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If you find it challenging to focus this time of year, it’s not your fault. Combine the enticements of summertime fun, the tendency to get overheated and dehydrated, and our natural penchant for doing many things at once, and you have a recipe for concentration deficit. This lack of focus makes us less productive and is also a leading source of anxiety.
One primary way to minimize the effects of all our multi-tasking is to set aside some time during the day to unplug from social media and outside inputs altogether. But I want to give you an additional strategy to subvert the effects of all of that multitasking. I want to give you a tool to train your mind to focus better, attend, and be present in an easy and meaningful way.
If you think you are exempt, try this test: The next time you sit down to eat, challenge yourself to be mindful of each and every bite. You will soon discover that even when you think you are doing only one thing—in this instance, eating—you may also be listening to music, chatting, reading, or checking email. So strategy number one is to practice mindful eating once in a while, if not once a day. Even just for a few bites, concentrate only on eating!
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Truly training the mind may require a more targeted practice, so I want to offer you two techniques. Think of these together as a reframe, a chance to retrain yourself and increase your ability to concentrate, focus in the moment, and, ultimately, remain focused effortlessly. Scientific studies show that meditative practices like these actually develop parts of the brain used in concentration and focus. It’s like a fitness regimen for the mind: You are building the ability to get present and stay present, training yourself to let go of thoughts as they pop up (and they will always pop up!) and become more immune to distractions overall.
This first technique is simple and requires just minutes a day: Count breathing cycles. Inhale, exhale, one. Inhale, exhale, two. Inhale, exhale, three. And so on. You may be able to get only as far as two or three at first. But with practice, you will improve, and so will your ability to concentrate. Do what you can, and when a thought interrupts, go back to one.
The second technique is this guided meditation. Together we work up to 10 breathing cycles.
What a relief it is to learn that you can control your mind. You don’t have to pay attention to every little idea that pops up or detail of the world around you. For a few delicious moments, you can sit quietly and just notice. When you can be mindful in the present moment at will, your ability to concentrate naturally increases.
Do one or both of these practices daily as a gift of mind-training to yourself. Then get out there and take advantage of all the season has to offer!