When the corona hit the fan, the first big change I saw in myself was my sudden inability to focus. Upon my complaining about this, a friend asked if it was normal for me not to be able to concentrate. I was like “I have a Ph.D. and I write novels. I have made a living out of sitting for long periods of times doing onerous mental tasks.”
And yet, there I was, suddenly with more time than ever and limited distractions—and I had become the dog from Up.
TBH, I’m still not at my normal capacity, so take all of this with a grain of salt and PLEASE share anything helping you. But I’ve developed a few strategies to get my head back in the game. That said, part of why I was really struggling with the no concentration thing wasn’t because of a desire to be productive. I’m actually finding work the easiest thing I have to concentrate on, I think because work asks me to do exact tasks I can check off as “done” when I’m finished.
I find it hardest to concentrate when it’s time to relax, weirdly! That’s when anxiety kicks in and I want to scroll through endless, depressing statistics on news sites. I find myself continually reaching for my phone or opening up a new window, even as I try to watch a TV show or read a book.
So this is NOT an invective to be more productive (but go ahead and be productive as shit if that makes you feel better, as it kinda does for me). It’s more about how I get my brain focused away from things I can’t control, so I can actually relax and concentrate on something that’s gonna make me feel better, not worse.
1) Put temptation in another room. For me, this means having my phone plugged in upstairs. Or going upstairs to stream the show I want to watch on the TV I have in my office, rather than on my laptop. Because if my phone is anywhere near me, or the option of typing “are we all going to die” into Google is there, I will take it.
2) Talk myself down. I’m doing a lot of talking to myself right now, and I’m someone who normally talks to myself a ton. But I find it helpful to vocalize what I know. When I pick up a book and find myself staring across the room where I know phone is, wanting just a little news hit, I remind myself, “the news will be there. Just finish this chapter.” After a few such reminders, I usually do just that, and once I am focused, I’m fine. It’s like the getting into something that I find difficult, and talking to myself helps me get over that initial urge to check social media and the news one more time.
3) Lower my standards. Ironically, if not unsurprisingly, since I’m finding it hard to concentrate, but also want to feel better, I’m trying to meditate more…and failing miserably because I can’t concentrate. So I’ve dramatically lowered my standards, while still “requiring” myself to meditate. But I’m not aspiring to ten or twenty minutes…I check in with myself and somedays a 3 minute meditation is what I know I can do that day. If I’m really feeling focused, I’ll do 5. I do make myself do that little bit, though, because just knowing I’ve meditated makes me feel good, and obviously there’s tons of clinical studies that prove I’m not making that up.
So just remember to be kind to yourself! Talk to yourself like a friendly coach rather than a disparaging asshole. Give yourself a break by putting temptation out of sight, rather than relying on your already taxed willpower. And, finally, lower your standards so that you can still meet your standards, if that makes sense. If I’m freaking out and all I can do is five minutes of meditation, that’s still five minutes, which is better than nothing. In that context, when the other choice is zero minutes, five is success.
LMK your thoughts on this! Are you struggling to focus? Any tips to share with other readers?
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