Practice of Concentration: Setting the right environment
Every evening I struggle to unhang the piano keyboard which hangs on the wall. Then I uncover it, put it on the table, plug in the wires, attach the sustain pedal, turn on the switch and then start playing it. Lots of effort!… However, once I force myself to do it and start playing. After that hours pass. And later there is satisfaction and not guilt!
Concentration is about being more aware and setting the right conditions. One shouldn’t try to improve concentration directly. That is the second step. First, one should set the right conditions so that it becomes easier to put in the effort and start that painful work which later on brings joy and satisfaction.
Environment for concentration
Concentration comes as a byproduct when you indulge actively into things you love to do more and more. Therefore there can not be any ‘exercises’ or ‘things to do’ that fit everyone for improving concentration. My approach is about ‘growing’ the ability of concentration and not of ‘improving’ it. Here are some practical aspects which will help in making the process of growing concentration smoother.
1.) Time of the day
From my experience, more than anything the time of the day when you are working matters the most. I have felt the difference between working from 4 AM to 7 AM and working at any other time of the day. It is not an exaggeration to say that I accomplish more in those 3 early hours than I can do in the rest of the day. This time period is the perfect time for concentration. Firstly, the world around you is absolutely silent. Since others are sleeping, there is no distraction even in terms of thought waves which can affect you. Secondly, since you have just woken up, your awareness is as fresh as it can be. The mindset right after waking up is the perfect one for doing creative work.
2.) Commitment to the next few hours
If you make a commitment before starting the work it helps a great deal to concentrate. If you intend to work for the next 2 hours and complete a certain task, then your commitment may look like this: “For the next two hours I will focus all my mind on this task and will not move until it is completed.” A simple statement such as this gives a lot of focused energy to the mind. The time period and the amount of work you intend to complete should be emphasized in the commitment. Bring absolute clarity about what needs to be done and in how much time.
3.) Clear workspace
It is obvious that the clearer the workspace, the clearer is your mind. If there are irrelevant objects lying around the workspace then it affects at an unconscious level. You can try it for yourself. Clear up your workspace. Remove every object that is unnecessary. Only keep what is needed for that work at that time. You will see a huge difference in the clarity of mind.
4.) Reduced mental effort to initiate the task
The most difficult part of any work is to start doing that work. Once you have started, the flow comes naturally. How many steps are required for you to initiate the task? More steps, more mental effort. As I mentioned above, if my keyboard piano was just there open, waiting for me to play, it would save a lot of energy which is required in initiating the work. That saved energy gets used in concentration. Think about how you can reduce the number of steps that you need to take to start the
work. Even such small details as how many folders you need to open to get into the file that you are currently working on matter a lot. Be mindful of every small step that you take to start the work and think of how you can reduce the number of steps.
5.) Background music/Alpha waves
If you use study/work music, alpha waves, or even classical music running in the background, it helps greatly in remaining focused. The waves of that music bring your mind into the alpha state, which is best for creative work and learning.
Such music is available for free, then why not use it?
6.) Doing something every day
Bruce Lee says, “Training for skill is purely a matter of forming proper connections in the nervous system through practice. Each performance of an act strengthens the connections involved and makes the next performance easier, more certain and more readily one.”
To strengthen these connections it is important that you engage in your skill every day. When you work consistently, it becomes easier to make progress than if you work irregularly. Also, doing something every day keeps a focus on your goal on a bigger scale. It reminds you every day of your goal. If you miss one day, then you will have to put more effort to remember your goal. When you don’t take consistent actions, the mind will naturally start bending towards ‘something new’ which is exciting. Your consistent actions will anchor your focus on your goals.
7.) Engaging less in intellectual arguments.
More you engage in arguments, the more the balance of the mind is thrown off. Intellect is only there to understand something and then you must act on it. Without doing it, there is no progress. Another danger in intellectual arguments is that the mind finds a false satisfaction there, a high that you get just by thinking or imagining things, which must be avoided.
8.) practicing silence for some time of the day
When you talk less, you can listen more. Talking unnecessarily, similar to argument, also disturbs the mind and wastes a lot of energy. If you maintain silence even only for a few minutes a day, you will feel the difference in how calm your mind can become.
9.) Taking time for reflection
Each day, if you take some time to reflect on your behavior and actions, it helps to analyze and make necessary changes for the next day. The act of reflecting on your day gives a fresh view of the relationship between your goals and the action that you are taking. It shows you a bigger picture and reminds you of why you are doing what you are doing.
10.) Stop comparing your life to others and social standards
If there is one thing that interferes most in a long-term focus towards one single goal is your tendency to compare yourself to others and be like them. It is a great curse in society today. Most are not even aware that they are comparing. Their process of
comparison happens at a deep unconscious level.
It is not necessary that your comparison is towards one individual. As a society, there is an unsaid and yet universal standard for how life should be…
How much money should you be making? At what age must you marry? What goals should be set? What is practical and what is not? Answers to all these questions are set as a standard for our society based on what most people do. And the people around you also expect you to meet those standards.
Having grown up in the same environment, believe it or not, you are also influenced by these ‘standard answers’ at an unconscious level. No matter how much you oppose them at a conscious level, at the back of the mind they keep nagging you. It becomes hard for an individual to live freely from within. An unconscious urge to meet these social standards keeps you imprisoned. It makes you look for financial security when you should be taking risks and exploring wildly. Comparison to others is poison. It kills freedom. One must break free from it as early as possible.
These 10 points bring one’s mind in the right condition to concentrate on work. The first five points are about a specific task at a specific time. The other five are about maintaining your focus for the long term and eliminating those things which interfere with the clarity of your mind.
This post is a piece of my latest book ‘concentration and detachment’. If you liked this post, you would love the book!
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