How to Achieve More Focus: Don’t Be So Rude to Yourself

The cursor keeps flashing at you as you stare at your screen, reminding you that you need to finish your project, but you’re as frustrated as a hungry cat in front of a lidded aquarium. With a sigh, you switch to the next item on your lengthy list, hoping you’ll regain momentum. You soon find yourself hitting a dead end and opt to take a break by surfing the web. Eventually, you return to the original project, more depleted than when you left it.

When we interrupt ourselves due to negative emotions either by switching to another work-related task or an interesting distraction, we can set ourselves up for poor performance.Researchers discovered that people who have negative feelings about a task are more likely to interrupt themselves -- no surprise there. More notably, they are likely to carry those feelings into the next task, increasing  the likelihood of a poor outcome which, in turn, exacerbates negative feelings. Round and round this vicious circle of negativity spins.

The good news is that we can put a hard stop to that vicious circle.

Minimizing Self-interruptions

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to help with both improving attention and mitigating negative emotions. Mindfulness is nothing more than being present, paying attention on purpose, and not judging.

In one study, selective attention for those who had practiced mindfulness was significantly better than those in the control group, those who had practiced traditional relaxation techniques, and those who had been offered money for performing well. Practicing mindfulness -- paying attention on purpose -- builds your “mind muscles” so you can focus for longer on what you choose to focus on, thereby cutting down on self-interruptions.

Practicing mindfulness also has a direct impact on managing negative emotions. By focusing on the present, you don’t linger on bad experiences  and you worry less about future uncertainty.

Psychology researchers found that after only a month of mindfulness training, participants in their study experienced markedly higher positive mood states and significantly less distress compared to the control group and those who practiced traditional relaxation techniques.

So even if you do end up interrupting yourself, if you practice mindfulness, you’ll experience fewer negative emotions. This reduction of negative emotions means you’re less likely to repeat a poor performance and less likely to be pulled into a vicious circle of worsening feelings and outcomes.

(For more on mitigating negativity and for instructions on how to practice mindfulness, click here.)