This post will present some quick and simple tips to improve your concentration and focus.
To help you understand the benefits of these tips, I’d like to first tell you a story.
A long time ago, a man was lost walking through a forest. As he was lamenting his misfortune, he ran across an old sage. The sage offered the lost man a demon servant that would take him from the forest and do whatever he asked. However, if the demon was ever left idle, even for a minute, it would devour the man.
The man accepted the offer, and upon being presented with the demon, he immediately told the creature to take him home. In the blink of an eye, they were out of the forest and back home.
Knowing the demon needed to be kept busy, the man instructed it to clean the house. However, before he could even lay down, the demon reappeared beside him, having finished cleaning.
When the man did not immediately give the creature another task, it grab him. Panic stricken, he demanded the first thing he could think of – an iced drink. The demon blinked away and was back in an instant.
Realizing that a larger project was in hand, the man told the demon to build a giant palace. He barely finished his drink, when the demon returned. The palace was finished.
Two weeks passed this way. The man was driven to distraction keeping the demon busy; barely eating, sleeping, and constantly in danger of being eaten.
Finally, he had enough.
The next time the demon appeared, The man instructed, “Take me to the old sage!”
In a blink of an eye again, they were back in the forest beside the sage.
Quickly, the man described his problem.
The sage nodded, and said “Have the demon fetch a monkey hair.” Confused, the man instructed the demon to get a monkey hair. When the demon returned, the sage told it to straighten the hair.
The demon used one finger to pin the hair to the ground, and another finger to roll it out flat. Once done, the demon grinned at the man and stood up to attack him.
However, as soon as the demon let go of the hair, it curled up again. Frowning, the demon sat down, and re-straightened it. Again, as soon as it let go, the hair curled up.
For minutes, the man watched in awe, as the demon repeated this process.
The sage said, “When you have a task, take the hair away and give it the task. When the task is done, return the hair and say ‘straighten this.’”
From then on, the man was no longer distracted by the demon. All thanks to a little monkey hair.
Interestingly our mind is like a demon. It demands attention, requires engagement, needs stimulation, and desperately seeks to be preoccupied. And it will nag and distract us until it gets it.
In order to concentrate, often we need to appease or quite this demon mind of ours. We need to preoccupy it, otherwise it will constantly annoy, pester, and divert our attention away from what we want or are trying to do.
So at times, concentration involves preoccupying some part of your mind so the other parts can focus.
Here are some strategies to help you do just that.
Playing in the background is a great way to improve focus. The beat, rhythm, and patterns in music do well to engage our demon mind. As the saying goes, music soothes the savage soul. In our case, the demon mind.
It’s best to listen to music that don’t have lyrics, as the words in lyrics can be distracting. Good options include classical, jazz, ambient, electronic, and all types of instrumental.
It’s also good to choose music whose tempo matches the task. If you are reading or studying, you might play music that is soothing and relaxing. On the other hand, with challenging activity, you might listen to something more upbeat. Try different varieties with different activities to see what works best.
If music doesn’t work, you might try background noise. When it is too quiet, you might not be able to work because all of a sudden you notice the chatter in your head. Background noise can be useful to drown out that chatter as it gives your demon mind something to focus on instead of bugging you.
Examples of background noise include cafeteria, office, street, or noise in a coffee shop. Research suggests that moderate chatter of a bustling coffee shop–at around 70 decibels–can distract you just enough to think more clearly. Research also suggests that background noise of nature – waterfalls, ocean waves, rainfall – is even more effective.
Although you can’t always be in a coffee shop or live near the ocean, there are many software and apps that mimic such sounds. Couple popular and free ones include myNoise and Coffitivity.
Puzzle or Riddle
Another technique is to read a riddle or look at a puzzle without looking at the answer. This lets your demon mind contemplate the answer. Or look at something fascinating and have your demon mind figure out how it works. While it is distracted, you can do other things.
Sometimes it’s not your mind that needs engagement, but your body. Either it wants to be up and about, or stimulated in some other way. In these instances, you need to engage or preoccupy your physical body.
If this is your dilemma, you might read or study while on a treadmill or stationary bike, or you might pace around your room or office. If you need to think through a difficult problem, you can do that while jogging around the block. While you’re body is focused on the task of moving, you can focus on something else.
The trick with physical activity is to pick an activity that your demon mind can take over easily. If you have to focus intensely on the activity, than you can’t pay attention to the thing you really want. Thus the activity becomes a distraction rather than an aid. This is more difficult to put into practice, but if you are creative, you can find some combinations that work with your needs.
These are couple strategies to distract your demon mind from distracting you.
Can you think of others?