If you feel easily distracted in your daily life, you’re not alone! But as a writer or artist, this can be particularly detrimental to your craft. Here, Ann Arbor, MI teacher Keith F. shares some of his suggestions for how to stay focused…
In our modern culture, we watch television and use the internet several hours a day. We are experiencing ‘passive stimulation.’ Screens with light and color keep our attention, resulting in a form of light hypnosis, with the images constantly changing. Without this form of stimulation we get bored and fidgety. We start looking for something to do, or some other form of stimulation. Passive stimulation blocks the creative process. (Time is also an issue, but that is another lesson.)
Increasing Your Span of Attention Promotes Creativity
You get this great idea. And then something distracts you and you forget about it. And then the process happens again. Deep down inside, you are a creative thinker, not that anyone will ever know. Your creativity will never be expressed. That aspect of yourself will never be developed, and you will go through life operating as half the person you could have been. Unless you develop your ability to stay focused.
To help with this, I recommend trying out some of the following exercises. These exercises are time-consuming. They require practice. Practice takes time. But the more time you put into it, the better you’ll get. Some exercises are forms of ‘active stimulation,’ while others are methods for dialing down the need for stimulation.
Physical exercise requires concentration — until you get used to it. Then you have to switch to a new form of exercising: running to bicycling to swimming. There is usually some pain involved and ignoring it can be part of the concentration process. Hatha Yoga is (usually) not painful, requires a fair amount of focus, and can be altered and expanded upon for years. Similarly, dance (ballet, jazz, modern) has a lot of potential as a long-term exercise format requiring focus.
Have you ever tried focusing when you’re tired? It doesn’t work well. Yet a huge portion of the American population chooses not to get enough sleep. Sleep is when you heal from the various abuses of the day. Two or three hours of sleep will not do that. Over the long-haul, you’re setting yourself up for disease and distress. In the short-term, you’re only functioning at 75% of your optimum. Forget about creativity, you’re just walking around semi-numb.
Meditation is about cutting off stimulation and allowing your mind to shut down for a while, taking a well-deserved rest after all the hoops you’ve had to jump through. There are different styles of meditation, all of which can teach you how to stay focused. Some focus on breathing, some focus silencing the mind, and some focus on dance movements.
Reading requires the ability to focus for an extended period of time. Unlike television, it is an active form of stimulation. With a book, you have to imagine what’s going on — excellent training for creativity. If it has been a while, 10 minutes of reading may be a stretch. Start off with a novel you enjoy and after a few weeks try a nonfiction book you find interesting. Keep at it. You’ll get better. I like to read on the bus, in the afternoon after I get home for half an hour, and I usually get in a couple of hours on Sunday.
Drawing, painting, and sculpting are all great exercises for creativity. It’s not the end result that counts, it’s the process. You may have to get past your ego on this one. Be patient with yourself. You’ll get better, or switch to a different art form.
Certainly writing in itself requires the ability to stay focused. Some writers trek off to isolated cabins to minimize distractions. That’s not necessary, but it helps. If you’re struggling, I recommend doing the journal/diary experience. You’ll certainly be focused and you’ll get to learn a lot about yourself and others.
Awe-inspiring experiences quiet the mind, and allow it to perceive the world from a different perspective. I strongly recommend finding an awe-inspiring experience once a day: sunsets, art, kittens, or whatever else inspires you!
Sometimes in our modern culture, we need a little help with motivation and learning how to stay focused. Beyond the ideas above, a regularly scheduled meeting with a tutor or mentor who has lots of experience with creative writing can be a remarkably useful solution. Not only will the tutor play the role of adviser, but he or she can provide a sense of commitment that might be otherwise lacking. They will also provide ‘active stimulation.’ (Ready to find a tutor near you? Search here!)
Keith S. teaches accent reduction and writing in Ann Arbor, MI. He has written three books and a large number of articles on a variety of topics. Learn more about Keith here!
Photo by Walt Stoneburner