increase concentration with vipassana
Can Vipassana help you to increase concentration?
how-to-increase-concentration
Concentration and achievement – the connection is obvious

We all had parents or teachers complaining that we did not concentrate enough on our studies, and later we realize that concentrating on work, even when you are a grown up, is probably one of the most difficult things! I am sure you have got a lot of “eat well and exercise everyday”, or “strengthen your willpower” kind of advice when you looked for a solution to this problem.

I suffered from this common problem of not being able to concentrate when I really needed it, for years as I grew up, went to college and even started work. I found it difficult to concentrate on important tasks sometimes. It was studies in college. I tended to procrastinate a lot to start studying for exams or to start writing for projects. Later on it became about writing. I would tend to distract myself from writing work and give it a name: writers’ block!

This plagued me even at my first work place. I would sometimes find it difficult to focus on a work at hand as I always had tons of other things in my mind to distract me from real work that needed to be done right now!

This is a productivity killer, and a massive enemy of success. One must face and crush this problem if one is to really accomplish the big tasks in life. The internal struggle has to be stopped before you enter the biggest wars in life that will bring true glory. And it is never too late to conquer yourself.

There are a lot of things one can do. I don’t know one specific thing that can solve everything. So if you want a silver bullet solution, this blog post is not for you.

However, I am going to share my journey over the years, and different things that majorly contributed to my becoming more efficient and unstoppable at work as I learnt to overcome procrastination and increased my productivity by leaps and bounds. I am very certain that those of you who are on a similar quest to increase productivity, bring focus in your life and cut procrastination will find a lot of good leads to pursue or validation to your own systems that you might be following at the moment.

What is really distracting you?

At the surface level, there may be xyz things bothering you right now. If you are like most people, you will try to control your mind and try to stop it from being distracted. I don’t think that ever works. At least I did not find solution to distraction in temporary effort to control the mind.

For me, a major step forward was my Vipassana experience.  This experience made me realize that it was not some immediate external stimulus that really distracted me, but it was the accumulated strands of thought in my own subconscious mind that really disturbed my peace at every moment of my waking time, and perhaps dreams as well. Vipassana also gave me some of my most calm phases in life, and I would say a newly acquired focus and calmness within. That calmness really helps to take on the big scary challenges and see them through to completion.

increase concentration with vipassana
Can Vipassana help you to increase concentration?

So how did Vipassana actually help?

The first Vipassana course you do have to be a 10 day one. When I did this first, I had to discontinue after 6 days as I started to develop a strange inflammation of a nerve in my right eye, in which I started losing my vision. However, before I discontinued, I had some very strong experiences. For the first three days of the course, you are required to focus only on your breath. The concept is that your subconscious mind is always aware of your involuntary body functions anyway. By observing such functions, your conscious mind can align itself with the subconscious. Then what is there in your subconscious, including emotions like fear, jealousy, anger, disappointment, craving and a lot of other stuff – starts to surface. Many of the things that I had forgotten from my life indeed surfaced – to the point of evoking extreme anger, disgust and other emotions in me. After a point it was really difficult to keep meditating.

However, the most powerful experience took place on my second night when I was sleeping. I woke up with extreme guilt and fear from a nightmare. I sat in a foetal position, too afraid to even step out of the bed though I was extremely thirsty. I was literally shaking with fear as I came face to face with a fear and guilt that was hidden deep inside my subconscious. Then I remember something the Vipassana teacher had told me when I sought his counsel about an uncontrollable anger that I experienced that day during meditation. He said, when you see anger arising in you, just ask yourself “lets see how long this lasts.” And as I said that to myself, my whole body shuddered  ­­and I felt as if suddenly a weight was released from my mind. I finally went and drank some water. Then I slept. However, that moment was a turning point in my life.

I believe that many years of accumulated emotions that disturbed me at a subconscious level, like anger, fear, guilt, hatred etc were jettisioned during that Vipassana course. It was as if the subconscious was cleaned up to a great extent. I noticed a noticeable difference in my ability to focus on work and produce results after this. I went on and did the full 10 days course a few months later. I plan on keep doing it in the future as well, if for nothing else then simply because I found it to be an excellent way to be more effective in life.

I certainly would not be having the focus I can muster today, or the sense of peace or calm I can summon whenever I am aware of a disturbance, if I did not discover Vipassana.

Relying on a system rather than will power

increase concentration with will power
Can will power help to concentrate?

Too many people rely on willpower, which works for some time definitely. Then it doesn’t, and they give up and say that focus is beyond them. Unfortunately, relying on will power is tempting because it is certainly less work, but on difficult days it is almost certain to crumble. I found it much more useful to develop an approach of building systems.

Let me give a simple example. I tend to get distracted by social media easily. I found a simple system for this – simply block the websites that distract me beyond a rationed amount of time automatically through an app called Morphine and Leechblock. Why rely on will power when you can create systems?

