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How Flossing and Fiction Can Rescue your Focus

Two tried-and-tested methods for training your brain to focus – and you need nothing but equipment you probably have lying around at home.
by Caitlin Schiller | Oct 26 2014

For the past decade or so we’ve been training ourselves out of focus. How? Probably with the very device you’re using to read this right now.

Our smartphones fire off push notifications that drag us out of the moment, and we’ve developed a real reliance on them to store many of the things we used to work hard to remember, like phone numbers, birthdays, appointments, or routes home. South Korean scientists refer to the resulting flabby brain phenomenon as digital dementia, a condition that hits the right side of the brain – home to concentration, memory span, and attention – hard. This is bad news for your mind as a whole, and terrible news for your ability to get things done at work.

Happily, you don’t have to resign yourself to early memory loss and inability to deliver on your projects. According to David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work, you can train your brain to zero back in. “It’s just like getting fit,” Rock explains. “You have to build the muscle to be focused.”

Following are two tried-and-tested methods for training your brain to focus – and you need nothing but equipment you probably have lying around at home.

Build a focus habit with dental floss. The things we find it hardest to focus on tend to be boring or rote tasks. Flossing is a perfect example – nearly nobody likes to do it, but dentists take pearly-toothed joy in chiding their patients for skipping it. Delighting your dentist might not be reason enough for you to start flossing regularly, but improving your mind should be. Doing one tiny, time-consuming task diligently and regularly is proven to drive focus in other areas of your life, too. Rock notes that practicing discipline in small ways – like flossing every day, or even doing the dishes – can have a surprisingly great effect.
Get lost in a good book (or a movie). Focusing on work triggers the exact same brain response as focusing on entertainment. Susan Perry, social psychologist and writer for the Creating in Flow blog on Psychology Today explains that whether we’re lost in work or lost in a good book or a movie, we get into the same flow state – there’s no objective difference between one kind of absorption and another.

Flow only occurs when you’re slightly challenged and actively participating, so TV won’t work (ads break your focus). Zoning in on a good novel or a movie, or even an intense game, are ways to use your natural tendency toward escapism to teach your brain how it feels to achieve and maintain sustained focus. Turn off your phone, close your laptop, and grab a book or a movie. You can use actually use entertainment as a training program to teach your brain to ignore distractions.

Want to learn more about your brain and its eccentricities? David Rock’s Your Brain at Work is a good place to start. You can also read the summary over on Blinkist.

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