Focus is a soft skill that enables you to ignore distractions and concentrate on a single task for long periods.
Learning to focus is more crucial than ever before now that everyone is constantly distracted by their phones and social media. This distraction is caused by a biochemical addiction caused by the pleasure centers of the brain being activated. While this phenomenon is well understood, universally accepted approaches on how to address our digital addiction have not yet been discovered. The closest we have to a universal solution is to withdraw from social media and turn off our devices.
If you have a full-blown social media phone addiction, attempting to learn how to focus is futile. Every topic related to focus requires that there is no external force competing for your attention. Maintaining focus is hard enough for the human brain, as it is hard-wired to pay attention to sudden changes as a part of our threat-detection and survival instinct. When you combine the visual appeal of mobile screens, the red danger-indicating notification icon, the fear-of-missing-out missed notification count, and the desire for social relevancy, the phone becomes irresistible. Therefore, to learn to focus, the first dragon to slay is the small rectangular device you keep with you day and night.
All addictions follow the same general approach to break:
- Acknowledge you have a problem.
- Take personal accountability for solving the problem.
- Make small, measurable, incremental changes towards solving the problem until it goes away.
The power of small measurable changes is that eventually, you will solve the problem, even if it takes far longer than you would have expected initially. If you have a screen-time monitoring feature on your device and find that you spend 30 hours a week on your phone, for the next week, attempt to reduce that to 29 hours. The week after, try to reduce it to 28. Your goal is to eventually break your addiction, not break it all at once in a grand display of your internal fortitude.
Once your digital addiction is addressed, you can now begin learning how to focus, which is your ability to enter and stay in the Flow state. “Flow” is a phenomenon of the human brain where you become deeply immersed in whatever you are doing, and the passage of time becomes practically imperceptible. For example, if you’ve ever done an activity that you enjoy, have been totally immersed in what you were doing, and then afterward say, “I can’t believe where the time went!” you were most likely in the flow state.
The process of entering the flow state, and the conditions needed to maintain the flow state can be different for everyone, but there are some general guidelines to follow:
- Isolate yourself from visual and auditory distractions, as you might if you were studying in a library.
- Begin working on your task, and slowly allow yourself to become deeply immersed in your work.
- If, after you are done with your work, the quality and volume of your work are far higher than usual, and the time that has past surprises you, you most likely achieved flow state.
Learning how to work while in the flow state can take a long time to master, but bear in mind that until digital distractions are eliminated, entering it and most definitely maintaining it will be impossible.