True wellbeing is a mastered skill, to be able to relax the mind from long held tensions. To allow more focus for the tasks at hand and therefore more pleasure and performance in them…… Also to experience more space within the mind for creativity which naturally develops a more fulfilling authentic life little by little. All of the channels in our blog are tools to enhance this journey. But they all have one purpose, to relax and create space in the mind. A chance to move from the mundane and awaken the senses. The body seems to gather energy and comfort as a mirror of the mind.
Photo by Clare Pelly
A Note from Natalie…
It’s that time of year again – back to school, back to the office, back indoors…
Concentration is a problem for many in these distraction-heavy days of devices and hectic schedules. The internet is always there to aid the slightest urge to procrastinate – in fact the procrastinator has probably never been so successful in the art of avoidance!
So what better topic to bring all the elements of relaxation, focus, adventure and bodywork into a useable life skill.
It’s easy enough to start a discussion on concentration with “Turn off the internet”, but what then? How do you prepare yourself for a session of intense, productive work, when you’re so much better at multitasking, splitting your focus or avoiding tasks altogether?
Speaking from personal experience, one of the best tools I’ve learnt is focusing on grounding before I focus on the task ahead. When you are grounded, the whole thing seems far more manageable and less daunting. Only when I’m grounded does breaking tasks into small steps become actually feasible.
Grounding is the act of turning away from spreading focus like seeds in the wind, and actually getting the mind and body connected and prepared for the here and now: for focusing on sitting still and approaching serious work.
Grounding the body
I do this with yoga poses like (my absolute favourite) Corpse Pose.
Doesn’t sound nice, does it? But actually this is one of the most pleasant and effective methods to link your body to its surroundings and when you do it properly – really give your entire body up to the ground supporting you – all your muscles relax and all your focus shifts to the fact that there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to think about but the surface beneath you and your body’s state of total and utter surrender.
This can help you directly with concentration because it moves your thinking away from lists, noises and demands and straight into your immediate experience. It is such a rewarding and pleasant experience that I personally think it should be the first pose every beginner is taught to do well.
Grounding for work
I extend the feeling of corpse pose into my work space. Taking a few minutes to relax my body into the place where I am going to ask it to remain for a long period of time, I also like to breathe in some scents which are traditionally said
to aid concentration – Rosemary, citrus etc.(make sure you and your skin are not sensitive or allergic to any herbs you may try – use just a little bit at first and make sure all is ok). It is another way to link your mind to your physical experience (as a tip I also put the herbs in a little bag which I can squeeze while I’m concentrating – it grounds me physically, releases all the great smells, and seems to somewhat abate the fidget attacks!).
In a world of instant gratification, making your immediate surroundings as pleasant and as conducive to work as you can have a physical effect. You are basically letting your mind and body know that it’s time to work now. It’s time to galvanise. The nicer your work space is for you, the less you dread approaching it. I know some people who take this pretty far – lighting incense, candles, playing their favourite music – all as a way of welcoming sitting at the desk rather than avoiding it. Find what’s appropriate for you, and don’t be afraid to be creative with it if this approach sounds exciting to you. Remember, there’s no point not trying something. Experiment, find what works for you and develop your own unique process that leads to successful concentration.
So what if you’re grounding your body, but your mind is still flying around all over the place?
Ground it with a physical list.
Write down what you need to achieve – not just in this particular session, but over-all. Split it into work, home, personal care and tasks.
When all your distractions are down on paper, they are less frantic in your head.
Photo from theodysseyonline.com
It’s amazing how much physical energy is drained by mental processes, so nip that drain in the bud and give your poor old brain a helping hand.
Writing a list is like attaching persistent thoughts to an anchor
The list isn’t going anywhere, you’re not in danger of forgetting anything, you’re on the first rung of the organised ladder and you can take a deep breath.
Remind yourself that the only way things get done is… by you doing them! But it’s just not possible to do ten things at once, so start with one. Tell yourself you are going to complete this task, then move on.
Time To Concentrate…
Some people find it helps to actually set a timer. In one hour, you can make a cup of tea. Just knowing it’s coming up should help you focus for your allotted time, rather than simply trying to start, then interrupting for tea, reorganising, checking emails etc – every task should be on your list and you should be comfortable knowing you’re going to get to those things in good time, but first – task number one.
The added incentive of knowing it’s only for a certain amount of time makes the task less daunting, less impossible to start. It may be a huge project, but each part of it is perfectly manageable. You’re a smart cookie. One hour of focus is well within your abilities, and that’s all it takes – many sessions of one hour focus!
The more practiced you get, two hour sessions don’t seem difficult at all, in fact when you get into the rhythm and flow, time will fly. Most of the troubles occur at the beginning.
I know it sounds ridiculously simple, but until you’ve had a problem with concentrating, and until you’ve tried many techniques, you’ll be surprised by how effective the simplest methods can be.