Similarly, working when a noise, insects, people, mobile phone is constantly interrupting you may be very distracting. Build time slots that are sacred. Cut off phone and internet. Get a secretary or accountability buddy or just get your room mate to nag you, whatever you can manage to create systems that are more conducive for focus and less conducive for distraction.

For me scheduling things in a calendar really helps to plan a day and the week, and in turn helps me to stick to the plan. The more systems you introduce rather than relying on your will power or good senses, the better results will you produce in the long term. Of course, it may take some time to settle in and build a habit to use those tools, but eventually it just becomes second nature once you plough through the initial inertia.

Writing down things in lists and journals

concentration increased through system
writing down stray thoughts can increase concentration

Similarly, a major issue with being able to focus is actually having a roadmap for various problems at hand. I find that simply listing down issues instead of keeping them knocking around in my head helps me enormously to focus. I am a die hard believer in checklists and keep creating new lists on my phone all the time! You may choose what works for you – it could be technology or simply pen and paper. Often, simple tricks like using your favourite pen to write (my best friend used this trick to make notes in law school) can improve your mind’s subconscious willingness to stick to these systems.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that checklists don’t always work – you need to keep improving your method to arrive at something that works for you. When you do that, you will realize your productivity is soaring, even though you complete only a fraction of the work you listed out. When these are in pen and paper, you can always look back at the thoughts you are planning and see how far you have travelled with the thoughts in your mind. It is a great feeling. However, too many people give up the approach itself at the first instance of things not working out, and are not able to experience this.

Another idea which is less mechanical is to write down all the issues that are going around in your head. Some people write morning journals or bedtime journals. You may not ever look at it again, but the act of writing down itself creates great clarity and helps you to focus on one thing rather than think about many. After all, writing is a way to give structure to your abstract thoughts.

The atom bomb: Landmark Forum – how did this help me to build focus

concentration-increase-landmark-forum
Being v. Doing – a key distinction I learned while pursuing Landmark curriculum

While Vipassana did help with then subconscious mind, there was a lot left to be done. I did not realize this till I did Advanced Course at Landmark Worldwide. I did the Landmark Forum before that, and despite having many complaints I continued with the Landmark Curriculum, and found it to be an extraordinary tool to build focus and beat procrastination. I was able to clean out many of my issues around integrity, timeliness and promises. I have completed tons of unfinished projects since. Things that were pending for months and years were done one by one. I simply loved the results the Landmark Curriculum helped me to produce. How it happens is a little difficult to explain to someone who has not experienced the Forum and Advanced Course, so I will not try to do that and leave you curious, except for saying that Landmark works through conversations and assignments, and works on your blind spots in life that drag you down. A whole lot of people who do not follow the design of it keep complaining about how it doesn’t work. It didn’t work for me till I was resisting the design of the course either.

Nootropics Modafinil – when in need

bulletproof-exec-dave-asprey-modafinil

Another big discovery was a nootropic or a smart drug called Modafilin. Everyone has those bad, unproductive days – when you didn’t get sleep for nights, or just need some extra focus because you had a hard week and you feel burnt out, or just that you can’t fix your sleep cycle after pulling too many all-nighters. My go to thing for dealing with this was many cups of coffee, till I discovered Modafilin which is a less harmful substance than coffee and way more effective. I found out that it is used by Indian Air force, astronauts in long term missions in International Space Station and on some select missions by the US Air Force, and a handful of CEOs of fortune 500 say that they take it as a congnitive enhancer. After I read rave reviews by many scientists, writers and silicon valley executives online I decided to find out more about it. This article really gave me some confidence to try it thought some sites said that less than 5% people have reported adverse reaction to this drug. My doctor friends assured me that while it is a prescription drug and not to be abused, I can easily get it prescribed by doctors to correct my sleep cycle and take it under medical supervision. It is less addictive than coffee. It definitely increases alertness and focus when I am really in need of it. It turned my worst days into some of my most productive days.

Here is a viedo that should prevent you from misusing it:

3 COMMENTS

  1. a helpful read. Adding on the bit about vipassana, the first 3 days of the 10 day course take you through anapana sati which is actually focusing on your breath. The purpose is to settle the mind and bring to a level where the chaos of thoughts comes down considerably. You mentioned about anger, every emotion has a consequent physical manifestation to it. Once you experience such an emotion often we experience a manifestation of the same on our body, redness, palpitation, increased heart rate in case of anger. Vipassana actually helps us to observe them as they arise. without the first three days it becomes extremely difficult to focus on sensations, therefore anapana sati is taught for the first three days. As you rightly mentioned, these techniques are just a few to begin with. Many Buddhist and ancient meditations such as humming and chanting were also used to focus our mind.
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/concmind.html
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/ariyadhamma/bl115.html
    Thanks

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