Focus.

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.

Focus.

Postby adamposey » Sun Oct 11, 2009 3:50 pm

As a student of the digital world I'd like to ask you all for your advice on a matter that I feel hinders me in my intellectual and personal growth, and that is: focus. It's no secret that today's average technophile (such as myself) is bombarded by hundreds of notifications a day, the constant stress of being "available" at all times, and generally being pressured (or perhaps stressed) to accomplish tasks quickly this includes reading. Much of this behavior has become habitual to me after years and years of participation in chat rooms, web forums, etc.,

So, I'm asking your advice in curbing this behavior. I would like to be able to read a book calmly and peacefully without worrying so much about every notification I might receive, and I would like to increase my ability to focus on a single item that may be important but not as immediately rewarding to the pleasure centers of my brain (such as a sutta verse, etc.,). I want to create an environment wherein I can foster deep thought, responsible action, and intensive study of subjects that I find important.

Have any of you had to break yourself of similar habits, overcome procrastination, and generally break some very heavily engrained habits in order to foster growth? Either yes or no, I would love to hear your ideas and advice.
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Re: Focus.

Postby Jechbi » Sun Oct 11, 2009 4:13 pm

You live in rural West Virginia. Take advantage of that. Go for a walk in the woods, and leave your cell phone (and your books) behind.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: Focus.

Postby adamposey » Sun Oct 11, 2009 4:24 pm

That's an excellent suggestion and I'll make every attempt to put it to good use. What about in other matters where my goal is to actually focus on the book, or what I'm studying, or to stay with a single thought and contemplate it? Any advice on that front?
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Re: Focus.

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 11, 2009 4:44 pm

adamposey wrote:So, I'm asking your advice in curbing this behavior. I would like to be able to read a book calmly and peacefully without worrying so much about every notification I might receive, and I would like to increase my ability to focus on a single item that may be important but not as immediately rewarding to the pleasure centers of my brain (such as a sutta verse, etc.,).


By notifications, I assume you mean e-mail, chat, and forums? In this day and age, it would be unrealistic to expect to be able to eliminate online time completely, so one way to focus on studies and other responsibilities more could be to limit your online time or the online sites you visit. I find that it helps to just choose a few sites to visit each day and that is it, not to surf any others unless I really have the need to or interest.

I pretty much limit myself to just a few Buddhist websites and forums and then only go to other sites if I need to for my business or other matters.
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Re: Focus.

Postby Jechbi » Sun Oct 11, 2009 4:56 pm

adamposey wrote:That's an excellent suggestion and I'll make every attempt to put it to good use. What about in other matters where my goal is to actually focus on the book, or what I'm studying, or to stay with a single thought and contemplate it? Any advice on that front?

I think it's a matter of practice. Until now maybe you've trained yourself to respond to every little beep and whistle, and to direct your attention to those things at the expense of the task at hand. That's a hard habit to break, so maybe just take it one step at a time?

Maybe you could go off-grid for a whole day and see what it feels like to just let all those various notifications go unanswered, no matter how important they might seem to be. I'm guessing that it's that feeling of obligation to others which feeds your desire to respond. If so, then examine that feeling for a day. Seriously, walk in the woods and notice how all the birds chirp and the leaves rustle, and they don't demand any kind of response. It can be the same in your living room. Just because the phone rings doesn't mean you have to answer it. Just my 2 cents. This might not apply to your situation.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: Focus.

Postby adamposey » Sun Oct 11, 2009 5:02 pm

Jechbi wrote:
adamposey wrote:That's an excellent suggestion and I'll make every attempt to put it to good use. What about in other matters where my goal is to actually focus on the book, or what I'm studying, or to stay with a single thought and contemplate it? Any advice on that front?

I think it's a matter of practice. Until now maybe you've trained yourself to respond to every little beep and whistle, and to direct your attention to those things at the expense of the task at hand. That's a hard habit to break, so maybe just take it one step at a time?

Maybe you could go off-grid for a whole day and see what it feels like to just let all those various notifications go unanswered, no matter how important they might seem to be. I'm guessing that it's that feeling of obligation to others which feeds your desire to respond. If so, then examine that feeling for a day. Seriously, walk in the woods and notice how all the birds chirp and the leaves rustle, and they don't demand any kind of response. It can be the same in your living room. Just because the phone rings doesn't mean you have to answer it. Just my 2 cents. This might not apply to your situation.


Your post has inspired me to think more deeply about my motivations for doing the things I do. Most of my notifications are news items or personal correspondence. Perhaps more than feeling a desire to respond I should say that I feel a desire to jump from thing to thing in order to stay on top of everything. By knowing what goes on in and around my world I relieve my anxiety and perhaps even grow in some ways, but the habits I have formed in order to stay informed have cost me in my ability to focus on a single subject for a long period of time, or to accomplish tasks without distraction.

Perhaps I should go off the grid for a while and spend a day focusing, meditating, and calming my mind in order to rethink how to appropriately approach an age of constant notification.
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Re: Focus.

