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Psychologists Explain How to Focus Your Mind

Frazzled. Confused. Stressed. Discombobulated. Scatterbrained. These are just a few ways of describing the tendencies of the human mind.

Indeed, it can be difficult to understand ourselves. It’s not altogether uncommon to wonder, “Where’d that thought come from?” It’s a fair question, too! Why do we produce random thoughts – and why are the majority of them self-defeating? To answer this question, we must look at the brain’s two modes: default and focused.

“My mind is like an internet browser. 17 tabs are open, 4 of them are frozen and I don’t know where the music is coming from.” – Unknown (source)

UNDERSTANDING YOUR MIND’S TWO MODES
By understanding your mind’s two modes, you’ll unlock the secret to better focus.

MODE 1: THE DEFAULT MODE

“A wandering mind costs you nothing but is very expensive.” – Amit Sood, M.D.

Did you know that “at rest” really isn’t resting much at all? Neurophysiologists state that the focused mind uses just five percent more than a mind doing nothing in particular. The paradox here is that your mind is always doing something – even when you’re doing nothing – and this comes at an energy cost.

It is when we’re bored that the brain enters its default mode. If the brain could talk, it would say something like this: “Is this something interesting that is worth my time? No? Leave me alone to brood.” This brooding always takes place when the brain is in default mode.

Most people will recognize when their brain is in its default state, but not all. Some people feel as if their attention rarely wanders or enters default mode. Unless you are a monk or a long-time meditation or yoga practitioner, this is probably untrue. But here are a few questions to answer if you think this is the case:

  • Do my family or friends complain that I’m often too distracted?
  • Do I arrive at home with little memory of the commute?
  • Have I become more forgetful?
  • Do I experience mind racing in the shower?
  • Have I ever read a book with no idea of what I just read?
  • Do my thoughts wander when someone is talking or giving a presentation?
  • Do I wake up to a mind whirling with thoughts?

If you’ve answered in the affirmative to any of the above questions, your brain was in its default state. Please remember this about the default mode: the default mode takes away from your enjoyment of life; in fact, it often contributes to the pain and suffering you sometimes feel.

MODE 2: THE FOCUSED MODE

“Concentration brings with it a natural job as the mind settles and is absent of distraction.” – Shaila Catherine (source)

The brain’s secondary mode – and unfortunately so – is the focused mode. It’s not a stretch to say that the focused mode is the answer to most of life’s ills. This mode is recognizable when you become absorbed in something and lose track of time. Activities that activate focused mode includes:

  • Eating a delicious meal
  • Reading a good book
  • Watching an enthralling movie
  • Staring at a newborn baby
  • Watching the sunset
  • Solving a meaningful problem

The focused mind is relatively free of distractions, including the inner distractions of anxiety, restlessness, boredom, and so forth. As such, the focused mind is a happy mind. The focused mind becomes activated while you are paying attention to anything interesting and meaningful.

While there aren’t any official statistics on how often a person spends their time in focused mode, it’s probably in the ballpark of 25 percent. But fret not. You can substantially increase the amount of time that you spend in focused mode by committing to do so. This process takes a bit of effort at first but quickly becomes rather effortless. More on this later.

THE HUMAN MIND IS BEAUTIFUL

How powerful is what you just read? Simply by knowing and being mindful of the brain’s two “modes,” you can live a happier, more peaceful, and more meaningful life. Your brain innately understands the differences between the two modes – and the above descriptions should help.

Remember the differences:

Default mode: anxiety, stress, depression, restlessness; internally-focused, directionless.  The majority of people spend most of their time in this state.

Focused mode: content, happy, peaceful; externally-focused, time seems to fly. Most of us only spend about 25 percent in this state.

“WHY CAN’T I STAY IN DEFAULT MODE?”

Listen up as this is a critical point: no matter how much you learn about the brain and its processes, you will never be able to remain in a state of complete focus. How often you can stay in focused mode depends upon your initial capacity for attention, as well as your willingness to learn mindful techniques like meditation.

