9 Ways to Improve Your Focus in an Attention Defecit World

distracted for sureWe Are the Distracted.

Citizens of an Attention Deficit Culture.

A generation trying to do too many things at once, paying too much attention to shit that doesn’t matter, and never fully focusing on the things that are most important to us and best serve our journey.

But even in this complicated and frenzied modern-day world, by doing just a few simple things, you can flip the commotion, confusion and interferences on their ears, and focus like a fucking champ.

I actually have clinically diagnosed A.D.D. … I was one of those kids teachers would have to pry down from the ceiling fan just to get me to stay in my seat.

The remarks on my report cards were always the same: “Chris is a nice boy and has a lot of potential. But it’s like mentally he’s not even in the classroom. He seems to be constantly daydreaming—off in La-La Land”

I happen to like La-La Land… it’s where the fun stuff happens, and there was definitely nothing fun goin’ on in the classroom…

Unless it was the almighty “show and tell day” and some kid brought in a tarantula or boa constrictor or something cool that bites and scares girls. Otherwise, I couldn’t pay attention or process a thing.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.33.02 PMUnfortunately, my best buddy Chris Payne and I were the only ones who brought in the snakes, spiders, and miscellaneous creepy crawlers. No one else had the goods.

The rest of the kids would bring in photos of their newborn baby brother, a box of rocks called their “rock collection,” or talk about what they did at their grandparents over the weekend. (I never thought stories about going to Grandma’s should’ve even made the cut for ‘show and tell day’—that one always irked me a little.)

I’ve been prescribed medication for A.D.D, but Teva, Shire, and Barr, the manufacturers of Adderall, simply don’t produce enough of the stuff to keep up with my demand for it.

Having an addictive personality, I’ll go through a month’s supply of the stuff in just a few days, and end up having to explain to some unsympathetic doctor “I know it’s been a week, but I need more.”

So Adderall’s no longer part of my regimen; I’ll explain what works for me today in just a minute…

The thing is, today, EVERYONE has A.D.D… and for good reason too.

This Is the Age of Distraction.

With digital uber-connectivity, information overload, everything going on at hyper-speed, and life coming at us from 23 directions at once—our brains are stuck in overdrive.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.43.50 PM… Advertisers, media outlets, bloggers (like me), telemarketers, multilevel marketers, spammers, Facebook friends, the people in our lives and people we don’t even know…

… are all fighting for our most scarce resource, our attention.

The good, the bad and the ugly… all like tiny leeches trying to suck out whatever time they can get from us.

I’m not saying everyone and everything trying to get our attention is negative—the problem is in the sheer quantity of it all.

Did you know the average person sees between 2,000 and 5,000 marketing messages a day?

That’s a lot of fucking marketing messages.

Distractions lurk behind every corner of our day…

… Facebook, Twitter, email, Skype, text, voice mails, phone calls, doctors, lawyers, bookkeepers, accountants, forms, paperwork, faxes and taxes; banking, appointments, errands, responsibilities, paying the bills and tying to fulfill our obligations to our friends, family, coworkers and partners.

We have 78 hours of shit to do and just 24 hours to do it.

How the hell is anyone supposed to pay attention to anything?

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.15.54 PMBut if you wanna do great things, instead of just marching with the masses to the beat of reality television… your ability to focus is crucial.

Half-assessed focus gets half-assessed results—at best.

Whether it’s learning something new, creating a business plan, writing a blog post, doing a job well-done, giving someone our undivided attention or spending time with our children, we need to ramp up our ability to pay attention.

We need to be able to focus.

“Always valuable, your attention has now also become one of your most insecure assets and most-sought-after possessions.”

Edward M. Hallowell

Here are 9 things you can do to improve your ability to focus…

… Starting with…

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.24.28 PM1. Practice some form of stillness

The average person has 70,000 thoughts a day.

Seventy fucking thousand.

And most of these thoughts don’t serve our journey one bit; each thought is a beggar asking for a penny’s worth of our attention—and many of em’ are straight-up swindlers trying pull us in and take us for everything we’ve got.

