Clear Mind & Focus
Wellbeing | Personal Development | Productivity
This section introduces mindfulness and meditation and encourages you to focus on one thing at a time. It’s all about mastering your mind and putting yourself in positions where you’re likely to get great ideas. It's also a great way to deal with stress and anxiety and feel better about yourself.
In a world that’s constantly expecting you to be on the go and do several things at once, it’s essential to step back and regroup when you can. It’s also important to focus on exactly what you need to do to get things done and be aware of what's happening around you. The ideas presented in this section can help you change your relationship with the world and start to respond, rather than react to things .
How to Clear Mind & Focus
This is the section where we learn how to change the way we view things and start to focus on what’s important.
I call this section of the system ‘Clear Mind & Focus’ to try to avoid the negative associations with the words ‘meditation’ and ‘mindfulness’. I consider them to be two completely separate things within the system as well.
It also goes far beyond these practices, as it will encourage you to change the way you view yourself and start to remove a lot of the distractions we face in our modern, connected world. So many of us build up unhelpful and negative narratives around our lives and then start to play this unfortunate character we've created. We also give in to all the distractions around us and end up achieving very little when we try to get things done.
The ideas I'm about to share can help you break through these barriers.
It may sound like a lot of work, but I can assure you that you'll get a lot more out of it than you put in. Embracing these ideas can help you improve your mental health, increase your capabilities and help you produce great work. You can also start to develop a stronger, positive mindset and become aware of you natural highs and lows.
I also consider it the best way to reduce and manage stress and anxiety and find genuine contentment. To help you get going, I've created the following introductions.
For me, meditation is the practice of taking time to clear your mind and focus on the present moment. If you haven’t tried it, or aren’t quite sure what it means, I’ve prepared the following introduction that will help you to start meditating.
Rather than coming up with exercises to introduce it, I thought a simple and straightforward overview would be better along with a few suggestions of things you could try to get going. I suggest going through this even if you’ve tried it before, as you may learn something new.
Meditation is very popular now but what’s it all about? It’s not always clear, and I think a lot of people are put off at first as they consider it either a religious or spiritual practice, or a clinical treatment for people who are suffering from stress. The truth is, meditation can benefit everyone and you don’t have to put much in to get a lot out of it. It’s also easy to do as soon as you work it all out.
It took me a while to ‘get' it and I’d even read an entire book on the subject but still didn’t know how to meditate. I was expecting something to happen and presumed I had to do something to make it work. The truth is, it’s really the exact opposite.
The best way I’ve heard meditation described is by Chris Bailey in his book, The Productivity Project. He states that he simply focuses on his breath for a set time and when his mind inevitably wanders, he gently brings his attention back to it.
It’s really about taking a break from all the thoughts that constantly bombard your mind. They will obviously appear, but it’s all about observing them rather than acting on them. You also get used to gently turning your attention back to the present moment when your mind starts to wander.
Meditation also helps you change your relationship with your mind. It can help prevent negative thoughts snowballing out of control and it encourages you to concentrate on the present moment.
To me, meditation is about the following:
- Sitting still and closing your eyes
- Concentrating on the present moment
- Focussing on your breath and the sensations in your body
- Being aware of everything around you
- Giving your mind a rest
- Taking a break from all that mental noise
- Completely relaxing and trying not to think
Before you do anything else, just try this for 5-10 minutes and see how you feel afterwards.
When you start, simply count your breaths from one to ten. Count when you inhale and pause as you exhale. Keep repeating this until the time is up, or you feel you need to move on.
While you’re doing it, try to notice everything around you and really focus on the present moment.
The main thing to remember is that if your mind starts to wander, don’t resist it or get frustrated. Just gently go back to your breathing.
Meditation is great but you can do more though, and that’s what I personally consider to be mindfulness.
I view mindfulness as doing things with your attention fixed on the present moment and being aware of what’s happening around you.
If you haven’t done anything like this before, I suggest you try the following exercise to give you an idea of what it’s about:
Simply head to your kitchen or bathroom sink and turn on the tap. Now fix all your attention on the present moment and what you’re doing and put your hand under the tap so you feel the water on your hands.
Take some time to really feel it and notice all the sensations. Give it your full attention and if your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to what you’re going.
When you’ve really taken in the experience, dry your hands with a towel. Don’t stop concentrating though, really focus on how it feels and all the textures. If you have to walk to get one, you should also concentrate on the sensation of your feet connecting with the floor.
You should place all your focus on the present moment and everything happening around you. You could also take a good look at the room you're in and everything around you.
This should feel a bit different and it’s a safe bet that these are usually the sort of things you do on autopilot. This is just the start of your mindful journey as well. A good way to think of my descriptions is that meditation is what you do when you sit down with your eyes closed and mindfulness is when you do it in your everyday life, where I strongly recommend you keep your eyes open.
