How to focus your mind on one thing

For many of us, especially those of us that are overthinkers, it can be hard to focus our mind on one thing at a time. There are questions that need answers, problems to solve, rabbit holes to fall down, and dozens of other more interesting things to do than what we should be focusing on.

Working towards getting to the root of why it is difficult to focus can help you make a plan to move forward. Each task may have its own reasons that make it hard to focus. By taking the time upfront to figure out those reasons it can make focusing on tasks easier.

Why is it hard to focus?

There are many reasons why it can be hard to focus. The specific reasons why it is hard for you to focus on a particular task will take some self-analysis.

Below are a few reasons to help you think through what is making focusing difficult.

You do not know where to start or how to continue

For many things that we do in life there is not one prescribed place to start.

We do not always realize how much mental energy and planning it takes to figure out where to begin.

Often when we are working on something we want to be able to do just that, work on it. We can end up putting things off because we do not know where to start.

Similarly if we are in the middle of working on something we may get to a point where we are not sure where to go next. It can make it hard to come back to what we are working on knowing we will have to figure out our next steps.

The longer we put it off the more daunting it can feel to actually sit and focus on it.

You want to put off doing something

When there is a task that needs to get done but it is not pleasant, interesting, or exciting, it can be easy to keep putting it off. Setting up a retirement account may feel confusing or complicated and cleaning out the fridge just feels like a pain.

Even when we know something needs to get done, and there may be consequences if we do not get it done, it can still be hard to focus on it.

When we are surrounded by more exciting things (Netflix, YouTube, podcasts, books, video games, etc.) we often would much rather spend our time on those things.

You are not in the right environment

When we are not in an environment conducive for focusing it can be a losing battle to not get distracted.

Figuring out the the surroundings that best fit us and the task at hand can make a substantial difference in our ability to focus.

We cannot change everything about an environment to make it perfectly suit us, but there are likely a few things that we can control. We can put on music or keep things silent, we can pick which time of day we feel most productive, and we can wear clothes that are comfortable.

You want what you are doing to be perfect

It can be hard to focus when we are striving towards an unattainable perfection. We can feel that whatever we do will not be good enough so we put off doing it. Or when we do sit down to work on something we distract ourselves because we cannot figure out the perfect way to proceed.

We can fear spending time and energy on something that doesn’t end up working out how we want it to. We can even convince ourselves that when we know exactly what to do we will be able to focus.

Striving for perfection can also mean it is hard to finish something. We keep putting off that last little bit because we want it to be just right. We can feel that no matter what we do it will always need just a bit more work.

You have made it into a bigger deal than it is

There are many tasks in life that fall between something we must do and something we choose to do. The things we must do, such as filing taxes have consequences if we choose not to do them. At the other end of the spectrum, the things we choose to do, such as organize our sock drawer, do not have consequences if we put them off.

The tasks that fall in between are important and need to be done, but can lack a specific deadline or urgency such as emptying the dishwasher, scheduling a doctor appointment, or dropping off items to donate.

Some tasks can be hard to focus on because we have made them feel bigger and more daunting than they actually are.

Perhaps we think they will take up more time than they actually will or will end up being more complex than expected. It can be hard to make time and actually do those tasks when we have built them up in our mind.

Where to start?

There is unfortunately no quick fix, magical button, or internet secret that can be yours just by paying a small fee. Similar to working on eating better and adding more movement into your day, it’s a conscious choice. It comes down to motivation, discipline, and consistency.

Work towards building habits that encourage focus and reduce distraction.

Those habits will be specific to you and may take some trial an error to figure out. As with many things it is a constant practice and conscious decision to improve focus.

Know that it will take some time

It can take a concerted effort to focus. If you struggle focusing it may take time to build the habit. This isn’t to dissuade you from working on improving your focus, rather to help you be honest with yourself.

Knowing that it will take time and effort can help you see this as a longer term goal and not something that will happen overnight.

This is especially important when thinking about when you will see results or improvement. If you go into the journey knowing it will be weeks or months for you to possibly feel your focus improving it can help you not be disheartened when things don’t change right away.

