Learn How to Focus, it’ll Give You More Energy

Do you ever come home from a long day of school, work, bicycling around, hanging with your friends, or you know, generally doing interesting and tiring things, and feel really burnt out but still feel the need to immerse yourself in the internet or otherwise generally waste time?  And do you later realize that the time wasting made you feel more tired?  It’s because when you waste time by watching TV, poking around the internet, or getting sucked into some other form of entertainment, you’re burning up limited cognitive resources.  You’re burning the candle at both ends, friend, and it’s probably why you feel so tired all the time.

Energy is a limited resource.  What’s the point of working an 8+ hour day, getting to and from work, if you get home just to watch TV, end up exhausted, and not have enough energy to cook dinner, see friends, or do things that you really enjoy?  I think there’s very little point.  Then you’re living only for the weekend and 5/7 of your life is lived in an information clogged stupor.

So how do you avoid it?  Realize that you have a limited supply of cognitive resources.  When you spend several hours surfing blogs, checking Facebook, Googling endlessly, you’re burning up your energy supply which means that later you won’t have as much energy to see friends, exercise, cook dinner, or generally do healthy and fulfilling things.  If you realize that your energy is limited, you will begin to understand that spending your time in certain ways prevents you from spending your time in other ways.

Prioritize.  Set limits for yourself.  I personally installed an app to Google Chrome called StayFocusd.  You can mark certain sites as ‘blocked’ and allot yourself only a certain amount of time for each of them.  I get 25 minutes per day for Facebook, Twitter, and the Mr. Money Mustache Forum (what can I say? I’m a frugality nerd).  When I began this, my mind fought against it wanting to waste time and goof around.  The longer I’ve had it (I even cut down from 30 minutes), the less I feel the need to go on those time-suck websites since every time I’m on there I constantly remember that I shouldn’t be.  I also decided to make my bedroom a computer-free zone.  This means that my computer now lives in the living room and is much less available for casual time-wasting, especially since its battery life is terrible.

Energy management is also very important in work settings.  When you interrupt yourself to visit various websites or check your phone, you’re burning up resources that otherwise could have been spent finishing tasks more quickly.  If you’re feeling burnt out at work, do you really think that reading something online is going to make you feel refreshed?  When I’m feeling burnt out at work I do a couple of things, depending on where I am and how much time I have.  If I have a little time I like to take a walk, or go to a private area and do 10-15 minutes of yoga.  If I don’t have much time, I’ll simply sit still and meditate on my breath for a couple of minutes to focus myself, and then return to the task at hand refreshed.

Mindfulness practice can help you refresh your energy and make better energy decisions.  Since I’ve started monitoring how my energy is spent, I sometimes can really see the forces at work in my body.  Recently I came home from a busy day and felt very strongly that I wanted to go read some blogs and watch a couple TV shows on my computer.  I thought, “Man, I’m tired, I want to waste time.”  I actually thought that!  I was able to catch myself then and say, “Okay, I’m tired.  Wasting time probably won’t make me feel better.  Maybe I’ll take a nap!”  And nap I did and it was wonderful.  I woke up refreshed and able to have a great evening with friends.

I now tend to generally plan out my free time a little.  I think about the day and schedule in bicycling, yoga, cooking, and friend time.  It doesn’t give me a lot of left over time to spend on the computer and I feel much better about how I’m spending my time.  I certainly feel like it’s a journey, and no effort is too small.  Once you start focusing more in one area of your life, it will become easier to keep the ball rolling in other areas.  Certainly a regular mindfulness or meditation practice helps, as it trains the mind to become calmer and more centered, but any small effort to make your mind less tumultuous will bring you more peace and energy.

Negative Thoughts and Obsessions

“It can be particularly helpful to keep in mind from moment to moment that it is not so much the stressors in our lives but how we see them and what we do with them that determines how much we are at their mercy.  If we can change the way we see, we can change the way we respond.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

Negative thoughts can have an unnerving hold on your mind, and stresses, anxieties, and obsessions can arise regarding anything.  Negative thoughts have obsessive power over people, whether the problems that initiated the thoughts were small or large.  The interesting thing about cultivating a mindfulness practice is that you are able to distance yourself from your thoughts a bit, and can then observe their strength and the way they change over time.  This awareness is vital in dealing with obsessions and negative thoughts.

Sometimes I get sidetracked by negative thoughts, and my immediate reaction is to share these ideas with other people to commiserate or gossip.  However, these thoughts can be like little seeds planted in your mind.  The more you dwell on something, that might otherwise be insignificant, the more you are cultivating and caring for this seed of anxiety, bitterness, stress, or resentment.  As you think and talk about it, it grows, and takes up more room in your mind.  As these seeds grow they get stronger, and therefore gain more strength to draw your mind back to dwelling on them thereby creating a negative feedback loop.

When this is the case, there are a couple of things you can do.  One is to become more self-aware of your thought processes through mindfulness.  This way you’ll be able to take a step back from negative thoughts when they occur.  You’ll be able to understand that you are not your thoughts or feelings, and will be able to think to yourself, “Interesting, I’m very upset about this thing that happened.  I don’t know why I’m so upset or why I feel so angry, but I’m going to accept that this is how I feel right now.  Just because I feel this way doesn’t mean that who I am is defined by these thoughts or feelings.  They are just feelings and they will leave soon.”  When you can bring non-judgmental self-awareness to small obsessions, you can acknowledge them, feel what you’re going to feel, and process them enough to move on to focusing on something else.  The second way to deal with these seeds is to burn them up through physical activity or any other energy generating venture.  While being physically active, you project that energy onto burning up these obsessions and work to create space in your mind that is free of those thoughts.

It is helpful to remember that feelings are feelings, and they are not good or bad.  Whatever you feel is what you feel, and approaching feelings in a non-judgmental way will make it easier to process certain emotions and understand when additional action needs to be taken on an issue.  In this vein, we can further explore this topic by seeing anxieties, negative thoughts, and obsessions as cues to draw our attention to certain things in our lives.  When you feel obsessive about something, it might be a signal from your body that something in your life is not right.  If you try the above strategies and the issue keeps arising, it may be a message to you.  It may mean that you need to bring up hurts or concerns with another person, you need to clarify a relationship, or you need to seriously consider ending a relationship.  When issues repeat themselves in your mind over and over, despite your attempts to bring mindful awareness to them, it might mean that they need to be acted upon in some way.

Obsessions can be your mind’s way of telling you when you are not living in a truthful and honest way.  This may mean that you need to work on not obsessing over small things and growing them into large issues, or that you need to take action in your life to right some relationship or situation.  When you are able to acknowledge the source of obsessions and anxieties, you have an opportunity to make changes in a way that will allow your mind to quiet down and allow you to live in a more peaceful and honest way.