One thought leading to another, leading to another, and to another; thousands of times a day, with hardly any breaks to focus from that place where real attention happens—from the place of awareness, where we really live…. where “flow” comes from.

Fortunately there are ways to train our mind to chill out a little so we can focus better, allowing us to step back from the parade of incessant thoughts and see them for what they are—a parade of incessant fucking thoughts.

Thoughts that try to pull us this way, that way, and any place and time other than here and now.

This is where meditation can help, and there are lots of ways to do it.

Think about what meditation is… it’s “focus training.” You actually train yourself to focus better.

Just like the fighter trains for a fight, the person who meditates trains for a relaxed and focused day—the ability to live in the now. I realize training to focus on the now sounds paradoxical, but most of the best things in life are.

Even just 20 or 30 minutes of sitting still and focusing on your breathing dramatically improves your ability to focus.

Some people like to repeat a chant or a mantra.

I have a few friends who’ve had great luck with TM ( Transcendental Mediation )

One of them is the artist Chris Collins. Chris got into TM after reading about how much Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld, Howard Stern and Russell Simmons had all benefited from it. The change in Chris has been profound.

Watching Chris’s evolution is one of the things that inspired me to really get into meditation. That, and my Uncle Chris (yep, another Chris) who has meditated everyday—often for hours at a time—for over 40 years, and is probably the least stressed-out and happiest person I know.

What I usually do is just focus on my breathing for 20 minutes and it’s almost beyond explanation how much it’s helped me.

Some people do active meditation while they’re jogging or walking.

Joe Rogan uses a sensory deprivation chamber. Here’s a video about it:

You can watch a documentary about sensory deprivation chambers here

When you first start meditating, it can be a little tough to get into it—you have thoughts coming at you from all over the place, and when your done you’re like “Damn, I totally forgot to focus on my breath!”

Just like everything else it gets better with practice.

A lot of people aren’t aware how many racing thoughts they have until they start meditating. Just becoming aware of these thoughts can be a big step.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.28.43 PMA few years back I used to use an audio-technology called Holosync

Holosync is a mind-development audio program, used to accelerate stimulation of neural pathways, leading to whole-brain functioning. It can definitely be a useful tool.

I stopped using it because it wants to you to work up to an hour a day, which is more time than I wanna spend meditating. However, when I was using it, I definitely noticed a difference in how I felt—it gave me a calm and relaxed energy throughout the rest of my day.

I know a lot of people who use it and swear by it.

Whichever way you wanna go—official TM Transcendental Meditation, using a mantra, chanting, watching your breath, eating marijuana and floating around with Joe Rogan in a sensory deprivation chamber or just listening an audio program like Holosync—meditation is one of the best things you can do to improve your ability to focus.

And keep in mind, improved focus is just one of the countless benefits of meditation—it can also make you healthier, happier, and more calm; give you more control over you emotions; help you get more in touch with your true self and find out what’s really important to you; and make you an all around better person and dramatically alter the course of your life in a positive way… among other things.

Play around with the different strategies and find what works for you and do it.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.52.11 PM2. Know your priorities and exactly what you’re gonna accomplish each day

If you don’t know what’s most important to you and what you need to accomplish each day to reach your goals, your mind will go to work getting busy with shit that doesn’t matter.

The urgent will take priority over the important, and the comfortable will come before the challenging and the significant.

You’ll find yourself falling victim to just about every distraction that comes your way.

Facebook alerts will come before working on that book you wanna write, incoming phone calls will take precedence over taking steps towards your end-game, and you’ll find yourself spending more time putting out fires than building your dream life.

You might be like me and think you need to do 10x more stuff than you actually do.

For years I thought I had to do about 129 things to reach my goals.

When I broke it down and really looked at it, I saw that there were only 3 big things I need to do on a regular basis to drive my businesses forward and about 5 or 6 other little miscellaneous things.

That’s it. 3 big things each day and 5-6 little ones.

Everything else is just a distraction to avoid what’s really important. Stephen Pressfield calls this “resistance” in his incredible book The War of Art.

