Focus Strong - how to build concentration and attention span?

Pasibrzuch

Level 5 Valued Member
When a mind does not know itself, it is flawed. When a mind is flawed, the man is flawed. When a man is flawed, that which he touches is flawed. It is said that what a flawed man sees, his hands make broken.

A divided mind is an unfocused mind. A divided mind fractures walls and weakens stone. Many divided minds may destroy a city.


Hello everybody,
StrongFirst is a place where I've learnt tones about strength and endurance training. A+A appeared to be the key to lowering my anxiety levels. I'm still working on being strong for others.

It's high time I took care of another weak link. A thing that is a great source of my discomfort is lack of focus. I seem not to be able to concentrate for more than a few seconds. I consider myself to be a rather forgetful, absent-minded person. Nearing the dreaded 30, I feel like I'm spending most of my life daydreaming and therefore wasting it.

Currently I'm doing a following routine that aims to improve my focus:
- look at one object, do not allow any other thoughts - 3 mins
- close your eyes, imagine the aforementioned object, do not allow any other thoughts - 3 mins
- open your eyes, imagine the object superimposed/floating in the air - 3 mins
- close your eyes, let the thoughts flow, but don't engage - 3+ mins

Still, I'm becoming distracted very easily while doing the routine. I would like to hear from SF people whether you have any tips for the distracted.
Focus to you!
 

IMayAgainKnowChris

Level 5 Valued Member
“Right now, it is like this”. I find focusing only on the breath is the simplest way (not read: easiest) to bring yourself to the present. You’re always breathing, right, so if you can focus your mind when you breathe in, think in; out, out. You’re fully present and in the moment. Sometimes it helps more than others but it definitely is a step forward on the path of awareness of the present moment.

The thing to remember is that it’s completely unnatural and counterintuitive to be present. And focused. With our busy lives and stress it’s completely reasonable to always be thinking about the future or past or wishing things were different but just thinking “right now, it is like this,” not pushing away from the feelings is a form of like radical acceptance of the present moment.

“Right now, these heavy swings are kicking my but,”
 

natewhite39

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Currently I'm doing a following routine that aims to improve my focus:
- look at one object, do not allow any other thoughts - 3 mins
- close your eyes, imagine the aforementioned object, do not allow any other thoughts - 3 mins
- open your eyes, imagine the object superimposed/floating in the air - 3 mins
- close your eyes, let the thoughts flow, but don't engage - 3+ mins
I agree with @IMayAgainKnowChris, a breath practice would be a good place to begin. Your current routine has you focusing on a strict outcome (complete a specific task in 3 minutes), where your focus would be better aimed at just the process (breathing). Once you begin to be able to breathe deeply and with control, your body will take care of the rest and stimulate your sympathetic nervous system.

My recommendation is box breathing. Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, repeat. You can find videos on YouTube and apps in the App store to assist you with this as well.
 

Pasibrzuch

Level 5 Valued Member
Thank you to everybody for the replies.

My recommendation is box breathing. Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, repeat. You can find videos on YouTube and apps in the App store to assist you with this as well.
Every day I try to do some hypercapnic breathing: 4 seconds in, 6 seconds out, 5 seconds hold, repeat. My problem is that I can multitask and maintain the wanted ratio while daydreaming at the same time. Despite being regular with it, I cannot find focus.
 

natewhite39

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
@Pasibrzuch

This is why you treat skill acquisition as “practice.” It’s a daily attempt to improve your focus. It may take weeks, months, even years. Just like strength training. Do you expect to lift for a few weeks and get exceptionally strong? Of course not. Embrace that fact and stick with it.
 

q.Hung

Level 6 Valued Member
Some types of high intensity (if I could call that) meditation. Like really focus on the task you're doing, for 2-3 minutes, then rest.
The focus has a relationship with the prefrontal cortex, it's easy to get this part of the brain tired. You want to train it, use it but do not overuse it.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
do not allow any other thoughts
Not a formula for success.

Leave your front door and your back door open.
Allow your thoughts to come and go.
Just don't serve them tea.

- Shunryu Suzuki
Much better.

Acknowledge your thoughts - embrace them, get to know them, accept them. Only then can you truly put them aside to see what else might fill your mind.

-S-
 

kenaces

Level 5 Valued Member
I think having a daily meditation practice has helped me. I would check out the Headspace app as I think they give a free trial and it is very good.

I also love Deep Work by Cal Newport. He also has a new podcast called Deep Questions.
 

the hansenator

Level 6 Valued Member
Some types of high intensity (if I could call that) meditation. Like really focus on the task you're doing, for 2-3 minutes, then rest.
The focus has a relationship with the prefrontal cortex, it's easy to get this part of the brain tired. You want to train it, use it but do not overuse it.
That's actually really interesting.

I feel like I can't focus the way I used to, I don't feel as alert either. I think electronic distractions can take some of the blame. I read that it can cause a type of learned ADD.
 

