Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?
“Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs
And this conviction is even more crucial today than it was previously. A genuine universe of information and entertainment is at your fingertips. So it’s no surprise that we all have wandering thoughts these days.
Attention is essentially a commodity these days, thanks to the internet and smartphones, and we should be more frugal with it. In fact, a person who can stay focused is more likely to not only get more done but also to be happier at the end of the day.
Furthermore, a focused person will have an easier time achieving their objectives—anything from losing 20 pounds to receiving a promotion at work is within grasp of this type of individual.
What Is a Wandering Mind?
Have you ever sat down to think about a certain topic or simply unwind for a while? You must keep an eye on your thoughts the next time you do this. As the name implies, a wandering mind flits around like a fly.
It continues to ask questions, think, worry, create issues, imagine, and devise effective answers. This happens not simply when you’re relaxing, but also when you’re driving, eating, or cooking.
Negative and vain thoughts thrive in a wandering mind. According to a Harvard study, wandering thoughts are directly linked to sadness.
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” – Killingsworth and Gilbert, Psychologists of Harvard University
A wandering mind makes it harder for you to focus and deal with issues effectively. It will also prevent you from completing important tasks by focusing on a task unrelated to the important ones, and falling asleep. Other common names of mind wandering are daydreaming flights of fancy or fantasy.
What Causes a Wandering Mind?
While the specific etiology of mind-wandering is unknown, research studies in laboratory settings have revealed a network of neurons that has been connected to the phenomenon. This network interacts with several of the cortex’s behavior and emotion-related areas.
This network is frequently active while a person is at rest or performing tasks that do not necessitate full attention. Changes in this network’s default mode have been connected to changes in brain activity and a variety of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
Is It Bad to Have a Wandering Mind?
Having a wandering mind harms your productivity and performance in different ways. Plus, it affects your quality of life. Here are a few reasons compiled by cognitive science that suggest that mind-wandering is bad for you:
- Lack of awareness: It’s difficult to be aware of your surroundings while you’re engrossed with your thoughts. This frequently results in accidents such as colliding with people or objects, falling, and failing to obey traffic signs. On most roadways, lack of awareness is one of the primary causes of accidents.
- Inability to understand: It’s possible that an employee or student will misunderstand what’s being said to them. And as a result, there will be a lot of mistakes. A wandering mind makes it difficult for someone to stay on track with their thoughts, read, or listen in their daily tasks.
- Poor concentration: Your ability to focus on crucial tasks is harmed by a wandering mind. This can be regarded as a distaste for being uninvolved in work. It also makes it more difficult to stay focused on jobs that are time-consuming, laborious, or uninteresting. You’ll wind up making mistakes if you work on a task at unpredictable times.
- Depression: One of the common consequences of a wandering mind is anxiety and depression.
How To Control a Wandering Mind?
Here are 11 ways to tame and refocus your mind to get more things done.
1. Find Your Totem
Do you recall the totem from the film Inception? It’s an object that kept people grounded in reality by reminding them they weren’t in a dream when they touched it.
You can use this strategy to stay focused in other situations as well. All you have to do is choose anything to serve as your “concentration totem,” and it will remind you to put your daydreaming aside and get back to work. It should ideally be something you can see and feel.
A chess piece and a spinning top were employed in the film, and both are excellent concepts. You may also use a family photo, a miniature trophy, or even a ring to help you concentrate. (Actually, a green lantern ring would be quite nice for this.)
2. Promise a Reward
Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.
- Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
- Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
- A successful day of being in the state of flow = a whole movie on Netflix
Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.
3. Enter the State of Flow
Mihály Cskszentmihályi, a well-known positive psychologist, proposes the concept of state of flow by claiming that when someone is completely focused on a single task, their mind is fully occupied because the human neurological system is incapable of digesting too much information.
Entering the flow state keeps your attention from wandering and is one of the best methods to feel happy for a long time.
Assume you’re a musician working on a piece of music.
It’s easy to envision your mind being completely engaged with musical notes, leaving you with little time to consider what to eat for lunch. Because we are living in the present moment in the State of Flow, most of our anxieties and concerns fade away.
