Concentrating on a repetitive activity such as breathing or walking can help you develop stronger focus, but real life tasks are usually not remotely as constant or homogenous. If you want to optimize your attention skills for real world tasks, you need to add an element of mobility to your training.
This is going to be the last video before we wrap up this series. The next video will be a summary where I will show you how to combine all the techniques, principles and exercises you've seen until now for best results.
But before we do that, we need to look at the last crucial element that will make our concentration training truly productive by making sure it actually carries over to your real-life activities.
So far, you’ve learned how to centralize on an object or task, how to reduce longer tasks to much shorter ones for better focus and stamina, and how to plant your intent in your unconscious so that it adjusts it choices to your new goal of keener and more consistent attention.
If you have been practicing the exercises, you will have started to notice improvement: concentration will come easier, last longer and require much less of an effort. But we’re not quite there yet.
Training like this will give you definite improvements, but your mind’s movements will still feel a bit heavy, sluggish and rigid. In this video, I will show you how to make the movements involved in real-world focused work more agile, snappy and effortless.
If you recall from the previous videos, expanding our periods of stable attention while shrinking the periods of drifting requires us to work on two factors: the first is the delay between the moment we drift away from the target and the moment we become aware of it, and the second is our ability to return to the target.
Because this return movement can unfortunately not be taken for granted.
Planting your intent to sustain attention in your unconscious process will only reduce the delay between distraction and awareness; contrary to distraction and awareness, the return movement is not automatic. It is an action you have to take consciously. And it’s not always easy to take.
As you’ve probably noticed, you can get a drifting alert, but then linger on whatever distraction you’re engaged in at the moment. How many times did you choose to keep wasting time on social media or news sites even though you were aware it was happening, and you were supposed to be focusing on your target task? How many times have you let your mind to drift away in idle thoughts a bit longer, before reluctantly and sluggishly returning to your work?
Now, the first thing I need to say at the risk of sounding obvious, is that failing to return will definitely hurt your progress.
Planting the intent to focus on the task has borne fruit, the unconscious process has alerted you to the fact you lost it. If you now fail to ACT on this information - and fail consistently - the feedback you send to the unconscious process will be "this information is irrelevant, I don't need it". Which will obviously have the effect to once again deprioritize the message, even if you keep planting the right intent.
The intent must be both planted and confirmed, and in order to fully confirm the intent you planted, you need to first give yourself approval for becoming aware, and then ACT on this awareness, do something with it, make it actually useful.
Then the message is reinforced, and you gain momentum.
The point is:
Once you made a conscious decision to focus on a given task within a certain time frame, you should always move back to the task until you complete the timebox, or the task itself, or until you make another conscious decision to move to another task, or ...stop tasking altogether and start resting, playing, or let yourself enjoy life spontaneously.
You want to make this return movement as immediate, fluid and consistent as you can.
Of course, that is more easily said than done.
The reason you got distracted in the first place is that the distraction felt more important or attractive to some part of your mind, so disengaging from it to return to your intended target goes against that part of you. It requires a small act of self-discipline.
Self-discipline is a whole other subject in itself, and I won't go into it here. Obviously, self-discipline will aid you in developing concentration, but the opposite is also true. Striving to return, against the momentum of the drift, will improve your self-discipline, especially in terms of persistence, which is an added bonus of this practice. More in general, all these fundamental, core mental abilities tend to reinforce each other, which is a key principle of strongminding.
For example, I told you in the very first video of this series how you should always use relaxation to concentrate better, and concentration to relax better.
When you train your attention skills systematically, you are laying down the groundwork for faster advancements in other closely related skills. That’s something to keep in mind.
What I’m about to show you is a very easy and straightforward method to train this return movement to make it fluid and consistent, almost subconscious in fact.
But before I do, I want you to note that improving the return from a drifting spell is not the only and perhaps even the main reason we need to train this. This movement we call “return” when it occurs from a drifting period back into the originally intended focus object can also be seen as a deliberate switching or jumping movement between different objects of attention, as opposed to a spontaneous one.
Switching between objects occurs spontaneously all the time. Unless a particular activity naturally absorbs you completely or you make a conscious decision to restrict your focus to something in particular, your attention moves freely and continuously between different objects in your inner and outer environment, just like it does during the typical mind wandering periods that count as distractions in relation to an intentional focus period.
And when this movement is spontaneous, it is relaxed, natural, and effortless.
But when we need to deviate from its natural, spontaneous momentum, and switch into a deliberately chosen object or task as we do when returning from mind wandering, we experience resistance.
We also experience resistance when we switch between different intentional objects. Intentional focus also creates a momentum. I explain this more in depth in my first training program, The Focus Blueprint, which at the time of this recording is still available for free for the subscribers of my mailing list, by the way.