The Next Steps
There’s obviously a lot more you can do as you develop and if you need help getting started or want to learn more, I suggest you take a look at two great introductions that are also featured in the ‘Resources’ for this section.
Headspace is an online audio service that provides instructions and guided meditations. They promote themselves as ‘gym membership for the mind’ and there are a range of subscriptions available. Their 'Take 10' program really made a difference to me, and it’s free.
Mindfulness is a book by Mark Williams and Danny Penman that’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. It’s all practical and it's written by medical experts.
Now you have an overview and two great introductions to the subject, it’s time to get going.
Making It Happen
I suggest you take time to meditate for at least 10 minutes every day and mark it as a repeating event on your calendar. If you simply can’t manage this, do what you can as even taking time on alternate week days will help.
This is one part of the system I consider mandatory as there are such great benefits.
It can also help you with all the other parts of The Simplicity System as well. In time, you should naturally find yourself becoming more aware of the present moment, be able to move past negative events and improve your interactions with people.
Focussing on What's Important
When you start to become more mindful, you should also start to become a lot more aware of the things that are demanding your attention. The distractions and interruptions that arise when we try to work and the need to have a device in our hands all the time means we rarely get to focus on one thing.
This isn't good for us, as evolution simply hasn't prepared us for this way of life.
This is also one of the first things you should address if you want to feel better. Shutting out all that mental noise is an important aspect of The Simplicity System.
When we start to focus on one thing and really engage with what we do, we should feel better and start to see some amazing results. You should also get great ideas and inspiration when you allow yourself to 'do nothing' as well, and allow your mind to do all the hard work behind the scenes.
The Simplicity System
So to sum it up simply, if you want to clear your mind and start to focus on what needs to be done you should:
- Meditate regularly
- Be mindful while you’re doing things
- Try to focus on one thing at a time
As you start to develop these ideas, plenty of paths should be opened up to you. You can simply take a clinical approach to them if you wish, or start to explore the more philosophical and spiritual aspects that present themselves. I'd strongly recommend examining Stoicism and Buddhism for inspiration.
Good luck with everything and I hope it makes a difference. I’d also be very interested to hear any feedback you have as The Simplify System will always need to evolve and improve.
Your Clear Mind & Focus Resources
Follow the links below to learn a lot more
Your Clear Mind & Focus Golden Rules
You probably won’t get great ideas while you’re hard at work
If you’re at your desk intensely concentrating, putting out fires everywhere and trying to manage everything, you probably won’t experience a flash of inspiration. When we step back, relax and get away from it all though, ideas usually start to flow through.
This why so may people have ‘shower moments’ where an idea suddenly hits them out of the blue.
The brain needs time to process information and you’d be surprised what it can do behind the scenes. If you’re working on a project or you’re stuck on something, just try going out for a walk and see what happens.
Focus on one thing when you can
It’s really easy to sit watching TV with a digital device in your hand and your attention split down the middle. We probably try to do several things at once while we're at work as well and are often encouraged to multitask.
Research suggests that no one can truly multitask though and if we try to, we won’t do any of the activities well. It’s also bad for us in many ways, as we literally haven’t evolved to do this. When you can, try to to be aware of this and focus on one thing.
You’ll probably be surprised how much you improve and if you're watching TV without a device, you'll probably remember a lot more about the show.
Move past mistakes
Imagine a situation where you make a mistake at work and lots of people notice. You’ll probably feel ashamed and very self-conscious and you may even avoid people for a while.
You’re also more likely to fail at the thing you were doing in future, as you’ll probably face it with a negative mindset.
The best thing to do is quickly work out what you can learn form the experience, give yourself a little bit of time to be angry, no more than 2 hours though, and then move on. This way, we can tackle the issues we have in the right frame of mind and not let negativity spiral out of control.
Your Clear Mind & Focus Slots
Try to make time to meditate every day if you can. It just takes ten minutes to really make a difference, but what you put in is up to you.
It also gets you used to making time for things that are important.
Device Free Time
Try setting aside time when all your devices are turned off and you’re free from distractions. Do you really need to be connected 24/7 and are you really going to miss anything if you’re not online for an hour?
This can be really effective in the week an hour or so before you go to bed. Try it and see what happens.
In addition to finding time to mediate, you could also set aside time to just think. If you’re working on something, just isolate yourself with a notepad or digital device for a set period and see what happens.
If you do this before you meditate, all those distracting thoughts may even be taken care of before you begin.
Try to make time to create something. It could be music, writing or some sort of creative activity where you end up with something very rewarding. This can help you focus on one thing and get all your thoughts in place.
It's also a great way to relax and unwind.
If you can, get outside in the fresh air and surround yourself with nature. Evolution has geared us towards feeling at ease when we're surrounded by plants and trees, as we naturally associate them with food sources.
It’s also a great time to take stock and let your mind connect all the dots behind the scenes.