The other 120 or so things I thought I needed to do, I simply put on a big list and tossed it into a drawer for reference later on if needed—I know those little fuckers aren’t going anywhere.

Each day, after my morning ritual, I batch all the little miscellaneous stuff together—which takes 1-2 hours—and then divide up the rest of my day between the 3 big tasks.

I’ll typically put all my other stuff like appointments, coaching calls, tax stuff, legal stuff, medical stuff, dealing with my bookkeeper and whatnot, on one day out of the week, so the other 4 days I can focus 80% of my attention on my 3 big tasks—and 20% on the little miscellaneous ones.

Doing it like this helps me know exactly what I’m supposed to being doing each day, and keeps me free from being lost in the infinite to-do list of unimportant bullshit, busywork and feeble attempts at doing 16 menial things at once.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.49.16 PM3. Kibosh the distractions

There’s nothing worse than working on something important and just starting to get into the flow… then the cell phone rings.

That little fucker is best turned off and locked in another room somewhere. Leave it on and it’ll call to you like the needle calls to the junkie.

And turn off all email and browser windows that aren’t the thing you’re working on. If someone important needs access to you, use a special email account that only they have.

If you use something like Yahoo for email, stay away from that damn home page loaded with open-loop-cliffhanger-news-subject-lines carefully crafted to suck you down the rabbit hole of the seductive  “Read the Rest of the Story Here” button. (What? Armed midgets disguised as Umpa-Lumpas pulled off the biggest bank in history and the whole thing was caught on video? Man, I gotta see this thing!)

And when you’re working on something important, stay clear one of the worst offender of all… Facebook.

Most of us love it (myself included) but if we aren’t careful, it can quickly become our new full time hobby … posting status updates and pictures, responding to messages, seeing who commented on what posts, and checkin’ the latest happenings on our news feed.

When it’s focus time, shut down all Facebook and Twitter accounts and alerts and don’t let anything social media be anywhere fucking near you.

And if you work in an office, have a strict closed-door policy during focus time. Even use a “Do Not Disturb” sign if you need to. If you think it’s rude, put the word “please” along with a cute little smiley face on the sign.

If you work in coffee shops like I often do, wear headphones.

One of the biggest keys to focus is creating a space where you can give 100% of your attention to the thing you’re working on.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.56.28 PM4. Avoid multitasking

Multitasking increases stress, makes you less efficient, and causes spikes in dopamine levels, making it an addictive behavior.

When you multitask, what you’re actually doing is creating short blackouts each time you move from one task to another… it’s like letting the town drunk manage your life.

Multitasking causes a different part of your brain to work than when you’re giving something your undivided focus. You end up processing information through a part of your brain called the basal ganglia, an area used for general memorization and forming habits. This isn’t the place you wanna be trying to do great things from.

When you’re focused on one thing at time, you process information through a part of a part of your brain called the hippocampus, an area of the brain used for storing detailed and complex images of the past that allows you to best process information, manipulate it, and produce creative thought.

If you have 7 tasks to do in a day, and you multitask, it’ll take you longer to do em’ and you’ll get a lower quality end-result compared to if you did each task one at a time and gave ‘em each 100% of your undivided attention.

Got a bunch of emails, phone calls, text messages, or menial tasks to attend to each day?

Batch ‘em all together.

Some people like putting that batch at the end of the day, after working on the big important stuff.

I like to do the little miscellaneous stuff first, getting it all off my plate and mind, so that I have the rest of the day to focus on the important things that get me where I wanna go.

Multitasking is like stabbing yourself with a tiny little knife; it may not kill you, but it’s sure gonna hurt.

break5. Take micro and macro breaks

Take breaks, even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes every few hours.

When you’re doing something and don’t give your mind a little time to relax, you’re not able to clearly see what you’re doing without the distorted perception the “goggles of cortisol” cause.

Taking a few minutes to let your mind go somewhere else—even if it’s just the bathroom—allows you to come back and look at what you’re doing with fresh eyes, a clear mind and a lot more focus.

Shower, take a walk, grab a bite, pet your dog or just stare at the wall… anything to shift gears for a few minutes.