But what are these things even required? Why can‘t you just stay in a focused state? Well, as great as being focused all of the time sounds, it would be counterproductive and even dangerous.

Our brain has evolved an autonomic system that responds to threats – real or perceived. How important is the autonomic nervous system? Have you ever involuntarily taken a breath or moved to avoid a collision with a car or person? Sure, you have – all of us do this. It’s called survival, and our brain and body are finely tuned to survive in even the most challenging scenarios.

The problem is that the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threats. It is when we are prone to mind-wandering that these threats become more challenging and profuse. Biologically, the human brain in its current state is not designed to allow conscious thought to dominate. Will the brain ever reach that point? That remains to be seen.

OVERCOMING RESISTANCE IN THE MIND

“What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” – Carl Jung (source)

Read and re-read the following statement as often as you’d like: to resist wandering thoughts is futile. Go ahead, reread it.

One of the first things that someone does when trying to get into a more focused state is to suppress wandering thoughts. Not only does this fail, but it actually makes things worse. Think of trying to resist negative or wandering thoughts as tightening a spring – the harder that you try, the more it recoils.

What is the answer, then? To bring the wandering mind back to the task, whatever it happens to be – whether reading a book, writing a paper, having a conversation, etc. – over and over again without denying other mental states. It is this directing and re-directing of focus that allows your attentional muscles to grow.

Remembering to redirect your attention throughout the day can be challenging, but it isn’t the most challenging part. The hardest part is resisting the urge to criticize yourself for losing focus in the first place. You must try and get over this tendency as much as possible. Not only will self-criticism drain your mental energy, but it may very well derail any efforts to become more focused and mindful.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE HUMAN MIND: A BLUEPRINT FOR FOCUS

“Everyone in your life is vying for your attention.” – Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D. (source)

Here’ s another tidbit that you may want to keep in mind: distractions (i.e. mind wandering) further depletes your brain’s energy levels. In turn, this energy depletion makes it easier to succumb to distractions.

What to do? Here’s a four-point blueprint for maximizing focus.

POINT #1 – MONITOR YOUR ATTENTION.
You must track where your attention is going to make better use of it. When do you feel the most focused and attentive? What things cause you to lose focus on the task at hand? Track these things and prepare a plan of action.

POINT #2 – MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS.
There is a correlation between mental and bodily emotions and energy. If you are feeling happy or content, your brain will be more alert and active than if you’re downtrodden and lethargic. Do the things that make you feel more of the former and less of the things that make you feel more of the latter.

POINT #3 – LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY.
While it may sound downright paradoxical to call upon tech for more focus, the right type of technology can indeed help. Try downloading an app that blocks distracting websites. Or maybe one that tracks productivity and emails daily reports. Do whatever works for you.

POINT #4 – DON’T GIVE UP.
For the vast majority, building up a cognitive reserve of focus is a timely and challenging undertaking. Don’t allow your emotions and negative self-talk (both forms of mind-wandering) to take you off track. If you put in the time and effort, you will be a more focused, happier, and productive individual!

source: https://www.powerofpositivity.com/focus-mind-psychologists-explain/ 

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Dealing with Uncertainty About What Path to Take

