“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” — Bruce Lee
Life is busy. Particularly when working and studying for a professional qualification. Add communication channels such as social media and 24 hour news into the mix and our mental space quickly fills to capacity. When our minds become cluttered with information, it causes us to lose focus, diminishing our clarity of thought and creating stress and anxiety.
In order to derive maximum benefit from your studies, it is important to cultivate two separate, but complimentary skills; the ability to quieten your mind – to just ‘be’ – and the ability to focus.
In the 1970’s, Nobel-winning economist Herbert Simon predicted that the proliferation of information would become a distraction. He warned that what information consumes is “the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
Leadership guru Daniel Goleman argues that we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to contend with, let alone thrive in, a complex world. In his book ‘Focus’, he encourages us to think of attention as a mental muscle that can be developed by giving it a regular workout.
Goleman believes that we learn best with focused attention. By focusing on what we are learning, our brains map new information to what we already know, making new neural connections. When our minds wander, our brains activate a host of circuits that chatter about things, meaning that we fail to store a clear memory of what we are learning.
While focus is a skill which takes time to develop, learning how to calm and clear our minds is easier to achieve.
As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’ and the obvious place to start is by avoiding the formation of clutter in the first instance. This is as easy as being discerning about what you watch and read – what information you allow to take up your mental space. Incorporating these practices into your life will also help:
Meditate - There are many different styles of meditation, so experiment to find a method that works for you. One meditative practice is to focus on something such as breathing. Every time your attention wanders, bring it back to focus on your breathing again. As you become more practised you will find your attention wanders less frequently.
Watch what you eat and drink - Diets that are high in sugar and caffeine content can affect your thought processes. Too much alcohol can magnify any issues you are thinking about, so try to avoid excessive alcohol consumption if you have an overactive mind.
Exercise – A healthy body is a healthy mind, so if you are able to, find ways to integrate exercise into your daily routine.
Escape time - On your days off, learn how to escape time. Try to avoid checking your mobile and don’t watch TV. Set a different rhythm and try not to place any time constraints on activities.
Have fun – What were the things you enjoyed doing when you were a child? Whether drawing or paddling on the beach, start doing things that you truly enjoy and can lose yourself in.
Release the need to control - Many people with overactive minds feel an overwhelming need to control everything in their lives. When we do this, we are creating more things to be concerned about which in turn will feed the overactive mind.
Once you have freed your mind of cutter, you can work on developing your focus.
Focus, The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman is published by Bloomsbury Publishing PlcOther resources include https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/