Improving your ability to focus is possibly the best way to enable Slow to permeate your life. Here is a brief overview of why focus is fundamental. I will expand on this topic in the coming month to coincide with the Fabulous Focus Challenge.
Staying with a moment longer allows you to go deeper
Being present surfaces previously unseen details. It also exposes the depths. I like to think of it as moving from 2D to 3D as we sense into a moment with our hearts and minds. This also relates to ability to learn; research has found that multitasking impairs our learning ability.
Attention is linked to emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence requires awareness of our own thoughts and emotions as well as empathy. Both self-awareness and empathy rely on our ability to skilfully work with our attention, to turn it inward and direct outward. Following on from the first point, if we can’t go deep with sensing into ourselves or others, our awareness of the subtleties playing out will be limited. Similarly, research has found multitasking to be linked to impaired ability to be nice to other people.
Mind-wandering is stressful and makes you unhappy
Harvard researcher Matthew Killingsworth found that mind-wandering is one of the biggest predictors of unhappiness, with an effect far greater than the amount of money we make. I can corroborate this evidence with my current personal experience, finding that despite greater financial pressure than I’ve probably ever had to face, my gradually improving ability to keep myself in the present moment (and therefore maintaining gratefulness for the beauty in the here and now) is resulting in my overall happiness levels not seeming to be changing too much.
There is also preliminary evidence to suggest that mind-wandering leads to premature ageing and an increased risk of death. Wow! There is motivation to stop multitasking if I’ve ever heard it.
So much goes on in our brains that never is brought into conscious awareness. When we go deeper into a moment and pick up on the details, we are much more able to connect the dots in the future. It also means that when we are trying to listen to our intuition, we are more able to filter out mental chatter, enabling us to tune in to our gut feeling more effectively. It doesn’t have to be intense focus either for creativity and intuition, simply a calm, relaxed mind.
Where we place our attention determines our contribution to the future
We connect with what we place our attention on, which creates understanding, care and ultimately action. Energy goes to where our attention is. Form follows consciousness. Where we place our attention matters.
So guess what my advice is going to be? Stop multitasking and start meditating.
Multitasking trains the brain to constantly monitor for seductive stimuli. Unless the tasks are extremely simple, you are not actually multitasking, you are switch-tasking: moving your attention from one thing to another and back. This impairs your ability to concentrate.
When beginning a practice to cultivate focus, it doesn’t really matter what kind of meditation practice you start, all forms of meditation are versions of attention training.
Scharmer, C. O. and K. Kaeufer (2013). Leading from the Emerging Future, Berrett Koehler Publishers.
Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, HarperCollins.