By Denise A. Robinson
“What now?” That’s what I imagine my brain says in response to all of the high-tech induced stimuli coming its way. Email alerts while I’m trying to work. Text messages and endless group chats. Notifications from apps I’m pretty sure I asked not to notify me. ‘Breaking news’ that never takes a break. And this deluge of information is compounded by distractions of the no-tech variety: the chatty colleague who loves to stop by your office; working on one task while worrying about another; or that Starbucks run that just can’t wait. And that’s just in the office!
Among other things, these constant demands for our attention have a tremendous impact on our productivity and energy. To make matters worse, our brain chemistry – which reacts favorably to the possibility of new information – can make these interruptions hard to resist. So, what can we do to stay focused on what matters?
While we can – and should, on occasion – turn off our phones or close the office door, shutting down the source of the stimuli is only a temporary solution. Regaining and maintaining control of our focus requires that we practice observing and responding, rather than reacting, to the persistent buzz around us. One way to cultivate this approach is to practice mindfulness, which is to attend, without judgment, to what’s happening right now. Somewhat paradoxically, mindfulness helps to keep us from being pulled into distractions by raising our awareness of them. Often, we go through the day not even noticing the various demands on our attention, but when we don’t notice, we can’t make a choice to be pulled in or not. Mindfulness allows us to pause to observe what is happening – both internally and externally – just long enough to make a conscious decision to continue doing what we’re doing and let go of whatever ‘alert’ has come our way, or go with it. Practiced over time, we can even begin to perceive various stimuli as a request for our attention, to which we can say ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or even ‘not now’, rather than a demand that must be obeyed.
What’s your approach to staying focused on your focus without shutting down the world around you?