Grounding the mind
There are a million different reasons why each individual finds it hard to start tasks. Sometimes without really knowing it, it’s fear that’s holding you back. Fear of hard work, fear of failure, fear that you’re not quite up to it.
Sometimes it helps to just confront those feelings. If you feel like you won’t be good when you start, then allow yourself enough time to edit your work. Accept it will be imperfect in the first draft – but don’t let that turn you away from starting, integrate it as part of your unique process. Remind yourself that everything you see – every work of art, every written piece, every photograph – started from exactly this point: a beginner not really knowing if they’re capable. Then it goes through a stage of intense practice: honing skills, learning from mistakes, editing, re-ordering, getting it just right.
Even exceptional artists go through an apprenticeship, and if you look under the layers of paint on many a famous masterpiece through the right lens, you will see corrections and modifications and maybe even an entire previous painting that was deemed bad enough to just reuse as a blank canvas.
Nothing you have to do has to be perfect first time, but putting it off altogether is separating you from the one proven method to reaching something good: trying.
The da Vinci method: Experiment, try, never be afraid to fail – every instance something doesn’t work is a priceless learning tool.
So ground your mind in a state of expectation – not of perfection first time, but of continued process. If you sit down to practice, it’s not nearly so hard as trying to force yourself into a chair for four hours expecting perfection. Faced with unfounded or unrealistic or inexperienced expectation, any sane person would run for the hills (or the snacks and daytime TV).
The most amazing thing about all this is that when you do sit down and concentrate, when you do get yourself into a state of real focus… you’re probably better at it than you think.
I can’t tell you the personal pain I feel about the time I’ve let go to waste by being afraid to start or unable to focus, weighed against the hours it’s taken me to produce good work. If I could convert the wasted time into the time well spent, I’d be confronted with the ghost of volumes unwritten, small libraries of masterpieces that will never see the light of day… I’m dreaming of course, but I do use this one regret to do something positive and that’s to make sure I don’t keep falling into the same traps.
Push yourself, because you and your input into the world are very much worth the effort. Life is for living to its fullest, not for procrastinating away into nothing.
Quick Tips to boost Concentration
- Read – Reading is one of the fastest, most effective ways to get your mind back into the practice of concentration, and if you pick something you enjoy, it will absorb you and rekindle your brain’s natural love affair with focus. Reading expands the mind, widens vocabulary, enhances empathy with others, informs and inspires. Great stories will never go out of fashion, whatever format they take, and non-fiction nourishes your natural curiosity and hunger for new information. It’s an activity which can improve your ability to be still and focus without you even noticing you’re trying!
- Practice solitude – Yes, this does mean turn off the internet, but it also means practice and enjoy spending time in your own company. This seems really hard when your mind is chattering away, but avoiding silence isn’t going to help you get back into focus. Get used to actually listening to what’s going on in your mind, and you might find it shouts less. Also, it’s hard to focus when other people’s wants and demands are all you can hear.
- Instrumental Music – If silence really is too much of a distraction for you, choose some music which can be background sound without demanding your attention. Classical, ambient or even jazz has been recommended for ideal study music, but I also find natural rhythmic sounds like rain, waves and wind to be highly conducive to calming the mind and the body and allowing focus and good work.
- Prepare a Study Area – Everyone’s different, but generally ‘mess = stress’ and clutter can be subconsciously distracting. The basic requirement for focus on any task is that you have enough space to comfortably practice without having to frequently stop to move things. And if anything is blocking you physically getting to your study place, then the chances of you putting off getting started are even higher, so prepare your space the same way you prepare yourself physically and mentally for the session ahead. Remove all the obstacles you can to give yourself a better chance at success.
I hope this has been of some use to you – please leave a comment, letting us know YOUR top tips for getting into the flow!
This Week’s Recipe: A Bit of Brain Food!!
Important: While we hope to inspire you, you MUST make sure that all ingredients you use are compatible with your own individual medical conditions, medication, allergies and goals.
Rick Steins Bluefish Stew
4 small mackerel or herring, scaled and gutted
1 tsp salt (Optional)
100 ml olive oil
1 onion, halved and sliced
6 green finger chillies, split open but kept whole
Large handful flat-leaf parsley
12 turns black pepper mill
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
30 g/6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lemon, skin and pith removed, sliced
Sprinkle the fish with the salt inside and out.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a large pan with a lid, scatter the onions in the base and lay the fish on top.
Tuck the chillies and sprigs of parsley in around the fish and sprinkle with the pepper. Add the tomatoes, garlic and slices of lemon, and pour the remaining olive oil over the top. Cover the pan with the lid, bring to a simmer and cook on a medium heat for about 25 minutes.
(Original Recipe: Serve with warm cornbread).
Recipe from Rick Stein Venice to Istanbul, courtesy of BBC Books.