The amount of time we spend fretting over what path to take, when we’re feeling uncertain, can sometimes be staggering.
We’re entering into unknown territory, and we don’t know how to proceed. It happens all the time for many of us: we start a new job, launch a new venture, change careers, have to deal with incredible change, decide to write a book or create something online, put ourselves in a new social situation.
Some of the things we do in response to this uncertainty:
  • Extensive research, often to the point of very diminishing returns, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed by how much information we’ve found.
  • Buy books, courses, programs, other materials that we think will guide us — this isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but in truth, none of this will give us certainty.
  • Try to find teachers or other people who will guide us, who have been there before — again, hoping that they’ll give us certainty, but often this isn’t a magic pill either.
  • Delay making a decision, putting it off over and over because it’s too hard to decide. Avoid, avoid. This might be the most common option, actually.
  • Give up because you don’t know if you can do it, don’t know what to do, don’t know what the hell you’re doing. This is pretty common too — in fact, most people give up before they even start.
  • These are very common reactions to entering into uncertainty, but usually not very helpful. They get in the way of doing the work and living the life we’d like.
So how do we deal with the uncertain path that we’d like to embark upon?
It’s not always easy, but I’ve found there to be a set of practices that can help tremendously.
The Mindset Shift
The first mindset shift to consider is that uncertainty is not bad, or something to be avoided. It’s a natural part of doing anything meaningful. In fact, feeling uncertainty is a great sign that you’re doing something challenging and meaningful.
Uncertainty can be embraced, opened up to, even loved. We can learn to cherish the uncertainty in our lives, if we shift our mindset and practice with it.
The second mindset shift is to see an uncertain path as a practice opportunity. It’s not something to run from, but a place to stay, so that we can grow, learn, and create.
Every time we feel uncertainty, it can be seen as a calling to open up and practice. To turn towards and try a new way of doing things, rather than indulging in old, unhelpful patterns.
The Uncertainty Practices
So let’s say you’re about to head down an uncertain path — starting a new job, moving into a new phase of your life, writing a book, launching a business or product …
How do you open to the uncertainty and practice with it?
Here’s what I’ve found to be useful, in writing books and launching programs, along with dealing with huge life changes:
  1. Stay in the uncertainty as a practice, and with devotion. You are staying in this place of uncertainty to practice with it, but also to serve those you care deeply about. They are worth it. Remind yourself of them, and that doing this for them is more important than your discomfort with uncertainty. Let yourself feel uncertainty in your body, staying with the sensations in the moment — and learn that it’s not a big deal to feel that uncertainty. With practice, this becomes easier and easier.
  2. Go with the gut (or the heart). If you’re unsure of what path to take (need to make some decisions), it’s easy to get frozen in indecision, because there’s not clear answer. You can ask a hundred people, and not get a clear way to make a decision. You can read a million articles and books, talk to experts, but there’s no right answer. And so, you have to learn to trust your gut. Or your heart. When I’m at a crossroads, what I try to do is sit still for a little while, contemplating the question. I feel into my heart, and decide what feels right. I don’t have any certainty, because there’s no right answer. Instead, I have to trust my gut or heart, and just go with it … the real trust is that even if it’s the wrong answer, I’ll be perfectly fine. More on that bit below.
  3. Embrace the not knowing. So you’ve used your heart to make an uncertain choice … but you don’t know exactly how it will go. That’s OK. In fact, you can embrace this not knowing … it’s like reading a book or watching a movie without knowing how things will unfold. That’s part of the fun! Not knowing is a beautiful thing, even though most of the time we really want to know. Can you take the next step without knowing, being completely open to how things might turn out? Being curious to find out more, without having a fixed idea of how it should be? Letting things be fluid and fresh? Try it and see!
  4. Let things unfold as you walk the path. As you move along this uncertain path, see how things turn out. Notice what you can notice, learn from this new information. For example, if I’m going to launch a new product, I don’t know how people will respond. I can launch it without knowing, and see how they respond, listen to their reactions, talk to them and find out more. If I’m dealing with a health issue, I can try different solutions, noticing how they affect things. I don’t know how things will unfold, but I can walk the path and find out.
  5. Get information, adjust the path. As you let things unfold, you’ll be gathering new information. You’ll learn whether things turned out as you expected or not. You’ll be open to all of this, but it might turn out that you need to make adjustments. For example, when I launched my Fearless Training Program, I didn’t know exactly what people would need in the program, or how they’d respond to the training. Listening to them has helped me to understand better, and I’ve adjusted the program a lot in the past 18 months. Over and over, I listen and learn and adjust. It’s good to build in regular reviews so you can make adjustments as you walk the uncertain path — weekly reviews are great.
  6. Learn to trust you’ll be fine. You might flop on your face — but what’s the worst-case scenario (of all likely outcomes)? Probably nothing too bad. You won’t die, in most cases. What I’ve learned is to trust that things will turn out fine. Not as I expect, but fine. I might fail, but I learn to deal with the failure. A failure is just a way to grow, learn, get better. It’s not the end of the world. Walking the uncertain path, let yourself develop trust in yourself to respond resiliently to whatever happens. With this trust, you’ll learn that you don’t need to avoid the uncertainty.
  7. Create rituals to support the uncertainty. All of this is great in an ideal world — but in reality, we’re likely to go to our old patterns. The way to work with this is through rituals designed to support these practices. For example, you might start your day with meditation, letting yourself feel the uncertainty in your body. You might set a focus session for first thing in your work day, where you let yourself push into uncertainty every day, at least once a day. You might set up a weekly review, where you make adjustments based on how things are unfolding. In that review, you might notice how things are going just fine, and let that cultivate trust in the process and in yourself to handle things. You might get a group of advisors and check in with them once a month, talking to them about your uncertainty. Figure out what rituals you need to support your practice with uncertainty, and set them up.
  8. This path of uncertainty isn’t anything you can’t handle. Many people have walked similar uncertain paths in the past, and are doing so now. You can do it just as well as anyone.
Our paths must contain uncertainty, because no one knows what the hell they’re doing. We’re making it up as we go along, learning as we go, and if we’re conscious about it, we can dance with the uncertainty with a smile on our face.
BY LEO BABAUTA
POSTED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 14, 2020