Postby Ben » Sun Oct 11, 2009 8:48 pm

Hi Adam
Don't expect a radical transformation overnight. Its going to take consistent effort and application.
I would also recommend that you timetable certain activities for discrete periods of the day - perhaps use them as a reward at the end of the day. Breaking free from any addiction is going to be hard and unpleasent work but well worth it in the end. With regards to your other activities that you wish to focus on, whether it be reading a book, you will need to apply yourself at remaining centred on that activity. When you learn a form of samatha meditation, it will require you to keep your mind focused on a single object for longer and longer periods. In the same way, try to remain fixed on your book or other activity, calmly and quietly attentive, for as long as possible. And if you have to, turn your distracting devices off.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: Focus.

Postby adamposey » Mon Oct 12, 2009 12:16 am

Ben wrote:Hi Adam
Don't expect a radical transformation overnight. Its going to take consistent effort and application.
I would also recommend that you timetable certain activities for discrete periods of the day - perhaps use them as a reward at the end of the day. Breaking free from any addiction is going to be hard and unpleasent work but well worth it in the end. With regards to your other activities that you wish to focus on, whether it be reading a book, you will need to apply yourself at remaining centred on that activity. When you learn a form of samatha meditation, it will require you to keep your mind focused on a single object for longer and longer periods. In the same way, try to remain fixed on your book or other activity, calmly and quietly attentive, for as long as possible. And if you have to, turn your distracting devices off.
kind regards

Ben


I suppose you're about the "overnight" part. My expectations are not for "overnight" success, but rather I feel like the longer it takes the more trouble I'm going to have as I'm a student with two jobs etc. I suppose one could say I feel like I need to make a quick adjustment so I don't drop the balls. But that's the trap I've built for myself, no? I suppose it could take almost as long to undo it.
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Re: Focus.

Postby Ben » Mon Oct 12, 2009 1:29 am

Adam, for what its worth, many of us here know what it is like to have manifold responsibilities. At one time I also had two jobs and attending university as a post-grad student as well as a young baby at home! While many of us don't have two part-time jobs on the go with university, you'll come to know when you are older that the complexity of daily life as a householder with or without family belies description.

So, there's a bit of collective wisdom here that you can draw from. It will take some time, but I think the best things you could do for yourself is to simplify where you can and to actively develop some of those qualities that I and others have alluded to via samatha meditation. Because, at the end of the day, its going to be your mental attitude at 'stressful' times or in dealing with the daily grind of having multiple balls suspended mid-air that will be your anchor. And don't worry about how long it takes. For most of us, this path is a lifelong endeavour - if not an endeavour that will span many lives.
I wish you the very best!
metta

Ben
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Re: Focus.

Postby adamposey » Mon Oct 12, 2009 3:51 am

Yes, and thank you for your support. I think I'm going to begin to dedicate myself to practicing samatha as well as vipassana as a daily occurrence. Perhaps I will take up my samatha practice for a time before beginning my studies for the night.

I also think it would behove me to take breaks away from the constant draws on my attention and occasionally settle into someplace quiet where I cannot be reached.
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Re: Focus.

Postby nomad » Mon Oct 12, 2009 4:04 am

adamposey wrote:I also think it would behove me to take breaks away from the constant draws on my attention and occasionally settle into someplace quiet where I cannot be reached.


Well said. Depending on the task you’re trying to complete, you should find places where distractions are minimal. Fact: public libraries still exist! :mrgreen: I find that they’re great places to get schoolwork done when I just can’t concentrate at home (with dog, music, internet, tv, xbox, etc). The woods are always a nice place to escape, but not very practical if you're looking for a quiet place to write a research paper. Location location location!

BTW. It never hurts to tell your friends and contacts to leave you alone so you can finish your work.

~nomad

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Re: Focus.

Postby adamposey » Mon Oct 12, 2009 4:09 am

No, you're right the woods are not a good location for writing. But should I ever need to just absolve myself of distraction a lengthy stroll, or even a couple nights stay, in the woods may be quite good for me.

That said, one of my worst habits to break is going to be this idea that I can multi-task or research multiple things at once. I want to dedicate my full attention to one thing as much as I can, not to many things as often as I can. I recognize this is going to be a difficult transition for me.
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Re: Focus.

Postby zavk » Mon Oct 12, 2009 5:03 am

Hi Adam

Those suggestions about going for walks and finding the right environment are great. You could also try developing an exercise routine, if you don't already have one. Exercise really helps to maintain energy levels and focus.

One more suggestion: You might want to work out what times of the day feels most conducive for studying and contemplative. For some people, it is early in morning, for others it is around twilight. I don't know many people who work well in the afternoon. For me, I'm more contemplative early in the morning and around twilight when the sun begins to set. I use these times either for Buddhist meditation or general reading/studying. I feel less distracted during these times.... My afternoons are usually spent juggling the many tasks and responsibilities of work and home.

Or to put it in cliched terms, try to identify the 'flow' and go with it....
With metta,
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