Your mind is a powerful instrument.
It’s also worse than a bunny rabbit on speed. Bouncing all over the place, trying to go in several different directions at the same time.
The net result of all that random brain activity? Nothing much, usually. You might hit a fluke bullseye on the rarest of occasions.
But most likely it’s just going to cause you stress, fears, worries and unhappiness.
You need a tool to harvest the full potential of your mind.
And that tool is called focus.
Don’t force it!
Funny word, focus. Most people seem to think that it’s about forcing yourself to concentrate hard on one thing, and to push back everything else.
First of all, applying force is nearly always counterproductive.
Secondly, we tend to focus on the wrong things — e.g. the problem itself.
Add those two together and you can see why the mantra “Focus!” has such an icky taste to it. The word makes some people’s toes curl down so bad it leaves wear and tear marks on the carpet under their feet.
How to do it right
So what is focus really? And what do we need to be focussing on?
Focus might share more letters with force but it’s actually more about centring yourself.
To centre yourself means to gently pull your attention back into the here and now.
I know. You can’t really focus on a vague concept such as “the present moment”, can you?
Instead you focus on something simple and more tangible. Like your hands, your feet or your breathing (we’ll delve into that in a minute).
Can you guess what the benefits are?
- By giving your mind something to do, you’ll distract it from whatever it’s obsessing about.
- Afterwards, you’ll notice you’ve created space in your head. Your mind will feel lighter, less cluttered. And you’ll be more relaxed, more focussed.
- With some practice these mental exercises will sharpen your focussing skills. A bit like puppy training for your mind. This will make it easier to call upon these skills in times of need.
3 ways to train your focus
1) Focus on your hands
- Sit down comfortably. First let’s make sure your hands are nice and warm. So rub them together, or rub them on your legs.
- Then lay your hands on your lap, palms facing up. Take a couple of relaxed breaths.
- Now move your attention to the feeling of your arms touching your body.
- Once you’ve fully engaged with that, move your attention to the palms of your hands.
- Can you feel the warmth of your hands? We radiate body heat from our hands, so maybe you’ll be able to feel a glowing sensation.
- You might also become aware of a soft pressure on your hands. Or a slight tingling feeling.
- Unconsciously you may already have favoured on of your hands. Decide which hand you’re more aware of and move your attention to that hand.
- Narrow down your focus even further, from your entire hand to a specific part of it: the centre of your palm, its edges, the ball of your thumb, the mounts (those fleshy parts at the base of your fingers), and of course each individual finger.
- Shift your attention around all these different parts. Be a bit playful about it. Have some fun and be amazed at how focussed your attention can be.
- Switch to your other hand and see if you can do the same there.
2) Focus on your feet
This works in a similar way as focussing on your hands. You can do both, if you have the time and the energy. More likely you’ll want to alternate between the two. So one day you focus on your hands, and the next day you do the feet exercise.
Ideally you’d do this with bare feet. Or at least without any shoes on.
- You start by sitting down, with your feet flat on the floor. Some people prefer to sit on the floor and stretch out their legs. Others prefer to do the exercise cross-legged.
Experiment and see what works best for you.
- Move your feet a bit. Bend, flex and stretch them. Make some circles. Wiggle your toes. You may even want to show your feet some love by touching and gently squeezing them.
This helps to release any tension in your feet and it gets your circulation going, which benefits the next step.
- As with your hands concentrate on both your feet in their entirety first. Feel the heat radiating from the soles of your feet.
- See if you can become aware of any tingling or pressure on your feet.
- Now pick the foot that’s most present in your mind.
- Slowly shift your attention around the different parts of it. Take some time at every stop and really dive into the feeling.
- Switch to the other foot and do your little focussing rounds again.
3) Focus on your gut
This one is a twist on the simple breathing exercise I usually recommend. You can use the guidance of that exercise as a warm-up to this one. Or you can simply skip ahead.
If it doesn’t seem to work for you, go back to the basics first. And then try this more advanced breathing exercise.
- Focus on your belly while breathing. Concentrate on the gentle movements of your abdomen.
- Feel how your belly expands forwards and sideways as you breathe in. And how it slowly falls back when you breathe out.
- Don’t force the rhythm of your breathing. Just go with what feels good at that moment.
- You’ll probably find yourself becoming more relaxed. Because that’s exactly what breathing with your belly does.
- Now visualise a vertical axis running through your centre. Picture it as the central line from which your body expands as you breathe in. And see it as the point towards which your body moves when you breathe out.
- Instead of the central axis, or combined with it, you could visualise a glowing red sphere of energy in the middle of your gut. Softly pulsating in sync with the rhythm of your breath.
- Keep doing this for a while.
This last bit is important. It’s actually a sort of test. To see how good your focus is.
Because pretty soon your mind will tell you that you’ve got this now, and can we please do something else? And off it wanders with some silly thought about your groceries shopping list.
When that (or something along those lines) happens, pull yourself back to the centring image of breathing from that axis or sphere in the middle of your gut.
The longer you can sustain your focus, the more you’ll start enjoying it. Simply because it feels so good to be liberated from the constant random chattering of your mind.
Focus is a funny thing
The more your focus on a particular problem, the harder it becomes to see the way out.
It’s as if you’re being sucked into this huge cloud of a problem. The more you think about it, the more you become trapped inside.
By focussing on something unrelated and seemingly innocent — like your hands or your gut — you’ll create breathing space for your mind.
By distracting your mind in this way, you’ll expand your consciousness.
Only from this broader perspective will you be able to see the solution to the issue that’s bothering you — whatever its nature might be: personal, work-related or spiritual.
And don’t worry if it doesn’t seem like the complete solution — or maybe even not like a solution at all. All you need is the first step.
Focus. Centre yourself. And then take that first step.