Buddhist monks and the like excluded, we all have difficulty being fully aware and present in the moment. Many of us suck at focusing on what’s going on here and now whenever it requires us longer than 60 seconds.
We have a hard time fully staying with all our focus and attention with the conversation at hand, because we are distracted by worries and excitements about past or future events and by in-the-moment distractions through our smart devices, bodily sensations, or any of our numerous thoughts. If you wish to change this, practice these six easy and quick exercises. It will improve your awareness, strengthen your focus, and help keep your attention fixed in the present moment.
- One minute check-in: Sit or stand somewhere comfortably and focus your attention completely on the physical sensation of your body, whether it is the feeling of your buttocks on a soft surface or your feet standing on the floor. Focus on nothing else than your buttocks or feet. Focus your attention on their warmth, the pressure exerted, or the tension in your muscles. Notice how this body part feels. Don’t judge or explain it, just notice
- 45 Seconds of conscious observation: Choose an object in your proximity such as a cup, pen, bag etc. yet not your phone. Set a timer for 45 seconds (here your phone is useful) and hold the object in your hands, turn it around as you please. Take in the object with all your senses for 45 seconds. Fully absorb the object. Look at colors, shape, and size and feel the material. Make sure not to study your object intellectually – just observe it for what it is to experience a heightened ‘being in the now’.
- Count down: Close your eyes and focus your complete attention on slowly counting down from ten. If your concentration wanders off, you simply start back at number 10 without judging or condemning the fact that you’re starting all over. Most people have to re-start multiple times, that’s okay. It may go like this: “Ten, nine – When’s the deadline for my proposal? Whoops, I’m thinking, not counting.“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six … “ Who is Tim talking to on the phone, he seems upset? Oh dear, I’m not focused on my counting. Lets start again! …
- One sense only: When you’re brushing your teeth in the morning or eating lunch at work, decide to focus on one sense and one sense only. For example: focus on just the smell of the toothpaste for the duration of the brushing. Or focus on the texture of the food, just the texture and nothing else. Notice how it feels in your mouth and on your teeth.
- Focus through repetition: Choose an inspiring phrase and repeat it silently in your mind for 90 seconds. When you notice another word or sentence entering your mind, start again and repeat until you reach 90 seconds of uninterrupted repetition of your phrase. A few examples:
- I appreciate the things I’m inclined to take for granted.
- I will do others a favor by delaying judgment.
- I’ll muster the courage to unmask those reassuring lies we love to tell ourselves.
- Unexpected guest: When someone comes to your desk or into your office unexpectedly:
- Stop what you are doing, turn your body to face the person, make eye contact, and focus completely on the person.
- Instead of labeling it as an interruption, see what happens if you smile, welcome, breathe, and listen.
- Whether you decide to meet with the person right there and then or not, make sure to leave the interaction with a genuine feeling of focused contact.
As you practice these six exercises daily, don’t judge or condemn diversions and distractions. Whatever grabs your attention, whether it comes from outside (people laughing, a car engine, or the coffee machine) or whether it comes from within (rumbling stomach, fatigue, or thoughts about the 3pm meeting), I ask you to accept the distraction as a fact right here and now, and then push it aside gently for a later time to pay attention to. Non-judgmentally release any thoughts of the past or the future. Slow down, re-focus completely on your exercise, and remember: Constant practice is the key to success.