Five Ways to Increase Your Focus and Sharpen Your Mind

Five Ways to Increase Your Focus and Sharpen Your Mind
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How do I grow stronger mentally and change my perspective for good? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Nela Canovic, productivity hacker, writer, entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, on Quora:

Changing your mental perspective is like creating a powerful cocktail for your brain: you will need equal parts of attitude, goals, strategy, skills, and a good dose of time to let it all blend together.

Here are five tips to help you grow mentally stronger:

Tip #1: Change your attitude so you can grow your mindset.

You've probably heard of the phrase "attitude is everything." And maybe you confuse it with the words people use to describe someone's behavior when they say, "He has such an attitude!" But it's not the same. Having an attitude may indicate someone's arrogant behavior much like showing off about something they currently possess. So what does "attitude is everything" mean?

  • First, it's mostly focused on your attitude towards yourself. It's the way you see yourself and the specific ways in which you describe yourself, not just to others, but also when you think about who you are at your core.
  • Second, attitude towards yourself is incredibly important because it shapes the way you see the world and also yourself in it. It can impact what you believe you can and cannot do, what you're destined for, what you're meant to be doing in this life, or all of the above.
  • Third, your attitude can be the most powerful tool at your fingertips. You can use it to help you accomplish personal goals, overcome obstacles, communicate better with others, and lead a better quality of life.
  • Fourth, how do you change your attitude to grow your mindset? Start by reading Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It explains how we adopt a certain mindset about our abilities very early in life due to the messages we receive from our environment, parents, and teachers. These messages are then "baked into" the attitude we develop towards ourselves: what we "should" be doing, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and what we should avoid. The book explains the difference between two mindsets and how much they can be either empowering or detrimental to your work and life: a fixed mindset (believing that your affinities and talents are set in stone) and growth mindset (believing that you can grow and cultivate your skills through continuous efforts).

Tip #2: Develop a specific goal that can drive you forward.

Having a goal isn't nearly as abstract as it might seem. It's the difference between going from day to day just trying to deal with life and all the challenges it brings and planning your path so that you know what you're doing and why it's important to you. And here's another benefit: when you have a goal you're working towards, everything you do in your daily life has a greater sense of purpose. So what should that goal look like?

  • Make sure it's specific. For example, don't just say that you want to get a job, be fit, have a large salary. Instead, get specific. If you're looking for work or want to switch to another job, write down that you want to get a job offer for a specific job title that pays a certain annual salary so that you can develop specific skills you have as well as those you're working towards.
  • Make sure it's focused. You can increase your focus by starting each day with the question: What is the ONE THING I am committed to completing today? This question forces you to prioritize, helps your brain focus better, and streamlines the work you need to do on that particular day, so that you don't feel overwhelmed with making too many choices and instead you are free to focus on what's most important to you.
  • Make sure it's realistic. Remember: you're not creating goals to impress other people or make others happy. It's not about them: it's about you. Create goals that are aligned with your vision of what you want to accomplish in your life, whether that means getting a graduate degree, growing your own business, or becoming an expert at something. Be sure that you either have the skills or are working consistently on developing the skills you will need to reach your goal.

Tip #3: Create your strategy.

Goals are important, but so is developing your strategy. It's all about having the big picture in mind; while you are focusing on what you want to do right now, always keep your eye on at least two steps ahead. In other words, take the time to think beyond what is happening today. How can you do that?

  • Consider different approaches you can take to get you closer to your goal. That means do your best to stay flexible. Maybe you get stuck in a rut trying to solve a problem the same way over and over again. Don't always repeat the same path you usually take; try something different and see what happens.
  • Don't only think of achieving short-term success. Being strategic isn't only what you're doing right right this very moment; it's also about feeling the benefits of your present actions in the future.
  • Don't focus only on the person you are today. Instead, think of who you want to be in 10 years. By being strategic, you will empower yourself to achieve long term results that your future self can benefit from.

Tip #4: Build your skill set.

You can't be successful without a required skill set in your field of work, regardless of whether it's studying for a Ph.D. degree, becoming a software engineer, or training to be a professional athlete. How do you build your skill set?

  • First, identify which skills are necessary for you to succeed in doing your job. Write a list of all the skills you need. Don't only think about building hard skills, but soft skills too.
  • Second, work on developing your skills. This will take time. Start with skills you think will be most valuable to you, then create a plan to devote a certain amount of time each day, even if that means only 15 minutes in the beginning.
  • Third, keep practicing each skill consistently. You may have heard about the 10,000 hour rule because many people swear by it. You can also try to adhere to it, but don't only be focused on the numbers. It's not just how many hours you put in. It's also about what you do during that time. Are you doing deep work? Deep work is focusing without interruptions on something that takes a lot of analytical thinking, and it is essential to master the skills you are working on.

Tip #5. Take all the time you need to grow.

In her wonderful book Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, the artist Jewel gives us a blueprint on how we can build our strength and resilience and become a stronger, better balanced, and happier person. She says that we shouldn't be impatient with ourselves and expect to make changes in our lives quickly. That's not where growth happens. She says that hard wood grows slowly. What does that mean? It means we shouldn't look for quick fixes but should think about who we want to become in the long run. So how can you shift your way of thinking to achieve that?

  • Make decisions that aren't only focused on the here and now. Rather, think about what's best for that version of yourself you want to become in 10 years or 20. This could impact whether you choose to start working out today (versus eating pizza while you sit in front of the TV) or taking the time to write down your thoughts on something important happening in your life (versus scrolling through the Instagram feed on your phone).
  • Get to the root of the problem. If you're faced with an obstacle and are having a difficult time dealing with things, you might reach for something to distract yourself (food, drink, TV or a cigarette). Try to get to the bottom of what you're experiencing so that you can learn why it's bothering you. Be willing to admit that you don't have all the answers. Then look for answers: talk to a trusted friend, do some research on the topic, read more about it. Be proactive about making a positive change.
  • Give yourself permission to grow. Becoming an adult is not like developing a Polaroid or taking a selfie. There's no instant gratification, no glamorous shot, no shortcut. Each one of us will have to experience life on our own. Sure, that may seem terrifying and scary at first, but think of it this way: if you take the time to get to know yourself, to identify the things you want to accomplish and experience, and to know which things can make you happy, then you will create your blueprint for the path you need to take. It does take time, but as Jewel says, you can become the architect of your dreams. That's an empowering way to look at life, don't you think?

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