This blog post is derived from an excellent article by Paul Hammerness, MD, and Margaret Moore in the Harvard Business Review, called Train Your Brain to Focus.
At the time, I was doing research on how to regain focus. The concept shared below helped to address a root cause of the lack of focus I was feeling. I hope it helps you too.
There's more to focus than a to-do list
My usual process for regaining focus is to take some time out to make a plan and prioritise tasks. Although this helps in the short term, it's still a continuous battle to maintain focus in the long term.
Usually, I can remain focused for a day, a week and maybe a month, but then I feel the urge to do something different, say yes to another opportunity, try to solve another problem. I slip out of my focused state, loose control and derail my progress.
I know this is a problem for other entrepreneurs, especially those who have a burning desire to make an impact and do some good in the world. It's a common topic that pops up in discussions in the Mum's Garage community.
This article addresses a fundamental imbalance that may be a root cause of the common problem that is a lack of focus.
Taming Your Frenzy
'Taming your frenzy' is a fitting description for what this article covers. I can't take credit for it as it comes directly from the Harvard Business Review article, which I credited at the beginning of this post.
"Frenzy is an emotional state, a feeling of being a little (or a lot) out of control. It is often underpinned by anxiety, sadness, anger, and related emotions." - Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, Train Your Brain to Focus.
If you're interested in the science behind it, your emotions are controlled by an area in your brain called the amygdala. Your amygdala responds strongly to negative emotions and interferes with the brain’s ability to solve problems or do other cognitive work. This directly impacts your ability to focus.
One of the negative effects of our increasing dependence on technology is that our emotions are constantly being hijacked by negative messages. In the news, on social media, what we talk about or share with our friends and colleagues.
The tone of the time is negative. This likely has a lot to do with how successful negative information is at grabbing and keeping people's attention, for the reason discussed above.
“Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload.” ―
What can you do?
Find a balance. Experience positive emotions to offset the negative ones and regain a healthy and productive emotional balance.
"Barbara Fredrickson, a noted psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recommends a 3:1 balance of positive and negative emotions". - Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, Train Your Brain to Focus.
This research suggests that for every negative emotion you should experience 3 positive ones to balance out the reaction of your amygdala.
Have a think about your average day. What is your current balance of positive to negative experiences? I know that I definitely do not meet this 3:1 ratio.
Here are some steps you can take to help rectify your emotional balance.
5 Actions To Help Balance Your Emotions
Cut down on negative news consumption
Stopping watching mainstream news channels or reading news articles that you can't do anything about. There are alternative ways to consume news that are more positive. For example, following thought leaders or publications that frame news positively.
Be strict about who you follow
Get rid of your social media or remove people who are sharing messages that provoke unwanted negative emotions. Follow and engage people who share positive messages, ones that make you feel inspired.
Make your conversations positive
Be mindful of what you share and talk about yourself. Make a concerted effort to talk about positive topics, rather than negative ones.
Watch what's going on in your head
Think about how you're framing your own experiences. Are you viewing them positively or negatively? When you're doing something new, do you think of it as an opportunity to learn or are you thinking about how you're going to fail? You have the ability to change your own emotional states to view experiences positively.
Spend enough time doing things that make you feel good
Of course, you should also be doing the things that make you feel positive. Exercising, sleeping, meditating, listening to music. You may need to be doing more of these things that you thought, in order to achieve a productive emotional balance.
We live in a busy world! There are lots of opportunities and there are lots of problems that could be solved. There are also lots of opportunities for other people to shape what we focus on. As a result, it's easy to become sidetracked with the emotional stimulus that doesn't serve our own intentions in the best way.
In order to make the most of the opportunities and solve the problems you care about most, it's essential to find emotional balance. Block out the crap and make sure you take the time to do the things that put you in a positive state.