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Fun Fact Friday

  • There is no single food that provides all the nutrients that humans need, except for breast milk.

  • Mentally talking to yourself during tasks is actually a good way to keep yourself focused.

  • The mango is the most popular fruit in the world. It also helps against cancer, clears skin and lowers cholesterol.

  • Thinking burns calories.

Happy Friday!
 source:   factualfacts.com   https://twitter.com/Fact   @Fact


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12 Foods to Help You Focus

by: Emily Holland

Staying focused in today’s world can be a challenge. Technology presents countless distractions. The constant ping from your smartphone—alerting you to the latest social media notification or text message—can cause even the most focused individual to become scattered.

But technology isn’t solely to blame. Stress can add to the challenge. Aging can also play a role as your ability to ignore distractions can decline as you get older.

What many people may not realize is that diet can influence their ability to focus. Certain foods provide the brain with the necessary nourishment to help you concentrate. Many people are quick to turn to coffee for a cognitive boost. However, a variety of other options can enhance your ability to focus, while also providing a wealth of other health benefits.

Walnuts

A 2015 study conducted by researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found a positive association between walnut consumption and cognitive functioning in adults, including the ability to concentrate. According to the findings published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, consuming a handful of walnuts per day can lead to cognitive benefits, regardless of age. Walnuts, in comparison to other nuts, contain the highest-level of antioxidants, which help to promote brain function. They also contain alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that is important for brain health and development. Because walnuts are relatively high in fat and calories, no more than an ounce per day is recommended.

Blueberries

Blueberries are also high in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanin, which has been shown to fight inflammation and improve cognitive brain functions. Blueberries make for the perfect snack since they are low in calories, but high in nutrients such as fiber, manganese, vitamin K,  and vitamin C. When they aren’t in season, opt for dried or frozen blueberries.

Salmon

Salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat that may slow cognitive decline and possibly lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2005 study conducted by Rush University in Chicago. It also helps fight inflammation, which has been associated with a decrease in cognitive function.

Avocados

In addition to salmon, avocados are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and also contain monounsaturated fats, which support brain function and healthy blood flow to the brain. Avocados are also high in vitamin E, a necessary nutrient for optimal brain health that may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, studies show. Like walnuts, avocados are fatty and contain a lot of calories. The recommended serving is about 1/5 of a regular-sized avocado (or 1 oz.).

