How many times do you find yourself getting distracted from carrying out a task?
You sit down to write or paint or read or study or make sales calls or do anything at all that calls for your undivided attention, and suddenly the floor you haven’t washed in weeks needs to be mopped or vacuumed, immediately; or the dishes need to get done; or that Netflix movie you’ve been meaning to see is now a must-see; or you call your best friend or your parents to see how things are going; or you go make a sandwich with the promise to yourself that you will get to work once you have some food in your stomach.
You’re not alone and this way of diverting yourself from what you need to get done is nothing new or uncommon. We all have done it and still do it. Well, there’s a way to build up your discipline – by building your muscle of concentration.
Below I outline a simple but highly effective exercise you can do to improve your concentration, that is, your ability to focus on a given task and maintain that focus for as long as you need it.
The Concentration Exercise
First, you will need some materials:
– a pen or pencil
– a blank sheet of paper
– a candle
– a timer (watch, timer) with an alarm
1- Sit comfortably upright at a desk or table.
2- Place a lighted candle on the desk, about 18-24 inches away from where you’re sitting.
3- Place the sheet of paper immediately in front of you, between yourself and the candle (Ideally, there ought to be no other items on the desk/table besides your sheet of paper and the candle).
4- Set your timer’s alarm to ring in 5 minutes (the alarm allows you to focus on the exercise without having to check the time).
5- Hold the pencil/pen in a writing position with the point of the implement hovering about an inch above the sheet of paper.
6- While sitting perfectly still, stare at the candle flame and THINK OF NOTHING, NOT EVEN OF THE CANDLE FLAME. Only stare at the candle flame.
7- Each time a thought enters your mind, a thought about anything at all, make a tic mark on the sheet of paper, WHILE CONTINUING TO STARE AT THE CANDLE FLAME. Make the tic mark and return your mind to no-thought, to blankness.
8- When your alarm sounds, stop the exercise, then count the number of tics on your sheet. The goal is to progress each time you do the exercise with fewer and fewer interrupting thoughts, indicated by the tic marks, until you have zero marks.
9- You can begin this exercise with a 1 minute time limit, or 2 or 3. Five minutes is just a number of my choosing. When you reach the point of doing the exercise and having no thoughts during the time interval, then build the muscle of concentration by increasing the time limit from 1 minute to 2, or 3 minutes to 5, or 5 minutes to 10, or 10 minutes to 15 or 20.
This is a highly effective exercise that strengthens your ability to focus on a task, any task, with total efficiency of thought, thus making you effective. Doing so will make the difference between succeeding and failing at anything you set out to do.
NOTE: Don’t make yourself ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘good’ or ‘better’ or ‘bad’ or ‘worse’; don’t judge yourself for getting easily distracted; and don’t think of the number of tic marks as a grade you get in school. Where you are is where you are and that’s it. Have fun with the exercise and you will experience yourself in new and powerful ways.