February 3, 2023

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How to Quiet Your Mind for Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey

On this episode of The Lifehack Show, we invited Chris Bailey to be our guest to share his thoughts on staying focused in a world full of distractions.

Chris Bailey is a productivity expert and the best-selling author of The Productivity Project, which has been translated into eleven languages; and Hyperfocus: How to be more productive in a world of distraction. Chris blogs about productivity and talks to companies around the world about how to be more productive without hating the process. He also recently published a new book How to Calm Your Mind: Finding Presence and Productivity in Anxious Times.

Watch the full interview here:

Here I will share some of the insights that Chris shared with us during the interview.

The human brain is wired to deal with distractions

We draw our attention to anything new and novel because our brain rewards us with a shot of this neurotransmitter – dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t give us pleasure, but it does make us feel pleasure is coming. So when we use our phones, we feel more anticipation than pleasure, and we never really reach a state of contentment. But it’s this constant anticipation that keeps the cycle of distraction going.

We’re so vulnerable to distractions because we’re so bad at measuring our own productivity. When we’re constantly distracted, our brains can’t distinguish between real progress and idle busyness. When our mind is stimulated, we believe we are making progress because the gears are turning in our mind. We see it as a proxy for our productivity.

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Even when we try to focus, many things get in our way that we didn’t expect and that we don’t understand in many ways, including our own minds. So our brain has all these biological biases that we need to actively fight. Furthermore, given the addictive nature of our phone, simply saying no to distraction or installing a distraction blocker on the computer to be more focused is not enough.

Therefore we must control our attention. Our attention is a resource that we must manage if we want to be productive and act more consciously.

How to increase your focus by quieting your mind

A highly stimulated brain makes you vulnerable to stress and anxiety, which can affect your ability to stay focused.

Researchers used to think that anxiety progressed from mild to severe, but the latest research shows that anxiety is not simply a spectrum of anxiety. It actually ranges from high anxiety to high calm and is determined by how active our mind is and whether we are feeling content and comfortable in the present moment.

The calmer we become, the more productive we become because we are able to consciously frame the things we do throughout the day. – Chris Bailey

Here are some strategies you can try to calm your mind:

1. Respect the speed of your mind

People often rail against slow work, but in knowledge work, for example, we must respect the speed of our minds and work at the speed of our minds.

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We cannot force our mind to go faster. It works at the speed it’s designed for. We must consider the part of our work that is mental and that requires intense thought and intentionality.

Speed ​​isn’t the enemy of productivity, it supports us in ways we don’t really expect. – Chris Bailey

2. Connect with your future self

One of the reasons we hesitate is that we are not connected to our future selves.

If you put the average person in an MRI brain scan machine and asked them to imagine themselves in the future and then imagine a celebrity, the two brain scans would be almost identical because they see their future selves as a stranger with whom they have no connection . As a result, procrastination is almost like leaving it to a stranger.

The truth is, the more opportunities we have to connect with our future selves, the better. Keeping journals and writing articles for your future self, as well as planning your day and setting intentions are good practices.

Personally, at the beginning of each day, I fast-forward in my head to the end of the day. I ask myself what three things I would like to have accomplished by the end of the day and very consciously free-phrase it, as if I were stepping through the day looking back at the beginning of the day. Set intentions to look back on a day I wish I had. – Chris Bailey

So try to imagine where you will be at the end of the year, the end of the week and the end of the day.

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3. Remember, you often make the most progress when you look least busy

Chris illustrated this point with an example:

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company took one of these nature walks to get away from the office and clear his mind of all the meetings, emails, and problems. During this walk his mind wandered and he had an idea that changed the course of his company. It allowed him to grow and make the biggest difference of his career, adding tens of billions of dollars in value to his company. A walk in nature can be more effective in terms of progress than answering a decade’s worth of emails.

Another example is when we read a non-fiction book and think about how it relates to what we do and the problems we face. An idea that falls into our mental pond can make waves, cascade and connect with other ideas. At some point we have to close the book and get out our notepad because we’re drowning in ideas.

There is no productivity. There are only proofs of achievement. – Chris Bailey

When we look at the work of others, all we have to do is rely on their productivity signals. It’s difficult to judge a person’s true progress since you’re not in control of everything that’s on their plate. As a result, we tend to interpret signals that other people are busy as proxies for their productivity, and we do the same for ourselves. However, true productivity is slow and intentional.

4. Embrace boredom

The feeling we have when going from a high stimulation state to a low stimulation state is called boredom. What most people don’t realize is that boredom is a great way to shift our mind to a lower level of stimulation where we can focus more deeply and ideas and plans emerge. This happens because our minds have more freedom to wander.

The lower level of stimulation also leads to greater calm, allowing us to be more conscious in everything we do with less stimulation. In fact, for 31 days, Chris tried to face boredom for an hour a day.

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During the “boredom experiment,” Chris read the iTunes Terms of Service, painted a canvas with just one color, and sat for an hour watching a clock tick. He tried a variety of boredom-inducing activities and found that he did not mind the boredom-inducing activities at the end of the experiment. He realized that boredom was when we started trying to make something new out of every situation we found ourselves in.

5. Meditate

Meditation is an art of focusing on the breath – the breath, the inflow and outflow of currents; and the breath is extremely dull.

However, (if) you can engage with your breath, you can engage with pretty much anything. – Chris Bailey

Meditation helps with focus because it gets us to look for less stimulating new things in the moment. If you focus on your breath, your mind will constantly wander during meditation. But if you can bring your focus back to your breath, you can also bring your focus to other things. This is like an exercise to sharpen our attention.

Chris recommended meditating in the morning to start the day on a positive note without immediately overstimulating our mind, leading to more distractions, less focus, fewer ideas, and fewer plans for the rest of the day.

Final Thoughts

When we are stressed or anxious, our mind is often preoccupied with worry or racing thoughts, making it difficult to focus. We can quiet our mind and better focus our attention on the present moment by cultivating stillness. This can help us to be more productive and focused in our daily activities, and to feel more present and engaged.

If you want to learn more about how to calm your mind to increase your focus, check out Chris’ latest book How to Calm Your Mind on Amazon.

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How to Quiet Your Mind: Finding Presence and Productivity in Anxious Times