When you are under stress, do you feel sometimes like you just can’t focus? You may have deadlines, or a to-do list that is a mile long, but your mind doesn’t seem to want to get in gear. I think there is a good chance, though, that we can’t focus on what we want to get done, because we are so focused on what is making us feel stressed.
Especially when we are angry or frustrated the situation that upset us seems to get stuck, playing over and over in our minds, and we can’t let go. The good news should be that it shows us we have not lost the ability to focus, we just need to redirect it, and call it up at will.
In last week’s article in Spiritual Growth Monthly, Kevin Schoeninger cited focus as the second of the “3 steps of conscious wealth creation,” from the book Conscious Millionaire by JV Crum III. Being conscious means making decisions, and in this case decisions about what we really want for our lives. Focus is what keeps us on track.
But as Kevin put it so well, “our ability to focus is just undertrained. It’s atrophied.” Our fast paced world no longer seems to value focus…or at least that’s what maybe our bosses or co-workers would have us believe. Now we idolize multi-tasking. We list it as a job skill, and wear the stress it brings like a badge of honor.
Yet who actually gets ahead in this world? People who single-mindedly know what they want, and go after it with all the focus and dedication they can muster.
So, what does this have to do with stress? Well for one thing, whole heartedly going after a goal you really want, whether it is a career move, weight loss, or to spend more time with your family, lets you drop everything that doesn’t matter to you anymore. No more trying to do everything. Taking care of what you really care about, and ignoring a lot of the rest.
You can make less stress a real priority.
If we want less stress in our lives, we need to make that an actual priority. We need to turn a sense of calm into a genuine goal, and take actions to make it happen.
As Kevin reminds us, meditation can be doubly effective here. It helps us develop focus, and if we are treating calm as a goal, then we can view the meditation itself as an action step. We see the time spent in a more positive light, and since focus is a skill that needs practice, it will encourage us to keep it up.
When we make conscious decisions about what we want…in this case, less stress…we sometimes need help maintaining our commitment to our goal. Developing better focus will help us here. When we feel under siege, or are caught in an instant-stress-replay loop, bringing our goal of peace back into focus can help us turn our attention away from whatever is driving us crazy.
Practice noticing when your focus fades.
I started thinking about focus this week when I was driving for some work errands, and suddenly realized I was a mile or so in the wrong direction. I was taking a familiar route, so it felt comfortable, until I realized I was on auto pilot and had missed my turn.
My errands were easily rerouted, but it made me think about all the times something feels familiar, so we just go with it. Even if it is taking us a long way from our real goals or dreams.
Unfortunately, I believe that if stress begins to feel too familiar, we can become not exactly comfortable, but a bit immune to the effects of the stress we’re feeling. Focus can snap us out of that. Focus can remind us of who is in charge, and wake us up to having more control over our thinking.
Focus is a skill with benefits.
The better we get at learning to focus, the more powerful we actually become. Calm determination, singular vision, or the ability to remain unruffled are all characteristics of people you don’t mess with. It’s as if your whole presence sends a signal, “doesn’t suffer fools.” Pretty soon you may find fewer people inclined to throw more stress you way.
When the going is really tough, focus lets you pull your attention away from the disruptions, and maybe even see a solution more quickly. More solutions, less stress. Or you can just retreat to a quiet place for a moment, and come back refreshed.
The more we practice being focused, the better able we will be to handle all kinds of different stresses in our lives, every single day.
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