Take macro-breaks too…

… A day off, a road trip, a vacation…

Even if you love what you do and are of the “I never take a day off or a vacation” mentality, you’ll love what you do even more with a little down time every now and then.

The best ideas often come during the breaks—in the shower, on a walk or on a vacation—because you’re able to create a space for new ideas to come in; and when you get back to work you’ll be able give much more of yourself to the tasks at hand.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 11.30.26 PM6. Move

I don’t know about you, but anything over about 24-36 hours without exercise and my ability to focus is shot.

Exercise releases juicy endorphins, relaxes you, reduces stress and makes it much easier to get into the zone.

Even a quick 20 or 30 minute workout or brisk walk can make the world a whole lot brighter, allowing you to bring a much more calm intensity to what you’re doing and bulletproof your ability to focus.

7. Nourish your body and mind with brain foods

It’s hard to focus when you’re riding the “surge and crash” roller-coaster fueled by the diet of the scatterbrained—refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods.

Sugars can make you bounce around between being hyper, irritable and burned out.

Certain food additives and dyes found in processed foods have been linked to attention deficit disorder; most noticeably Red Dye 40.

Nutricious BrainThe best strategy is to avoid the man-made chemicals masquerading as food and enjoy a well-balanced natural diet that feeds your brain—lots of vegetables and leafy greens, grass-fed meats, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, berries, raw nuts and avocados.

Moderate amounts of tea or coffee can be good for cognitive function as well.

And if you’re not getting a full spectrum of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats from your diet, supplement with fish oil, vitamins B, C, and E, and magnesium—all good for the brain.

However, if you take magnesium, be sure to take transdermal magnesium. Magnesium doesn’t absorb properly when taken orally.

My friend and fellow blogger Jason Ferruggia turned me onto it, telling me how transdermal magnesium helped him relax, handle stress better, and sleep better. (Jason definitely knows his stuff when it comes to nutrition)

I use it on a regular basis and definitely notice a difference.

8. Get your ZZZZZZZZZZZs

Sleep plays a crucial role in thinking and learning.

It’s hard be to alert and sharp and give 100% of your best attention to something when you’re fatigued. Some people do OK with less sleep than others, but most people need at least 7-8 hours a night.

Not getting enough sleep hurts the cognitive processes in a multitude of ways, impairing concentration, alertness, attention, learning, reasoning and problem solving.

9. Nootropics

Nootropics are drugs and supplements that help improve cognitive functioning

There are some pretty heavy duty ones out there like Adderall, as well as stuff like Modafinil, Piracetam, Aniracetam, Choline, DMAE, and even caffeine and nicotine.

The problem is, a lot of these things can have negative side effects. Like Tim Ferris says, there’s no biological free lunch.

However, there is one all natural Nootropic I like called Alpha Brain

Alpha Brain contains…

  • Alpha GPC: Raw source of acetylcholine, associated with sharpness, mental speed.
  • Huperzine A: Acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, extracted from club moss.
  • Vinpocetine: Helps bring oxygen and nutrients to the brain via vasodilation.
  • AC-11: Powerful DNA repair antioxidant.
  • Phosphatidylserine: Essential lipid compound highly abundant within brain cell membranes.
  • Bacopa: Traditional Ayurvedic brain-enhancing nutrient.
  • Pterostilbene: From blueberries; powerful micronutrient / antioxidant.
  • L-Tyrosine: Amino acid important to the production of Dopamine.
  • L-Theanine: Amino acid with chemical similarities to GABA.
  • Oat Straw (20:1): Natural anti-stress nutrient; creates calm focus.
  • Vitamin B-6: Catalyst in effective utilization of many nutrients.

I was pretty skeptical of the stuff at first—like I am with most supplements—but I kept hearing Joe Rogan and Tim Ferris raving about it, so I ordered myself some—and I gotta admit, I was pretty damn impressed with how much it improved my ability to focus.

