Building personal focus is a key feature of establishing life success. Honing our attention and navigating both the internal world of values, imaginations, and intuitions along with the outward context of work, relationships, and circumstances will be important. Focusing our attention on what matters is a key asset to producing authentic joy and overcoming rumination.
Too often in our current landscape, focus and attention are lost while navigating these life circumstances. Many are left feeling frazzled, unable to concentrate, and without much emotional energy and memory for important tasks. They include making statements as:
“I’m in over my head and feel very overwhelmed.”
“My workload seems to keep increasing… it’s actually insane that I can’t keep up with it since I’m in meetings all day along with constantly fielding urgent issues throughout the day.”
“I’m mentally exhausted from constant pressure and with the many distractions at work. I just can’t win anymore.”
Lack of time along with constant interruptions contribute to a life of unfocused reality, but we must also consider stress as well having a major role.
Researchers now have indicated that chronic stress floods our neural circuits with cortisol and adrenaline while negatively impacting important cognitive functions along with critical decision-making processes. There are empirically validated and well-known negative effects of stress on the functions of focus, memory, and other important cognitive functions. These findings indicate that short-term stress releases cortisol, the stress hormone, for short bursts and periodically allows adrenaline to motivate us to perform even more efficiently when a deadline is approaching. Long-term stress delivers cortisol in a more prolonged manner and can become altogether damaging for brain function, including a direct onboarding to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Feeling stressed while at work, home, or all the above since we cannot maintain focus while navigating a myriad of distractions will lead to more feelings of unproductivity, and this causes us to focus even less; eventually, this feedback cycle is negatively reinforced over time. We typically neglect to notice that our focus and attention are declining until we experience complete overwhelm. At this critical juncture, we are emotionally drained and unable to concentrate, focus, and recall valuable information.
Many get burned out while others do not when responding to their stressors. These individuals that overcome their stressors employ emotional intelligence and practice the competencies of self-management and self-awareness in healthy ways.
Notice these several aspects of when you start losing focus:
- Why you are stressed and anxious. Awareness of what is at the root of the stressor is important to navigate it more efficiently. Writing out a list of the sources of your stress can be very simple and yet powerful in motivating you forward. Write out your anxieties from personal life to the workplace. Look at what can be changed and what cannot be held in your control. For even larger stressors, part of it will be navigating your interpretation of its impact.
- How you are losing your ability to focus. Clinical Psychologist Michael Lipson states that you can develop sharper focus when you note how you lose concentration from the beginning. Pay attention to the patterns of what lose your attention and personal focus. Develop your ability to dismiss distractions and remain with your original place of attention.
- Notice how you feel when unable to focus. When unable to recall valuable information when you need it, does it make you more anxious? Perhaps during a high-stakes interview, job meeting with the department, or during a pressured presentation? Maybe it could be feeling tense and dazed while frazzled at jumbling words together to write an important email? These are key indicators that you are more stressed than you realize and the inability to focus and concentrate induces even more stress.
- When you lose your personal ability to focus. When you are lost deep in your sea of thoughts while driving on a highway at speeds over 65 mph, this could be another key facet that puts you and others in danger. Think about your future concerns later and recircle back to what is occurring in the present moment.
First identify the sources of your personal stressors in order to more effectively navigate through them. Once awareness is present and you are able to regain focus, you can use the following strategies to maneuver through choices to keep you more authentically focused:
- Rest the brain. Sleeplessness has a central feature: ruminative thoughts about past events as well as future anxieties and fears. Sleep deprivation makes it even more difficult to rest the brain and recall important information. Lack of sleep impacts our decision-making, ability to accurately assess a situation, and plan to move through it accordingly. They payoff is worth it when you get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, but this may be impossible when restless and stressed. Interpretations of events and judgements of events can be impacted as well. Pursue the lifestyle benefits of healthy sleep.
- Pursue mindfulness. Research from neuroscience is clear and gives an abundance of evidence to this ancient practice. Practicing mindfulness allows us to effectively navigate knee-jerk reactions and more importantly become grounded in our decision-making prowess. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson says, “Mindfulness boosts the classic attention network in the brain’s fronto-parietal system that works together to allocate attention.” Mindfulness is a key contributor to our emotional resilience. Mindfulness research is compelling and invigorating. You can practice skills and techniques as a beginner or more advanced practitioner here.
- Shift your focus to other people. Studies indicate that when you shift your attention to other people, it can divert attention from focus on stressors, worries, and fears in the moment. Shifting our focus to others can calm us, reduce deleterious physiological effects, and strengthen our personal resilience to efficiently navigate stress. Actively listen and build empathy toward others while also reaping the relational benefits that you are caring for and attending to someone you care about.
Remaining attentive to what is producing your stress and inducing an inability to concentrate will be necessary to fight for better focus. Take action and implement specific plans that drive concentration and awareness forward.
“Many get burned out while others do not when responding to their stressors. These individuals that overcome their stressors employ emotional intelligence and practice the competencies of self-management and self-awareness in healthy ways.
By Deepak Santhiraj, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
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