and sights. You can try this equally well indoors and outdoors Choose several different sounds. Start by focusing on one of the sounds, noticing all that you can about it and letting it fill your awareness. Don’t worry if your attention shifts onto something else, gently bring it back to the first sound. After following the first sound for a little while (maybe a minute), shift your attention to another sound and become absorbed in following that. Do the same for a third sound. Now move on to colours, objects, or textures.
3. Pulling everything together
Once you have spent time focusing on a number of different sounds and/or sights, try to become aware of all of them at once and for a few minutes let them all fill your attention. Let yourself get lost in the outside world. Don’t worry if your attention drifts back on to yourself. Simply notice this and gently shift your attention back to the outside world. Try this in many different situations. At this practice stage you can take it step-by-step. The final aim is to be able to simply focus your attention on the present moment and be aware of what is really going on ‘out there’.
Learning to focus is a great mental skill. It’s not easy in a world where there are so many distraction but it is even more vital when you think how easy it is to become distracted. The brain is like a muscle, it needs to be trained. Think of the above focus training as brain exercise. The more you do it the better you will get at it and the more automatic and natural it will feel.