Pasibrzuch

Level 5 Valued Member
This is why you treat skill acquisition as “practice.” It’s a daily attempt to improve your focus. It may take weeks, months, even years. Just like strength training. Do you expect to lift for a few weeks and get exceptionally strong? Of course not. Embrace that fact and stick with it.
That's a very good remark, thank you. I will be more accepting of my shortcomings during breathwork.

I feel like I can't focus the way I used to, I don't feel as alert either. I think electronic distractions can take some of the blame. I read that it can cause a type of learned ADD.
I feel the same way. I find learned ADD totally believable.
 

Timmer C

Level 5 Valued Member
One need not practice meditation in order to meditate. I do Turkish Get Ups at a weight where I can be safe — so long as I am fully present. If things are not going perfectly, I need to have enough awareness that I can either make micro adjustments to successfully finish or else to make moves to safely exit out the get up without injury.

And sprinting is meditative for me in a way that long easy runs are not meditative for me. In long easy runs, it is easy for my attention to wander, but sprinting is an all or nothing effort. One irony of my doing sprinting as meditation is that I can’t let my running watch become a distraction. Running watches, whether using GPS or accelerometers or foot pods, are far more reliable for longer distances than they are for super short sprint distances. To be distracted by how accurate or not the watch is capturing the sprint pulls me right out of meditation since I am no longer giving the sprint my all.
 

wespom9

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Breath by James Nestor was a good read as well. I also second Deep Work by Cal Newport, I remember gaining a lot of insightful "aha's" when reading
 

pet'

Level 8 Valued Member
Hello,

To stay focused under fatigue or stress, I tend to do two things:
- Slow down my breathing: if possible, I use nasal breathing
- I also break down the big task in a succession of small ones that way I do not get "overwhelmed" and my mind does not get fuzzy

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
Still, I'm becoming distracted very easily while doing the routine. I would like to hear from SF people whether you have any tips for the distracted.
The following is a short rundown of how I approach it and tips I have used to improve concentration when my mind is particularly stormy.

Some of the more simple approaches focus on breathing, specifically the exhale. Count exhales to 10 and start over. Over time you might be able to stop counting and simply focus on the exhale, but there will be times when you are more distracted and counting is always an option.

Over time you can begin to focus on the inhale as well. It is common if not unavoidable esp when one first picks up breath meditation that you will assume conscious control over your breathing when you focus on it. A heavy duty variation of this involves using positive pressure breathing, where you exhale almost as if you were exercising but in a long slow push - hold onto the exhale as long as possible. You will become aware if relaxed enough, that your guts are settling, settling, and as they do they are slowly easing most of the air out of your lungs almost without effort. You can help this with a slight amount of abdominal pressure.

Maintain a calm easy poise with a slight pause at the bottom, then inhale down into your abdomen first and then up into your chest - is perfectly OK to feel your ribcage expand, but make sure the abdomen expands first. Exhale in reverse order - this a "complete breath". Crunch out a few of these and then settle back to an easy abdominal inhale/exhale (or whatever breathing is most natural for the time being - you want to work toward a deep, easy abdominal breathing but don't become perturbed if this is not your default) , holding the exhale a few. As with marksmanship, it is on the long easy exhale that we become most still. Dress lightly if using this technique of active, below threshold exhale or you'll be sweating all over the place in no time, even in a cool room.

At some point it would be nice to simply be aware of your breathing and not be in active control, just let it rise and fall. Is also OK if this never happens.

You can expand your awareness while following the breathing, note the sensation of your guts shifting, maybe even feel movement in your pelvic floor, floating ribs, subtle shift of whatever clothing you're wearing, heartbeat, the pulse of blood at different points in your body, weight of your body on the cushion, slight movement of the eyball with each heartbeat. Defocus your eyes - I spread out a white cloth in front of me, or used to sit a few feet from a blank wall. be aware that your eyes are just organs and all they're doing is detecting reflected light, don't associate or label anything, avoid using language as a filter for any of your senses - just feel, be aware. Start checking down the list of senses and be aware of what they are detecting:
- sounds, light/colors, smells, taste, feeling. As with breathing it would be nice to just let this come and go on its own at some point but is also OK to run through them in sequence. Don't label anything, the sounds you hear are just noises, what you feel-sensations, what you see-just light striking the retina, smell, taste etc.

If you get side-tracked and find other thoughts coming to the fore, stop. Realize what's happened and try to backtrack to the point where you lost focus. This is a good technique to use during the day as well if you catch yourself daydreaming. When particularly distracted this exercise might be all you manage, and that's OK too. Meditation is exactly like physical exercise - much of the benefit comes from showing up and putting in an honest effort. Over time it builds on itself. Not every session is going to "feel" productive.

Do not get upset, discouraged etc if you are unable to defocus, use some of the more effortful methods of breath control, counting etc. It all comes together over time, and you realize even the "poor" sessions are important parts of the process.
 
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