But the point is, we don’t like being interrupted when we’re concentrating on a given task, we don’t like to deviate from a mental momentum.
And yet, real life is full of interruptions and constant change.
I can’t think of a single job or endeavor that consists of a sequence of identical acts such as the ones we use in our typical meditation practice. Real-life work is much more varied and dynamic.
At a minimum, you need to carry through a primary task that is often interrupted by various secondary tasks. More often, there is no single primary task; you’ve got multiple different tasks you need to juggle, or rather focus on intermittently, sometimes very quickly.
Think of a restaurant chef on a busy day. He has to prepare several different dishes at once with new orders coming in all the time, and any small mistake can ruin a dish completely and upset the whole process.
There’s also the issue of pressure: the work of a stock market trader is similar in some ways but can have much higher stakes. Think of a heart surgeon, who must perform hundreds of small acts during surgery, every one of them to perfection, while also regularly switching to monitor the bigger picture of the operation as a whole.
This, and not this, is the kind of concentration we need in real life. There is an element of mobility and suppleness that is absent from traditional meditative practices, and I think this has a negative impact on the carryover between conventional meditation as attention training and actual real-life tasks.
I think the image of a cook is very apt, you actually have the saying “too many pots on the stove”, because that’s exactly the kind of situation that can easily lead to excess tension and attention splitting, to the mind trying to move on to a new task while at the same time holding on to the previous one.
Again, both spontaneous mind wandering and intentional focus create a momentum we have to move against or away from when we switch to a different target.
What all this tells you is that one of the goals in a serious attention training regimen should be learning to switch targets smoothly, rapidly and completely. We need to learn to disengage from the current activity or focus object and seamlessly engage another one.
And this is the practice that can help you do that.
The practice you learned in the previous videos is micro-tasking breaths with an intent seed at the beginning of every breathing cycle. Naturally, you will get distracted at times, your intent will resurface as a drifting alert, and you will get a chance to confirm your intent by giving yourself approval for remembering the target, and then make a point to return to it, as best you can.
So far, this is quite similar to your typical meditation practice, and it does give you some returning power.
But there is a simple way to make this practice much more powerful in terms of switching, so that, in addition to being more stable during a given task, your focus is also agile, when you need to move between different targets.
All you need to do is to alternate between two different targets.
Start with the sensations around the area of your nostrils, as usual; micro-task a few breaths, then switch to something different. When I was still at this beginner stage, I used the act of opening and closing my hand in a fist. Slowly and softly, focus on the subtle sensations generated by the movement in your hand. Open and close a few times, then switch back to the breath. Rinse and repeat.
Now, the key to make the practice effective is of course what you do at the moment of switching.
The ideal result we are aiming for is a clean, instantaneous, unfailing switch.
This will remain ideal for quite some time because now, you have to compensate for both the momentum created by the usual inevitable drifts, AND the momentum created by the focused periods themselves. You will soon notice that focusing on either one of the two activities creates some momentum that won’t be immediately easy to deviate from. It’s like each one of the two alternating tasks works as a distraction for the other. The hand movement will tend to pull you back from the breath and vice versa.
The exercise recreates the conditions that lead to attention splitting, but it does so in a way that allows us to be more conscious of it and gradually learn to avoid it and keep our attention whole.
So instead of training the switch only as you come back from a drifting spell, you will be able to train this for basically the whole duration of the exercise, which will make your progress much faster.
This is almost everything you need to know now. The last thing, the thing that will allow you to progress reliably, is also the very first thing you learned in this series.
We close the circle of this training method. What is the essence of concentration? What did I show you first thing in this series? The essence of concentration is centralizing: aim and release. Aim your attention at the target, release all non-targets. If you have practiced the funnel as I showed you in video #1, you already have everything you need to progress quickly here: simply treat every jump, every switching movement, as a funnel.
AIM at the target task, RELEASE the previous one. Relax into the target task to exclude any competing objects.
And there you have it: the shortcut training to dynamic, effortless, stable concentration.
In the next video, I will give you a summary of all the principles and techniques seen in this series, and show you how to put them all together in a compete beginner’s training regimen.
I will also publish a downloadable quick start guide that will be available on every related post and linked in the description of these videos. It’s 100% free, and it will give you a quick summary and step-by-step instructions that you can always refer back to.
10 minutes a day with this highly efficient practice can give you very significant improvements in terms of both work performance and personal balance. Very time effective, very high return on investment. Just as I like it.
Let me know what you think about this method and of course your results in the comments below, or preferably on my blog, where you can also ask all your questions. As always, if you liked this video and the series, please give it a thumbs up and share it to help me grow the channel.
And if you really like what you’ve been seeing here, head over to StrongMinder.com and subscribe to my mailing list to get all the most recent updates and some personal tricks and thoughts I only share with my subscribers.
Thank you for watching, and I’ll catch you later.