Here's Why You Can't Stay Focused
Regaining focus isn't about willpower. It's about deconstructing the modern life habits that obstruct your enjoying it again.
“I just can’t seem to stay focused.” This is the most popular phrase from my coaching clients and readers. They have dreams, and they’re inspired to be better. But when it comes to working toward a goal, there’s always some distraction: family issues; health issues; kids -- the list goes on.
The usual approaches to focus haven’t worked for them. They’ve used schedules and calendars and reminders; you name it, and none of it has worked. Maybe that’s your story, too. Maybe your personal and professional dreams have been shelved because you simply lack focus. And maybe you’re on the verge of letting these dreams slip through the cracks.
Don’t. Your dreams are part of your identity. And when they fade away, you fade away. You just need to find your focus. Focus has physical, mental and emotional aspects. You’ll need to discover a more holistic approach that uncovers the root cause of focus issues, which is rarely (if ever) a lack of willpower. There are action steps you can take today to improve your powers of concentration and your ability to stay on task.
Even though it’s only 2 percent of your total body weight, your brain consumes 20 percent of your energy. That’s a massive demand. And if you’re short on energy, your greedy brain is going to be the first organ to notice. You’ll feel brain fog, listlessness, impatience and ennui, not the razor-sharp focus you need to slice through your to-do list.
There are a few reasons your body may not be producing enough energy.
You can eat all you want. But if your body isn’t absorbing the nutrients and minerals, you won’t have energy. Dehydration, low stomach acid, and imbalanced gut bacteria are a few culprits in weak digestions.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to boost your digestion and increase your focus:
- Hydrate more frequently. Stomach acid is 90 percent water. Shoot for half your weight in ounces of water, preferably in small sips throughout the day.
- Increase your stomach acidity with apple cider vinegar before meals. Take two tablespoons in four ounces of water to boost your stomach acid and aid the breakdown of your food.
- Take a probiotic. David Perlmutter, author of Brain Maker, says that probiotics are key players in nutrient absorption and brain activity. He recommends supplementing with varied strains of beneficial bacteria—all of which can be found in his patented probiotic line.
Water is essential in converting fat into energy, for lubricating your joints, and for shuttling waste out of your body. But it’s estimated that over 60 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Is it a wonder we Here are five steps you can take to stay hydrated:
- Drink warm water with lemon. Warm water expands and relaxes capillaries in your stomach and intestines, making it more readily absorbed. And the lemon provides electrolytes and minerals that support hydration.
- Eat more water-containing foods -- like apples, celery, yogurt, watermelon, cantaloupes, and leafy greens.
- Drink more milk. A 2011 study out of McMaster University found that milk was more effective at hydrating a body than water. The combination of fats, salts, and sugars bring more water into your cells.
- Eat more salt. Sodium is the electrolyte we lose most of during stress. And when you lose enough, it decreases your body’s ability to retain water. Shoot for minimally processed sea salt.
- Use an electrolyte tablet. We lose electrolytes through our sweat. Nuun, a popular electrolyte replacement among athletes, provides sodium, calcium, and magnesium in proportion to what you lose through exercise.
Known as coenzymes, B vitamins are essential for converting sugar, protein, and fat into energy. But they are one of the first nutrients to be depleted by physical or mental stress. They’re also one of our greatest nutritional deficits.
You can replace the full B vitamin spectrum with a single supplement. Or, you can replenish your B’s through food -- like eggs, spinach, and lean meats.
Once you’ve addressed your energy issues, the mental aspect of focus comes next. Whether you call it discipline, stick-to-it-iveness or perseverance, focus is a muscle that strengthens with use. Flex it often, and it won’t feel like work.
The first step to increase mental focus is to eliminate distractions. Some are insuperable -- like kids and family. But everything else can be controlled. And the more of them you control, the greater focus you’ll have.
Here are a few distractions to cut out or limit immediately:
- Social media
- Aimlessly surfing the web
- Compulsive email checking
- Dead-end relationships (romantic or otherwise)
If you’ve struggled with focusing, and you make habits of any of the above, you’ll be shocked at how much more focus you’ll have when you cut them out. You’ll also be amazed at how much time these distractions consume without your being aware.
But eliminating distraction is easier said than done. And you have to keep yourself accountable or find an accountability coach.
Such activities include:
- Regular exercise
- Taking notes on things that interest you
- Having fun often
- And sticking to schedules
If you find your focus first thing in the morning with meditation, or journaling, or scheduling, your next decision to stay focused will be much easier. It’s like Tim Ferriss’s strategy: “Win the morning, win the day.”
So schedule five focus-building activities in your day alongside all the things you know you need to accomplish. Make reminders on your smart phone and computer. Enlist the help of a friend to keep you accountable in reaching your goals, or hire an accountability coach. And when you find yourself bored, or puzzled about what to do, resort to your schedule and your focus-builders. If you look back at the end of a low-focus week and wonder, “What the hell did I do?” then put a microscope to your week and search for the distractions. They’re there.
The final aspect of focus is something rarely talked about in the business world: emotions. These gossamer little things are hard to define, hard to control. And because of the challenge they pose, most people simply ignore their emotional blocks. But everyone has them.
Take my coaching client, Kim, for instance. She was fighting to feel alive again in her career and relationships. But no matter how many distractions we eliminated, and despite the nutritional and mental progress we made, she couldn’t stay focused enough to make any progress.
One of her goals in our initial session was to “achieve clarity on what to do in her marriage.” For 10 years she had been unhappy and unfulfilled. And the longer she put off confronting the issue, the more paralyzed she became. That feeling of dread spread out and infected other areas of her life: like her career, and fitness goals. She was emotionally blocked from focusing.
So, after our second session, where she declared zero progress in the goals we established, I told her she needed to make a decision about her marriage if we were to continue coaching. I instructed her to call a relationship counselor as soon as we ended the session and to schedule an appointment.
No barrier is scarier.
That doesn’t sound hard. But because she had put off decision making about her relationship for 10 years, it was the scariest, most dreadful thing in the world. And when she blasted through her emotional barrier by making that phone call, she magically found her focus. The next week was the most productive week she’d ever had in her life.
So, if you want to be able to focus on the little steps that lead to success, you have to clear away any emotional debris that’s impeding you. The best way to do that is to acknowledge the problem -- like a relationship gone sour, or a fear that’s been holding you back -- and take action toward a resolution.
Sometimes our problems can seem so big and bad that we’re put off from making the first move. But it’s imperative that you do. And for some, like Kim, regaining your emotional focus can be as simple as a phone call.