Focus is incredibly important. But often we struggle to turn it on when we need it. The right rituals can help a lot.
The human brain is a giant association machine. As neuropsychologist Donald Hebb famously put it, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Repeated patterns form stronger connections. Thus if you pair a consistent ritual with focused work, it can be easier to transition your mind into a state of productivity.
But rituals can also go wrong. If everything needs to be perfect to start working, you’ll rarely do it. Worse, the ritual can become a tool of procrastination to avoid doing hard work.
Good rituals can be done quickly, on-demand and they should assist with getting into a focused frame of mind. Here are some of steps I take when I need to focus deeply:
Anxiety is a major cause of procrastination. You feel the upcoming work will be unpleasant, so you find a way to distract yourself to get out of it.
Sometimes this anxiety can come from the standard you expect from yourself. You want to write a brilliant essay, but have no ideas. You need to do a practice test, but you don’t feel like you’ve mastered the material. You’re working on an important piece of code, but worry that if you choose the wrong design pattern you’ll be making a mess you need to fix later.
The obvious, rational response to this is simply to lower your standards temporarily. Be okay writing a draft you’ll throw in the trash just to get the ideas out. Be okay with failing your first practice test as you learn a new subject. Be okay with needing to rewrite a module later once the best design is clear.
Combined, all seven steps here would take less than five minutes. But they can make a huge difference in your ability to work for hours on hard tasks.
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