If I asked you to define focus, and you instantly logged on to your computer while answering the telephone and putting a cookie in your mouth, you have just demonstrated the art of not focusing.
Why? Because to focus means to pay attention. When you focus, you concentrate fully on what is in front of you. You notice what you are doing, who you are talking to, what is on the television screen. You make a decision not to let anything else interfere with what you are doing now. Does this sound easy? Well, it’s not!
- One thing at a time
Often people boast of their ability to ‘multi-task’ and do many things at once. They think they can write a report, watch TV, upload that music video and talk on the phone without affecting the quality of their work. Can this really be so? With so much stimulation around you how can you effectively organize your thoughts? Can you guarantee you won’t make silly mistakes when your mind is wandering in so many places?
Instead, try concentrating on the task in front of you. Focus your energy carefully, and whether it’s writing a report for school or work, chopping vegetables or fixing your car, pay attention to what you are doing and you will be amazed at just how much better you will do it.
- Block out the noise
We live in a modern environment of advertising and internet and distractions and NOISE everywhere. If you want to really focus on what you are doing, you have to turn it off: the phone, the music (unless it relaxes you!), the television, the video games. Tell your friends, parents, brothers and sisters, co-workers – whomever, that you are concentrating and to come back later.
- Be a Better Listener
When we define focus, it is worth remembering that we should focus on what someone is saying to us during a conversation. Or, to put it another way, we should listen, really listen to what they are saying. This is not always easy to do. Listening is a real skill that takes practice and care to do well.
Don’t interrupt. It is all too easy to interrupt someone who is talking in order to make a point, or argue your case, or just give your opinion. It is more difficult to consciously hold back, take a breath, and let them finish what they are saying. Not only does this contribute to a reasonable conversation, but it also shows respect to the person you are talking to.
Challenge yourself. Next time you are face to face with someone and having a conversation – or an argument – take a pause before you interrupt them. Choose instead to really listen to what they are saying. Notice the sound of their voice and what they care about. You just might find that whatever you are fighting about falls by the wayside, and you begin to understand their point of view.
That focus, that concentration, that listening can break down barriers, build bridges and make communication much more pleasant.
- Quality, not quantity
If you are attempting to do five things at once odds are you are doing none of them particularly well. Yes, you can brag that you are multi-tasking but you could also get sloppy and miss a few tricks. You can also injure yourself.
I once watched someone do a five-mile ‘fast walk’, come home, and while they were stretching with one hand they reached for something to eat and with the other they reached for the telephone. This resulted in a serious muscle strain in their leg. Because they weren’t paying attention to what they were doing, they hurt themselves.
The take-away? Focus on the task in front of you.
- Define focus: A case study on enjoying your food
Let’s say you had a crazy day. You didn’t have one second to relax, and you’ve arrived home and want to eat an evening meal. You can continue the ‘busy-ness’ and noise or you can choose to have a relaxing dinner and really enjoy your food. Why not focus on your food intake, concentrate on eating sensibly, and create a calm, easy environment?
1. Start with atmosphere. Suppose you turned off all electronic devices, including the telephone ringer, computer volume, beeper and television set.
You are taking the conscious decision that dining and fueling your body with healthy nourishment in peace is worth focusing on.
2. Next, the size of your plate. Instead of using a 12” round plate, you switch to a 10” or 8” round plate. Why? Because a smaller plate will almost always ensure you will put less food on it, and thus not eat too much.
3. And now, to cutlery! Try using a smaller fork. (Don’t have any small forks? Invest in some. Your waistline will thank you.) You will put less food in your mouth with each bite, and you’re more aware of what you are eating and how much.
4. Ditto with spoons. Whether it’s soup to start or berries to finish, it’s the same story; you’ll eat less. And if you are treating yourself to frozen yogurt or ice cream, use a small bowl, and eat the delicious treat nice and slowly.
5. Serving dishes. If they’re on the table chances are you will keep refilling your plate. The best solution is to serve yourself one healthy plate of food, and leave the serving dishes out of site.
6. Now: to the food itself. Because you are eating in peace and quiet, without the noise and interruption which can so easily make you lose focus on what you’re doing, you can really enjoy your food.
- Think about its flavor, texture, aroma.
- Consider how good it tastes.
- Be glad of the balance of healthy vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and heart-healthy fats.
- Be grateful for the moment, take a bite, and enjoy the new focus on your food and environment: you eat better, with less stress and more gentle conversation!
- The opposite of being able to focus is not being able to focus at all. There is a name for this very common disorder often seen in children:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a very common ailment that often begins in childhood. Symptoms of ADHD include problems focusing, not being able to adequately control your actions and behavior, and being way too active.
What are ADHD causes and risks?
Although ADHD usually starts in childhood, it may well continue on into adulthood. It is the most common behavioral disorder in children, and more often seen in boys than girls.
No one knows exactly what causes ADHD; genetics and environmental factors contribute to its development. In analysis and testing, brains of young children with ADHD are usually different from those without ADHD.
Symptoms of ADHD
Some people with ADHD have inattentive symptoms; some are hyperactive, and some impulsive. Some have a combination of the three. If you mostly have inattentive symptoms you may have attention deficit disorder (ADD) which is not as disruptive.
Signs of inattentiveness include:
- Unable to pay attention to details
- Makes careless mistakes in homework
- Difficulty concentrating during everyday tasks or at play
- Doesn’t listen when spoken to
- Doesn’t complete tasks as instructed
- Fails to finish schoolwork or chores
- Has organizational problems
- Avoids tasks that require continuous concentration
- Misplaces objects, including homework, pens, toys
- Gets distracted easily
Sings of Hyperactivity
- Squirms while seated; fidgets with feet and hands
- Leaves seat when staying in the seat is expected
- Climbs or runs when they shouldn’t
- Finds it difficult to work or play quietly
- Is driven to go go go and not to relax
- Talks too much
Signs of impulsivity
- Blurts out answers before questions are finished
- Has difficulty waiting their turn
- Constantly interrupting others, butting into games or conversations
Testing for ADHD
No one single test can determine ADHD. Usually the symptoms described above are the indicators. If the person with the symptoms is a child, then teachers, parents and professionals are involved in the evaluation.
Often children with ADHD have more than one problem, such as substance abuse, mood anxiety, tics, or a learning disability. A doctor can help determine these conditions.
Behavioral therapy is common and effective, as it teaches parents and children all about healthy behaviors and ways to manage destructive behaviors. For mild cases of ADHD, therapy alone without medicine can be effective. Support groups help families connect with others who have similar problems.
What are some other ways to help a child with ADHD?
- Meet and talk often with the child’s teacher.
- Maintain a consistent schedule, including regular times for meals, homework, and play activities. Don’t make changes at the last minute.
- Keep the child’s environment distraction-free.
- Ensure the child eats a healthy, varied diet.
- Make sure the child gets enough sleep.
- Provide clear and consistent discipline.
- Praise and reward good behavior!