How to Meditate for Focus and Concentration
For most of us, meditation would not come to mind when trying to find ways to increase focus and productivity. This is understandable. When it comes to the benefits of meditation, most of us think about relaxing or reducing stress. While this is true, meditation offers limitless opportunities for personal improvement, including increasing focus and productivity.
The Master and the Servant
To better understand the power that meditation has on improving our lives, we first need to understand our relationship with the mind. All that is needed is to think about your own experience. Has this ever happened to you? You are at work and are faced with a challenge. You have deadlines to meet, or perhaps your manager gives you an unexpected task. You are trying to do your best, but there is a problem. Your “monkey mind” appears. What is the “monkey mind”? It is when your mind chatters up a storm.
Your work becomes compromised by thoughts such as:
“Am I doing this right?”
“Will I finish this project in time”?
“I should not have to do this.”
“What if I make a mistake?
“Look what time it is. I will never get done in time.”
However, the monkey mind does not limit itself to thoughts about work. It is also very eager to remind you about the things that are going on in your personal life.
For most of us, the monkey mind is our master, and we are the servant. All too often, we listen to what our master is saying and take it as to be the truth.
The power of mediation is that it allows us to turn the tables and become the master of our minds.
Have you ever experienced a time when you found yourself performing a task with effortless ease? You were in a state of flow. In these moments, you transcended your thinking. You knew exactly what to do and when to do it. Your focus and productivity were at a peak level; you were operating with minimal use of your mind. We often experience this flow when we are doing the things that we love.
In contrast, have you ever had a situation where you could not do anything right? Maybe you were forgetful, or you had trouble paying attention. You may have invested a lot of time, energy, and effort, but your productivity was disappointing.
We have all experienced these things. The question is, why? Why is that sometimes our focus and productivity are stellar while other times it is lacking? The reason has to do with the relationship that we have with our minds. Are we in charge of our minds, or are our minds in charge of us?
How Our Thoughts Create Reality
The reason why our minds have so much power over us is that we identify with our thoughts. If we have an angry thought, we become angry. This emotion even shows up in our physiology. If we have a loving thought, then we experience the feelings of love. For most people, their sense of identity is based on their thoughts! More specifically, most people define themselves by their beliefs.
A belief is a thought that we have a sense of certainty about—it is for this reason that our beliefs are so powerful. We can think of beliefs as tinted sunglasses. If you put on a pair of yellow-tinted sunglasses, everything you see will appear to be yellow. If you have blue-tinted sunglasses on, everything will appear to be blue. Similarly, if you believe people only look out for themselves, you will have a lack of trust for others. If you believe people are basically good, you will focus on their favorable qualities.
Our beliefs are projected on everything that we do in life. Through the tinted lens of our beliefs, the level of our focus and productivity is determined.
The Power Behind Meditation
Earlier in this blog, it was mentioned that athletes get in a zone, where they perform at a high level. Their focus and productivity are high; yet, they are not thinking about each move that they make. The main reason for their peak performance is because they are not spending time thinking about it! At these moments, they have become the masters of their minds. Their minds are serving them, and their mind is serving them only when it is needed. Meditation can offer you the same benefit, regardless of what activity you are involved in.
Breath Meditation Exercise
If you are inexperienced in meditation, I ask that you try the following exercise. It will allow you to experience directly the point that is being made in this blog: The more that we move away from thoughts, the greater our focus and productivity will be.
- Find a comfortable place to sit and close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
- Do this two more times: Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
- Now breathe normally and feel yourself becoming more relaxed.
- Now place your attention on your breath. Focus on your breathing.
- Pay attention to sensations that you experience as your breath moves in and out of your body.
- As you focus on your breath, there will come the point when thoughts appear. You will most likely find yourself becoming distracted as your thoughts steal your attention from your breath.
- Do not try to resist or control your thoughts. Do not judge your thoughts or yourself.
- When you find yourself caught up in thought, all that you need to do is return your attention to your breath.
- Continue to redirect your attention toward your breath every time you become distracted.
Benefits of the Breath Meditation Exercise
The first time you do this exercise, you may find that you are unable to do it for more than a minute. I encourage you to practice this exercise as often as you can as you strive to increase the duration gradually. If you commit to practicing this exercise, I am confident that you will experience the following:
- You will gain greater clarity in your awareness. In the beginning stages of practice, you may not notice your attention slipping. By the time that you realize it, you are already caught up in thought. The more you practice, the better you will become in noticing your attention drifting. You will be able to catch it before you get caught up in thought.
- Because your focus becomes stronger, you experience greater clarity. With the flow of thoughts diminished, you will notice greater acuity in your ability to perceive things.
- Rather than depending on thought to make sense of your environment, you will have an intuitive knowledge of what needs to be done.
- Having an active mind and racing thoughts consumes a great deal of energy. Having a calm mind frees up energy for greater endurance and productivity.
All of these points are characteristics when athletes get into the zone. They are also the characteristics of us when we are at our best:
- We experience heightened awareness.
- We have a laser-like focus.
- We intuitively know what needs to be done and how to do it. We have a minimal need for thinking.
- We feel energized and demonstrate greater resilience.
We experience heightened awareness through meditation because we have created distance between ourselves and our thoughts. Instead of defining ourselves by the thoughts that we experience, we become the observer of thought.
Our attention becomes more focused because our thoughts lose their potency. They no longer can consume our attention. The reason for this is because the personalization of our thoughts is diminished. Try this, imagine in your mind a sunset. Make this image as vivid as you can. When you visualized the sunset, you did not confuse yourself for it. You realized that you were just imagining a sunset, a form of thought. Unlike the sunset, there are many other kinds of thoughts that we do personalize. Whenever we form judgments about anything in life, we are identifying with our thoughts. This is especially true with ourselves. How we see ourselves is defined by our judgments.
Additionally, our thoughts are unstable. One day you can feel like you're on the top of the world, and the next day you may feel like your life is headed for disaster. Through meditation, you begin to view your thoughts more objectively. This is made possible because your thoughts lose their potency, and there is space between you and them. Your focus will become like the sun that is no longer blocked by the clouds.
Have you ever noticed that some of your best ideas and greatest insights occur when you are not thinking? For me, it’s the shower. My mind becomes flooded with insights when I take a shower. In the same way, meditation clears your mind, allowing you greater access to your intuition. When we spend our time thinking about a problem, we are cutting off our access to our intuition.
Greater energy and resilience
As with everything else in the universe, the essential nature of our minds and bodies is energy. As mentioned before, the greatest consumption of energy comes from us overthinking. As meditation calms the mind, that energy can be redirected toward productivity. Besides being more productive, our resilience becomes stronger as more energy can go to maintaining the body. I rarely get sick. When I do, I get just a mild case and quickly recover. My mind and body perform better today than at any time in the past when I did not meditate.
In summary, nothing in this blog should be surprising. It is well accepted by the scientific community that the mind and body are one. The impact that they have on each other cannot be denied. As a society, we have become more conscious of how to take better care of our bodies. Where we are lagging is taking care of our minds. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. By using meditation as a tool for personal improvement, anyone can achieve greater heights in their quest for a more fulfilling life.