The world is filled with good intentions and abandoned projects… ever wondered why that is?
A very on-point post over at Raptitude made me realize that in order to change my bad habits, I really need to just get on with those tasks I’m perpetually putting off. So I closed Facebook and opened my blog and that helped, because now I’m writing this post. But this post isn’t about procrastination (while writing about procrastination can be useful, I can’t shake the feeling that I would be… well, procrastinating). It’s about improving concentration and staying on-topic, something I could benefit from every single day, no matter what I’m doing.
Stay in the moment
I’m not going to pretend that I know a great deal about the practice of mindfulness. It’s something I’m interested in and I guess I make some kind of attempt at it most days, even without realizing it. At the moment, that mostly involves reminding myself to breathe and then concentrating on the breathing itself. Does that seem weird? Well, take a look at your own breathing right now. Is it deep and soothing? Or is it shallow and frantic? Or are you forgetting to breathe altogether for long stretches of time?
During the only Yoga class I ever attended (something I’m hoping to change soon), I learnt of this belief that the length of your life depends on the length of your breath. I found the idea interesting, because if you look at a cat or a dog, their breathing is a lot faster than ours. Their lives are also much shorter. Could there be a link? I don’t know, but to me it kind of makes sense. The more attention you pay to your breathing, the more oxygen goes through your body, helping it to function better.
Could it be the same with concentration? All it takes sometimes is for you to stop what you’re doing and take stock. Are you doing what you want to be doing? Are you doing it in the most efficient way possible? Being aware of your situation, your mood, your surroundings, the tools in front of you… all those things can go a long way towards helping you achieve your goals. There’s no hard work involved. All you have to do is take a few seconds to assess the situation, but it could change everything in the long run.
Give your brain some space to play
Are you struggling to come up with an idea for something? Do you have the impression you’ve already explored every possible avenue and your brain now feels like it’s been wrung out completely? Have no fear. All you need to do is distract it for a while, to let it recover. Yeah, I know, this was supposed to be a post about concentration and staying in the moment, not wondering off someplace else. But bear with me please.
This past year, I’ve started ghostwriting romance novels. It’s fun and good writing practice. I’m learning a lot from the process and it’s finally allowing me to make money from my creative writing. It’s a step towards publishing my own books one day. At the moment, however, I’m struggling to come up with an idea for book 4. Plots for book 1, 2 and 3 were accepted straight away, but none of my ideas for book 4 seem to work. I’ve already come up with about 6 different ones, but my editor keeps asking for more, until we find “the right one”. I agree with him. 30’000 words is not a huge amount, but if the story isn’t working out, then it’s not worth it. I will struggle to write it and it won’t sell well afterwards. Rejection is something I’ll have to face when I want to publish my own stuff, so I see this as a good test of my resolve.
As for the ideas, well… they don’t magically appear. But I’ve found that going for a walk and letting my thoughts wander does help a lot. After all, that’s the idea that sparked this blog in the first place. I’ve also recently discovered colouring books for grown-ups (no, they’re not dirty… they’re just more sophisticated and interesting than the kiddie versions). When I feel the need to, I take a break from brainstorming for a while and just colour, filling in the lines, etc. It’s very soothing. I don’t think about anything in particular when I’m doing it. Sometimes I listen to music too. I just let my thoughts reorganise themselves in the back of my head. Only when I’m done colouring do I turn back to the task at hand. Often, I find it a lot easier to jot down fresh ideas. My brain feels rested and I’m able to concentrate more.
Filter your information intake
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got at least half a dozen tabs open to various articles that have piqued your interest (or you’re just bored and wanted a distraction). You read your way through lists about nostalgic items from your childhood, essays on socio-economic issues, articles on how to be a good parent (even though you’re not a parent) and posts on what it’s like to have to hide your sexuality growing up (even if you’ve never had to do that). Well, that’s fine. You tell yourself you read these things because you want to understand the world better. Nothing wrong with that.
The issue lies, however, in the sheer amount of information you attempt to ingest all at once. It takes up your time. A ten-minute break turns into an hour and a half of binge-reading, where you will perhaps retain 1 or 2 things for future use or reference. Your media feast will often leave you feeling both overwhelmed and useless. All those other people took the time to write those things you were reading, while you just sat there and took it all in. You didn’t do any work at all. You didn’t contribute. You got no closer to your goals. In fact, you’ve never felt further away, because now your head is so full of all these different topics you’ve been reading about that you don’t know which one to focus on.
You have time. I don’t usually say this, because I’m a fan of urging people to get off their bums and make the most of their limited time on Earth, but in this case it’s true. Things stay on the web for a very long time. Chances are, you’ve come across the same article a few times already. So those lists and posts and stuff are not going anywhere. Relax, breathe. Now consider your goals. Is your aim in life to paint beautiful works of art? Go read stuff about painting. Are you pregnant or thinking of trying for a child? Go read those articles now. Do you want to write a book? Pick only articles that are relevant to the subject of your book, or to writing itself. Pick your reading material based on how it will help you move forward.
* * *
The advice I’m sharing today isn’t rocket science (thank goodness, because I suck at that). There are of course plenty of other, more conventional ways to improve your concentration, like eating more carrots or something. But these are problems I face every single day and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I hope some of you will find something helpful in there… so you can get off my blog and go do those things you need to do!