We’re all distracted in one way or another, but today you’ll discover how to find your focus and feel less all over the place, fast
In today’s Mindfulness for Modern Life video, Ruby talks to our creative director Dagmar Brusse about how being open to change and being kind to ourselves is key to mindfulness.
TODAY’S READ: Finding your focus with mindfulness
Finding and holding onto focus is becoming increasingly difficult. We are distracted most of the time. Did you get distracted just reading that sentence? You’re not alone. According to neurologists, we spend 48% of our lives with our minds wandering from what we’re actually trying to do. “In this day and age, we’re surrounded by what I call ‘weapons of mass distraction’,” says Rituals’ mindfulness ambassador, Ruby Wax. “We have our phones permanently attached to us, our computers are always on and information is in our faces the entire time. We have reached the point where our bodies are in an almost chronic state of distraction.”
What happens when we can’t focus
What’s worse is that all this distraction only leads to more. In the last 20 years, our attention levels have dwindled. These days we can focus for just 8 seconds on average, which is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000. And how do we know if we are distracted? “I always say, it's when you get out of a car and you think ‘how did I just get here?’, or you eat chocolate but you didn’t taste it - that’s when you know you’re distracted,” says Ruby.
Mindfulness, however, can help. The part of the brain responsible for attention is called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), and the less we use it, the weaker it becomes. By doing mindfulness exercises like those in this masterclass, you’ll strengthen the ACC so it can detect when your focus has drifted away and pull you back to the task at hand.
“For just one minute every day, try to pull your focus onto something you’re doing by using one of your senses,” says Ruby. “So, if you’re washing the dishes, really focus on feeling the water on your hands. If you notice your mind is wandering, don’t beat yourself up about it, just come back to the sense of the water, or what ‘hot’ feels like. If distracting thoughts come in, notice them, don’t feel bad about them, and keep coming back to the water. It all helps strengthen your ACC and in turn your concentration.”
Of course, some distraction or mind-wandering is good for us. You can never stop it entirely - and nor should you want to. “It’s good to think back and remember past experiences because that’s how we make sure we don’t repeat mistakes in the future, but if you’re in that habit too much you miss everything that's present. Multi-tasking is also a real art, but if you're doing it all the time it burns your brain,” explains Ruby. “As with everything you’re doing, there’s an energy loss and a very real cost when you get pulled to too many places.”
How to combat distraction and focus
Whilst we may think we need more focus to help us finish tangible tasks such as our never-ending to-do list or a work deadline, there’s a more emotive reason too. “Distraction makes you miss out on life,” says Ruby. “We function on autopilot a lot of the time and that prevents us from connecting and listening to the people who are the most important to us. It also means we don’t listen to ourselves or our true desires, because we’re too distracted.”
Today’s task is all about rebuilding that connection with yourself. It’s a valuable step toward directing your focus inwards rather than outwards, and one you’ll find yourself returning to again and again. As Ruby says, “if you want to be happy, learn how to pay attention.”
TODAY’S TASK: Sensing your emotions
Yesterday, Ruby showed you how to experience a little mindfulness on the go. Today, we’re taking the mindfulness training to the next level with an exercise designed to increase your focus.
Sometimes we can be so distracted and lacking focus we don’t even know how we feel. To help with this, take a piece of paper and a pen and roughly draw an outline of your body. In a moment, you will think about different emotions from the list below. For each emotion…
*Draw where you feel it in your body. Think about the shape of its boundaries - is it straight, jagged, or a circle?
*Shade in the area to represent how heavy or light it feels.
*Write beside it what the emotion feels like i.e. twinging, pulsing, stabbing, cold, hot, etc.
The idea of this task isn’t just to focus your mind but also to help you become more in tune with your body and emotions. If you ever wake up feeling anxious in your stomach or have a stress headache but can’t pinpoint why, you can refer back to this exercise to remind yourself of what emotions you might subconsciously be feeling.
Think you’re stuck in your ways? Think again. Day 3 of our mindfulness masterclass delves into neuroplasticity and reveals how, with mindfulness practice, you can form positive new habits that last.