Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Our Ability to Focus is the Subject of a Battle in Our Brains

What is it with focus? The subject of thousands of books, essays and articles, the power of focus would appear to be undoubted – if more than a little mysterious in it’s workings.

From a time management perspective, it is recognised as one of the main tools of productivity. The greater your ability to access and the apply the tool of focus, the more you will achieve at an improved quality.

Interestingly, it is also fairly hotly debated as to whether the pure ability to focus rather than to have the split attention ability of multi-tasking is better. On this point I have always thought that multi-tasking skills just reflect the serial ability to focus on a variety of subjects.

The commonly agreed fact though, is that it is as though we are preprogrammed to lose focus. To be distracted by other events or thoughts: to worry about all of the things we’re not doing when we should be focusing on the task at hand.I have written a number of posts on focus, and its benefits (and challenges) in various forms. In Thrashing and Power of Focus, I started to think for the first time about how the conscious and other-than-conscious ‘tussle’ over the act of focus. I use the word tussle because, as I explore in the ‘Thrashing’ post, it feels like we are continually battling with ourselves to apply the tool of focus on a consistent, persistent basis.

More recently, with the start of a more basic understanding of neuroscience and the operation of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, I have revisited some elements of my thinking.  My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor again provides a source for this perspective, and maybe offers a view on why focus gives you quality and creativity in your productivity:

‘To the right mind, no time exists other than the present moment…..to our right mind, the moment of now is timeless and abundant’: so I wonder whether when we’re truly focused (and I think most people have experienced that awakening from the absorption in a task), we’re predominantly using our right mind.

The tussle may then take place because of the fact that ‘in contrast, our left hemisphere is completely different in the way it processes information. It takes each of those rich and complex moments created by the right hemisphere and strings them together in timely succession. It then sequentially compares the details making up this moment with the details making up the last moment. By organising details in a linear and methodical configuration, our left brain manifests the concept of time whereby our moments are divided into the past, present and future’

There are obviously a massive number of other important roles of both hemispheres, but for me these two contrasting aspects, skills or features could help us understand why focus is so hard. As Taylor continues, ‘Via our left hemisphere language centers, our mind speaks to us constantly’

So we have one half of our brain that is trying to exist in the present moment and focus, while the other is trying to structure, assess and analyse against a time scale and against other tasks…….

……and so our brain tussles…..?

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