Bodybuilding for your focus muscle

Most of us have jobs and lives that presents us with a huge breadth of activities that we’re supposed to handle each day.

In order to manage all this without going crazy I find you need to start developing a razor sharp focus. Focus is one of the most useful tools to get a lot done – it allows you to achieve more during less time and improve your results.


One of the best teachers of focus that I have found is Zen (or Chan) Buddhism – and while I would not refer to myself as Buddhist, I find that there is a lot to be learnt from this school of thought. At the heart of Zen Buddhism practice lies Zazen (“seated meditation”), which in essence (in my interpretation) is a way to clear away all the layers that lie between you and your true inner self, in order to reach Nirvana.

Zazen isn’t only a good practice to build mindfulness (which I could dedicate a whole other post to), it is also a great training ground for you to develop the three key elements for building a razor sharp focus:

  • Single-task, only do one task at a time and do it until completion. Don’t try to complete 100s of tasks at once, but take them one at a time. This doesn’t only hold for your goals and activities but for many things such as goals, studies, etc. Choose one thing and focus on that. During a work day you can apply this by writing down 3-4 things you want to accomplish during the day and then schedule 3-4 times when you are going to completely focus on one of these tasks. Then work focused until you’ve completed it.
  • Eliminate distractions, once you have chosen your single task eliminate as many possible distractions before you start. In an open landscape office? Put on your headphones with some great music. Got a cellphone (of course you do)? Put it on silent. Got MSN running? You know what to do.
  • Be self-aware, when starting to learn Zazen you’re taught to be aware of your breath and the feeling of your body and clear all other thoughts – making note of when your mind wanders and silently returning to your focused awareness. Apply this when you’re working, by simply being aware of what you’re doing, what distracts you and what takes your time. For example, you can get a pen and pad and write a mark every time you find yourself loosing focus.
    However, remember not to scold yourself for being distracted (we all do get distracted at times) just silently make a remark of it and then return to your focused state. Just like zazen shouldn’t be force, your focus will develop much better if you don’t make it a pain.

By applying these three habits to your activities you will find that your focus gradually, slowly develops sharper and sharper. Don’t get frustrated if you find yourself distracted many, many times in the beginning – focus is like a muscle, it takes continuous practice in order for it to grow strong.

Photo credit: Harpersbizarre.

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