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Focus, focus

Focus, focus

Learning to focus has (ironically) been a focus of mine for most of my life. Ever the fidgety child, my parents put me in Taekwondo between the ages of six and ten. This was meant to teach me discipline (or, as I saw it, a punishment for wriggling around too much on my chair).


As I got older I continued to struggle with follow-through and getting things done (mental chair wriggling). I would flit from one thing to another never really getting much accomplished.  When this got to be a drag I came up with my own “get focused” strategies by trying out different things. These are the ones that now work for me.

I’m hard on myself

I force myself to, with some consistency, do things I may not want to like answering emails and taking care of bills and paperwork. By being regimented about those things I’m less likely to wriggle out of them.

I take cold showers

I recently got into the habit of taking long runs around London followed by freezing showers. The freezing shower idea wasn’t by design. As it happens, the outdated boiler in my Spanish flat exploded (believe it or not, this isn’t the first time a boiler has exploded on me), leaving me with no choice but to take cold showers. At first, it was brutal. Now, it’s like a breath of mental fresh air!

I find a cold shower is just the thing to sharpen the mind; or could it be I’m teaching myself to embrace the uncomfortable?  Who knows. Fun fact though: Screen legend Katharine Hepburn grew up taking ice-cold baths and showers and continued the habit for the rest of her life; she used to give it as health advice.

I go running

As you may have guessed from the above, I am not averse to a long and sweaty run. What’s more, I’ve found it really does help me focus! When you’re running, you constantly have to propel yourself forward. I do that by setting goals for myself—“I must make it past that signpost…that hot guy…and that golden tower” (Living in a beautiful European city helps, I’m sure)! Running makes you determined; determined to reach that next signpost, and determined to overcome the next hurdle. It also clears your head and leaves you more focused.

I don’t take on too much  

“Piano, piano” say the Italians (translation: “softly, softly” or “slowly, slowly”), and remarkably, it works. I’ve learned (the hard way) to break things up into manageable parts and to approach big projects, little by little.  If I try to tackle too much at once I’m likely to get overwhelmed then discouraged. “Piano, piano” sounds good to me!

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I make lists

They don’t work for everyone but lists sure do work for me.  As I was learning to focus, I limit my list to no more than six items per day; it’s just the right number to keep me from freaking out that I’m doing too much or too little, and it’s a number I can handle without having to roll things over to the next day.  In short, lists help me to focus on one thing at a time.

If focus is a skill you want to develop, I’ve learned that you have to trick your mind to adopt “get focused” strategies.  Create your own — ones that work with your particular challenges, quirks, and shortcoming or modify others’ suggestions to suit you.

Like any new habit, learning to focus will take time and you may struggle with it at first.  I find that it helps to embrace some structure and “cold showers” but I assure you, if you stick to your strategies, you’ll start seeing the benefits and become hooked.

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