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is loaded with antioxidants, which have been shown in mice to improve memory and learning deficits that occur as a result of aging and disease. EVOO can also reverse damage in the brain caused by oxidative stress, an imbalance between free radicals and the body’s antioxidant defenses, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. EVOO is great to use as a healthy alternative to processed salad dressings.

Olive oil

Pumpkin Seeds

Nutrient-rich pumpkin seeds make for a quick and easy snack while providing proper nutrition to help promote focus and concentration. High in antioxidants and omega-3s, pumpkin seeds are also a rich source of zinc, an essential mineral that promotes brain function and helps prevent neurological diseases, according to research conducted in 2001 by the University of Shizuoka in Japan.

Leafy Greens

A 2015 study by researchers at Rush University found dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and collards, might help slow cognitive decline. Over a five-year span, they examined diet and cognitive abilities in older adults. They saw a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline in those who consumed larger amounts of dark, leafy greens. In fact, those who had one to two daily servings were found to have the cognitive abilities of a person 11 years younger. Researchers also found that the nutrients, vitamin K and folate were most likely responsible for keeping the brain healthy and preserving functioning.

Eggs

Eggs are a good source of protein, are rich in omega-3s, and contain choline, a vital nutrient for brain development. A 2011 study published in The American Journal of Clinic Nutrition found a high-level intake of choline improved cognitive performance. Eggs also contain B12, a vitamin that keeps the brain and nervous system healthy. So beat, scramble, poach, and flip to eat those eggs and reap the rewards.

Yogurt

Yogurt contains probiotics, often referred to as the “good” bacteria that help promote digestive health, which can lead to a healthier brain. A 2013 UCLA study found that women who regularly ate yogurt exhibited improved brain function while at rest or in response to completing a task. Yogurt is also high in B12 and magnesium, two essential nutrients for brain health.

Oatmeal

Whole grains provide energy. Oatmeal—slow-cooked whole oats, not the ready-cook kind from a packet—not only makes for a healthy breakfast, it also leaves you feeling full, which is important as hunger can diminish mental focus. For maximum clarity, try a bowl of oatmeal topped with walnuts and blueberries.

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate, which is a stimulant, can provide you with an energy boost similar to a cup of coffee. A 2015 study by researchers at Northern Arizona University found participants who consumed 60 percent cacao content chocolate to be more alert and attentive. Chocolate is also high in antioxidants accounting for many of its health benefits. Just remember to choose dark chocolate over a milk chocolate candy bar filled with sugar.

Peppermint Tea

The herb peppermint may improve cognitive performance and increase alertness as well as calmness, according to a 2012 study by researchers at Northumbria University in the UK. Enjoy the health benefits by brewing a hot cup of peppermint tea or by simply smelling the herb.

Add five drops of peppermint essential oil to a warm bath or rub it lightly into your skin.

About the Author
Emily Holland
Emily is a certified Health Coach with a focus on stress and anxiety management. A combined interest in healthy living and human behavior led Emily to pursue a certification in health coaching at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as well as a master’s degree in General Psychology. She’s a freelance writer; you can find more of her work on her website, http://www.mindfulmotives.com.


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11 Tips To Feel Calm and Focused: A Psychiatrist Explains

by Dr. Joseph Annibali      January 6, 2016

In this excerpt from Dr. Joseph Annibali, M.D.’s new book, Reclaim Your Brain: How to Calm Your Thoughts, Heal Your Mind, and Bring Your Life Under Control, the leading psychiatrist explains why getting negativity under control is crucial to a calm, mindful brain — and how to do it.

When I first began to explore the “busy-brain” phenomenon — or when a chaotic brain interferes with our attention, focus, and mood — I quickly recognized a pattern in those who have it. Many of these individuals also struggled with excess negativity. It was as if not only were their brains caught in a loop but that loop was almost uniformly negative.

The reality is that the brain is hardwired for negativity.

Why would our brains make us so negative? The reality is that the brain is hardwired for negativity. Studies of brain development and observations about early traumas support this.