Entering the state of flow is like riding a bike:
Pick a Route You Enjoy
If you choose your own paths when riding a bike, your journey will be more fun. You need also locate one exciting element in the task you’re working on to enter the state of flow.
It is fairly uncommon for people to get their hands filthy right away, oblivious to the intriguing aspects of what they are doing. It’s improbable that they’ll be able to enter a state of flow without seeing something interesting.
Spare Time To Warm Up
Everything takes time, including riding a bike and establishing a state of flow. For example, before riding a bike, you might do 15 minutes of stretching and warm-up activities to prepare your body. Your mind works in a similar way.
It takes some time to get into the condition, and much longer to totally immerse yourself, so patience is required. It’s possible that you won’t be able to reach a state of flow in the first few minutes, but you’ll have to wait a little longer until your mind has warmed up. You won’t even realise the passage of time once you’ve entered the state of flow.
Keep the Wheels Rolling Till the End
You can’t stop the wheels from turning. The bike will eventually halt if you cease providing force, and you will be unable to continue your voyage. When you’re in a state of flow, you shouldn’t stop in the middle of something.
You must be clear about what you want to accomplish and what you are working toward, just as you must be aware of your path and destination when riding a bike. When we lose our bearings, we are easily distracted by other things, making it difficult to enter into the zone.
The first step on the road to true happiness is to enter the state of flow, or to be attentive. Happiness does not come from the good old days, the reality you are presently living in, or the golden future you have been fantasising about. Happiness is a mental state.
4. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind
I’m not sure about you, but if I think my job requires more effort than I want to put in, I’m immediately turned off. This leads to procrastination and distraction.
However, you can compensate for this by splitting complex work into manageable chunks. For example, which appears to be easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?
It’s self-evident, but our brains sometimes need to be “convinced” that we’re just exerting a minor bit of labour to get things moving.
But there’s one amazing thing about this strategy: You can (and will) keep moving over your ridiculously simple standard. You are not required to do so, but my experience has taught me that once you get started in this manner, it is quite easy to go above your very minimum aim.
5. Empty Your Mind With Journaling
Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.
There are two basic ways to go about it:
- Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
- Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.
6. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method
Try convincing yourself you’ll only work for “just 5 minutes” and then you’ll be able to relax. You’ll see that the task is much more manageable.
This, like the “stupid easy” strategy, fools your brain into believing the task requires less effort than it actually does. After all, even the most difficult work may be completed in 5 minutes, which is psychologically feasible for everybody.
The trick is to give oneself permission to stop after 5 minutes, no matter what. That’s what permits your brain to accept the procedure as legitimate, as well as to go over the mental barrier that causes your mind to stray and focus on something other than your task.
7. Recite a Focus Mantra
I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.
I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”
Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power
- If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
- If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
- If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.
As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.
8. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach
Being sleepy is one of the most effective ways to become distracted. And you can be fatigued to the point where you’re “kind of” working but don’t realise you’re continuously distracted.
If you’re paying attention, one of my favourite things to do is make as many large, pleasurable yawns as possible. This is something that Olympic athletes do before big tournaments. It relaxes them and allows them to work more efficiently. It works just as well for average people as it does for celebrities. It has a similar effect to a nice nap (and works best when done simultaneously), so you can imagine how effective it may be.
9. Find an Easy Win
Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.
10. Create a “Wins” List
Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.
Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.
11. Add Stakes to the Mix
Would you be more focused on completing a task if you stood to lose $20 if you failed to do so? Yes, of course!
When it comes to finishing projects, try to find ways to put something on the line, and you’ll notice that your focus, motivation, and capacity to get things done will be higher than before.
If you’re at work, for example, you may enlist the help of a coworker by promising to purchase their lunch if you don’t finish a task before midday. If you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the end of the day at home, you may declare you’ll mow the lawn as well.
You may also utilise a service like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which will charge you money if you don’t finish a task or goal on time. (It’s terrifying, but it works.)
All of these are legitimate options, so pick one and try it.
Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.
But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.
- Daring to Live Fully: How to enter the flow state