Can we help ourselves focus?

Can we help ourselves focus?

“I need to sit down and focus on writing this blog”, I told myself just a few moments ago as I opened up this blank document. But then a text message pinged on my phone so I checked that to make sure it wasn’t important (it wasn’t by the way!) and as I looked back to my screen a notification popped up in the corner to tell me someone had posted a cute video of a puppy on facebook – tempting!

“Focus, focus”, I told myself, you have to focus on writing this blog!

I didn’t have this problem writing my last blog! Which got me thinking – what was it that meant I could focus last time but not this time? Was there a magic formula I could follow that would ensure I could focus whenever I needed to?

From a brain science point of view I know our minds can only focus on one task at a time. The myth of multi-tasking is just that – a myth. We might be able to carry out more than one activity at a time – say, driving and talking to a passenger – but we can’t focus on more than one task at a time which is why we tell them to button it when we come to navigating a complicated one-way system.

When we focus on a task the connections between the neurons required for that task fire up to enable us to do it. When something distracts us – that text message for example – the neurons being used for your current task shut down in order to fire up the connections needed to look at the text message. Once we’ve finished reading the text message the neurons needed for that shut down so you can fire up the neurons you were using for your previous task again. All of this happens in the fraction of a second of course, so we aren’t consciously aware of this. However, it slows us down considerably and uses a lot of our brains limited energy resources. The way we live our day to day lives now, in open plan offices with constant social media and email notifications, means that in an average working day we can loose up to 1/3rd of our time to distractions. We really can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

We can’t change how our brains work and we can’t change whether we work in an open plan office or not, or how many phone calls we get in a day, but we can take action to work with our brain to make sure we get the best from it.

So I looked around my working environment with this knowledge in mind – if I needed to focus on writing this blog what distractions did I need to remove from my environment?

Easy things first – turn off the mobile, turn off notifications on the computer to stop all those annoying pings. I closed every other programme I wasn’t using so there was just one thing on my computer for me to look at – this one page. That meant there was no temptation to go off and do something on another project. In order to do that I would have to put great effort into opening up a new programme. I know that our brains like the least line of resistance so if I made writing my blog the easiest option then I would be more likely to maintain my focus on it.

So step one in my focusing formula was to create an environment where the easiest thing to do was the task in front of me. I had taken everything else out of my environment that could act as a distraction.

Then I started thinking about whether there was anything I could add to my environment that would enhance my ability to focus?

In the corner of my therapy room I have an aromatherapy diffuser to help create a calm and relaxing environment for my clients. Next to it are a row of bottles with mixes of essential oils – relax, joyful, distress and focus. Great – lets put focus on and see if that helps! It smelt lovely, and apparently would help to clarify my head and refocus my mind.

There is also one website I do allow myself to have open in the background no matter what I am doing – this one doesn’t act as a distraction, instead it helps to enhance my focus. This website lets me listen to sounds of rain, thunderstorms, babbling brooks and even purring cats! The sounds have been specifically developed to cut out distractions and help you focus with some studies showing a 12-15% increase in focus and up to a 400% increase in focus time. And I know I always focus better when I have it on.

So step 2 in my focusing formula was to add things to my environment designed to help me focus.

And finally, step 3. We’re often told that “it’s all in the preparation” so was there anything I could do in the lead up to my task that would help me to stay more focused? I know that left to it’s own devices, without any direction our brains will wonder off in all kinds of directions. So setting a clear goal that is achievable, and with a time limit attached to it focuses our brain on the task at hand. I also know that the brain has more ability to focus first thing in the morning, before it’s energy has been used up on all the day to day decisions we have to make.

So step 3 in my focusing formula was to make a mental plan of my next blog the night before writing it so my brain knew exactly what I wanted to achieve. And I also knew I needed to schedule the task in as my first of the day so I would have all the resources my brain needed to focus on the task at hand.

Great – now I have my focus formula!

Focus = remove distractions + focus enhancers + correct planning

I’ll let you know how that goes but in the mean time I would love to hear what helps you to focus to see if we can enhance this formula further!

Caroline is a Clinical Hypnotherapist practising from her therapy room in Thrapston, Northamptonshire. She works with people to help them reduce stress and anxiety so they can reach their full potential in their work and home life.

To find out more about working on a 1-2-1 basis with Caroline go to

To find out more about how your brain works sign up for Caroline’s free online training at

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