But negativity is not unalterable. First, it’s important to recognize that we all have an inner critic or judge inside our heads. Second, it’s important to understand that the critical stranger actually is an invader. Because the negativity isn’t you; it’s your brain activity.

Let me reemphasize that: You are not just your brain; you are not just your thoughts. Why do I make this claim? Well, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The brain is a key part of who we are, yes. But we find that the real us is beyond our thoughts.

This is why Buddhist and other meditative traditions claim that we find ourselves only beyond our thoughts, apart from our thoughts, in a state of mental peace, often in meditation or silence. Our heart beats, but we are not our heartbeat. Our brain thinks, but we are not our thoughts.

That’s why you can learn to separate yourself from the rampant negativity in your brain. And in separating yourself from your poisonous negativity, you can calm your busy brain.

Here are some of the strategies I recommend:

1. Detach yourself from the negative thoughts.

Remember, “You are not just your brain; you are not your thoughts.” Thoughts arise automatically, just like the heart beats automatically and we breathe automatically. We don’t control our thoughts. And yet they can control us if we let them.

If we remind ourselves that our brain makes our negative thoughts, that we are not our brain, we gain much-needed distance from our negative thoughts. They happen; that’s it. Don’t fight them.

But we can think about our thinking. We can put things into perspective: Our thoughts are not facts. With practice and experience, we can learn to more automatically gain distance from our negative thoughts. Try observing the flow of negativity in your mind, the way you might sit on the bank of a stream and watch the water flow by. You might even view your negativity as a scientist would: “Oh, how interesting that there are self-critical thoughts occurring now.”

Another way to create distance and detachment is what I call the “Ronald Reagan Approach.” In his presidential election debates with Walter Mondale, Mr. Reagan repeatedly and quite effectively said to Mr. Mondale, “There you go again.” Tell yourself, “There’s my brain being negative again.”

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2. Distract yourself.

Pour yourself into something productive and positive, or at least seek out a change of gears.

When we’re preoccupied with something we enjoy (a crossword puzzle, a good book, a game of catch) or even just find something to absorb us (take a coffee break or talk to a colleague), it gives our system a chance to calm down and our thoughts a chance to refocus from negative to more neutral, if not positive.

3. Remember your values.

Remind yourself what your values are. If you are ruminating over negative thoughts and decisions, refocusing on your core values will help reduce the negativity.

4. Practice gratitude.

Embrace an attitude of gratitude. Write down three things for which you are grateful. Studies show that simply writing down what you are grateful for can really change the brain and improve mood, moving you away from negativity.

5. Shun the “shoulds.”

Get out of what I call the “Cold Shower of Shoulds.” Among the torment of negative thinking that afflicts us often is a constant flood of “shoulds”: I should do this … I should do that …

This Cold Shower of Shoulds is nothing but destructive. Once we become more aware of our tendency to stay too long in this destructive shower, we have a better chance of stepping out of this negative shower stall.

6. Mentally twist the dial.

Imagine that there’s a dial on the side of your head that you could use to turn down the negative thoughts. Actually envision yourself turning down the negativity by twisting the dial.

7. Have a laugh.

Can you find the humor in what the negative critic is saying to you? Laughter can be the best medicine. Make fun of the negative thoughts. Laugh at them and yourself for believing them … but make sure that you do so gently.


8. Power up your problem solving.

If the negative thoughts relate to a clear problem (e.g., a serious health issue), make a list of the steps you can take to deal with the situation. Break down the potential solution into small, achievable steps you can take to improve things.

9. Find the positive.

Try to find the positive in what seems to be a negative situation. Turning around a negative thought often shows us another side of the situation. A problem or crisis can even be an opportunity. Search for it.

10. Breathe.

Take slow, deep breaths. This relaxes the body and the brain and reduces brain overactivity.

11. Move your body.

Do something physical; exercise. Don’t stay stuck and immobile, literally and metaphorically.

Reprinted from Reclaim Your Brain – Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company    Joseph A. Annibali, M.D.