It is important that you do not feel like a failure if you try to get better at focusing and it doesn’t happen right away.

Being consistent is key. It is not always easy, but prioritizing getting at the heart of why you are struggling to focus can help you move forward.

Know your limits

It takes determination and consistency to be able to focus on one thing at a time, but it is important know your limits.

If you are trying to focus on a task and you keep getting distracted and frustrated, step away. Take 5-10 minutes to give yourself some time to think about what is not working. Reevaluate where you head is at and what you are trying to accomplish. 

Similarly if you have been focusing on something for a long time and you have hit a wall mentally, give your brain a break.

If you’ve been sitting for a long time, get up and move. If you’ve been moving around sit and have a few moments of stillness.

Don’t push yourself so far that it can make it hard to come back to the task again in the future.

Get in the habit of checking in with yourself

The most important thing is to get in the habit of checking in with yourself. How are you feeling, are you mentally and physically in a good place to focus? As you start to lose focus on a task, ask yourself what the reason might be. Do I feel I have the ability to focus and would just rather be doing something else or do I think I need to step away?

Check in before you start a task to see if everything is set for you to focus. Also check in throughout the task at times when you get distracted to figure out when to push through and when to take a break.

Be honest with yourself about why you cannot focus

We may not always know why we are having a hard time focusing and it cannot always be distilled down into simple reasons. If you are having a hard time figuring out the reason, consider talking it through with someone else or writing down your thoughts. Practice stream of consciousness writing to help get at the root.

Use the items in the Why it is hard to focus? section as a starting point to think about what is making it hard for you to focus.

Taking the time to identify as many things as you can that distract you will allow you build an environment that helps you focus.

This is not to say we can get rid of every distraction, but we may be able to find ways to lessen how much things distract us.

Keep track of what works and what does not

As you start to figure out what helps you focus and what distracts you, keep track of them. Write down what works and what does not.

Maybe there is a certain time of day, particular type of music, a place in your house, or even a brightness of light that helps you focus. On the opposite end, perhaps having a cluttered desk, too much noise, or too much light is a distraction. Keeping track of those things means the next time you need to focus you can set yourself up for success.

Tips to help you focus

Give yourself an environment that encourages focus and find ways that make it hard to be distracted. This can include:

Removing objects from your immediate visual area that can make things feel cluttered.

Putting your phone on silent and face down or even move it to another room.

Ask others you live with not to distract you for a period of time.

Using a website blocker so you are not able to access certain websites for however much time is needed.

Writing an intention before you begin and putting it somewhere you can see.

Get some movement in before settling down to focus.

Giving yourself a time limit of how long you must focus on a task.

Having a notebook near you where you can write down thoughts you want to come back to.

Having water and a snack nearby so that when you need nourishment.

1 thought on “How to focus your mind on one thing”

  1. As an over-thinking perfectionist with a to-do list that could circle the equator, this post sure had a lot of things in it for me. If I comment on everything, it might be longer than your blog, so I’ll llimit myself to a few of the many things that resonated so strongly.

    As to not knowing where to start or how to continue, what might help me is putting bits and pieces on index cards or stickies to form a kind of story board for the path forward. Or to think of it as writing code, each tiny step leading to another. Sometimes breaking it down like this into tiny pieces can give lead to progress (though too much detail can mean so many steps that the project looks even more daunting).

    As to wanting to put off doing something, sometimes it helps to know why I don’t want to do it. One reason I encounter now and then is that I don’t feel I should have to do it (e.g., demands from websites or companies where I can’t even see why they insist I do things or feel it’s their responsibility to make it easier to do. The resentment can make me delay or even reject the task.

    As to wanting what you are doing to be perfect and also making it into a bigger deal than it is – guilty and guilty. I can’t even write an email to a friend without editing it carefully, fretting over how I’ve worded something, etc. Time-consuming, but not sure I can – or really want – to change…..

    Whew. Guess I’ll stop there. You sure got me thinking!


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