I like to take it when I wanna give something 100% of my undivided attention, like when I’m writing blog posts like this one. It helps me stay focused and in the zone, instead of bouncing all over the place like one of those super bouncy balls you’d throw on the ground as a kid so you could watch it shoot all over the place. I’ve always been like that little ball as far back as I can remember.

Alpha Brain has helped me a lot.

focuseyeYou can learn more about Alpha Brain here

Now, I wanna make it clear that if you click one of these links and buy Alpha Brain, just like with a lot of the links on this site, I make a profit. But I want you to know that I use the stuff personally, find it extremely helpful, and believe it might be able help you too.

And when you purchase Alpha Brain through a link that came from this site, you are supporting this blog, and my family thanks you for that (=

Let’s recap…

1. Meditate
2. Know your priorities and what you wanna accomplish each day
3. Get rid of distractions
4. Avoid multitasking
5. Take breaks (both micro and macro)
6. Exercise
7. Eat foods that are good for your brain
8. Get your sleep
9. Nootropics can help too, just be careful which ones you mess with

So there ya have it: 9 ways to increase your ability to focus. If there’s anything you find helpful when it comes to improving your ability to focus, I’d love to hear about it down in the comment section below.

Talk soon,

Big Chris

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Written by Chris McCombs

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Comments

  1. MOMO PANTS says:

    hi chris i was facebooking while reading your awesome post. thanks for the meditation reminder im going to shut it down and go now. thank you
    maureen mcintyre

  2. Chris McCombs Chris McCombs says:

    thanks Momo!

    great to hear from you again

    hope you’re doing good Girl (=

  3. Awesome! I hope you don’t mind, but I’m probably going to steal a lot of those methods to teach in my class tonight. I run a martial arts school, we’re all about learning to focus better. That stuff seems a lot better than “focus, or else I’ll make you do pushups”.

    What are your thoughts on the father of ADHD coming out in his final interview before death, and saying that it is basically a “made up” disease? He said that they basically worked with drug companies to find a way to market drugs to kids so they can get rich. What you said about being the kid who was climbing the ceiling fans, refusing to focus reminds me exactly of myself. My teachers always said the same thing. He’s so bright, so intelligent, he just won’t focus. He day dreams too much.
    I used to day dream about being a ninja or something awesome like that. Now I teach martial arts, help people realize their potential, and change lives. Every time I go in to train, I am 100% attentative and focused. I really don’t think that people like you or me have ADHD, we just need to be doing something we love and can’t stand any of the other bullshit.

    • Chris McCombs Chris McCombs says:

      Hey Blake

      I don’t mind you sharing at all

      And yeah, regarding the ADHD, I do think it’s just doing the thing you love

      I heard John Martini once say that take an ADD kid and put him in front of a video game and he’ll focus intensely as he plays for 12 hours straight, and that the schools just aren’t speaking to his values

      I pretty much agree

      thanks for bringing this up man

  4. Chris2.0 says:

    Love your blog. Great post. [Heads up proof read “there ya have it: seven ways to increase your ability to focus.” Seven? ;)
    Going to try the Alpha Brain. Hell with a name like that it’s gotta be good! Now back to my regularly scheduled programming, SLEEP. Zzzzzz

    • Chris McCombs Chris McCombs says:

      oh hey thanks for catching that chris, there, were actually, 11, then 7, now nine, forgot to fix that, thanks man

  5. 10 ) Spend some time in nature

    Just my opinion. Nice one Chris.

  6. Chris –
    thanks for the blog. In today’s world this has really become a problem. No wonder people got so much done 50 years ago – there was nothing else to do but work hard and be productive! Now we fight everything to just stay on task. Meditation is something I really need to work on. I know its a good idea and just haven’t forced myself to put it into schedule – which is all the more reason to, right? FYI, i listed a website link where I sell Amway products, one of them being Rhodiola 110. It’s something very similar to Alpha Brain, and all natural, organic, and controlled manufacturing processes. Just figured I’d send it your way to check out. Reach out to me directly if there’s anything I can help you with.

  7. agustin says:

    tanks from mexico , great work.

  8. Awesome article, definitely found it informative and applicable

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