I have found that the first principle required in accomplishing anything difficult is mental discipline. This is true anytime you want to cultivate success in a new field. Without it, you are dead before you begin.
I want to emphasize the word mental because it suggests something that originates from within the mind. Action follows thought. If you are struggling with not being able to focus and stay on task it may be helpful to look at your mental habits first. Not only when it comes to work, but in general.
Are you the kind of person who is easily given over to distraction? The tendency to be distracted can only be curbed by bringing more awareness to your mental habits in daily life. When the overall habit structure of the mind is corrected, worktime will become automatically more productive.
This requires a bit of meditative introspection. Notice how your thoughts wonder during everyday activities like doing the dishes or walking down the street. The mind loves to create narratives. It loves to indulge in pointless revery. Awareness is the first step.
In today’s mass media dominated environment the mind has come to demand entertainment. In the absence of a screen to stare into it will find ways to entertain itself. The lyrics of some tune you haven’t heard in 15 years start ringing through your head. You start thinking about some youtube video or about how that movie you saw last week could have ended differently. I have noticed that my ability to focus is often proportional to the amount of time I spend plugged into mass media.
Another kind of distraction is the emotional lament. The mind recalls painful experiences from the past and dwells on them endlessly. As if past mistakes could be corrected by thinking about them. But thinking does not wind back the clock. Arguments are not won, relationships are not mended by thinking “if only I had said this.” “if only I had done that.” Contrary to what we may believe, we are not morally obligated to punish ourselves for the percieved wrongs of the past. We are better served by focusing on right thought and action in the present.
Obsessive planning is Another variety of distraction. This is when the mind gets lost in the endless labrynth of details of things that need to be done. When this kind of thinking takes over, life starts to look like and endless array of problems that always seem to defy solution. This is in fact not the case. I have noticed that problems tend to solve themselves when you don’t ovethink them. Thinking quickly turns to worrying and worrying makes everything seem hopelessly difficult.
Distraction can be more than mildly annoying. It can be mentally and emotionally debilitating to the point where it prevents us from moving forward in our lives. I have certainly experienced this. That is why I am going to make a list of things that have helped me relieve this problem. I hope it will be of some help to you too.
1) Eliminate addictive behaviour from your life. Addictions make the mind lethargic and muddy focus. My first addiction was television. Then I switched to youtube. Addictions can be subtle too when they take the form of thought. I’m addicted to playing music in my head. I get an emotional rush at first but it quickly turns into something repetitive and droning. Do you have any thought addictions?
2) set aside time each day to observe your thoughts. This may take the form of seated meditation or a walk in the park. Commit to watching your thoughts pass as you would a running river – without judgment. Become aware of recurring patterns that may have been there for a long time that you may not have recognized.
3) Slow down when things feel like they’re getting out of control. The rhythm of mind and body echo one another. When you notice your thoughts getting frantic, slow down your physical movements, even if it means moving in slow motion for five or ten minutes. This seemingly a absurd exercise can really help you bring things back down to a sane level.
4) Make a loving gesture whenever possible. Call up mom and tell her you love her. Smile at someone. Make some delicious food and give it away. Loving gestures bring harmony to the mind by momentarily lifting it out of its self-obsessive thinking.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. Please comment below if you have anything to ad.