By Megha Bajaj July 2006 Far from easy, it is sometimes impossible to harness the innumerable thoughts racing through your mind and focus on the task at hand. Here are some simple ways to effective mind control. Focus. Come on, focus. Just focus, will you! How often have you caught yourself persuading your mind to stop wandering and concentrate on the task at hand but like a stubborn, recalcitrant child, the mind refuses and behaves exactly as it pleases? A chariot, tied with horses on both ends will not budge – no matter how much both the horses struggle, and the same becomes true for life when the mind is running in one direction and you with your dreams and goals, in another. In life, nothing can be achieved without focus and concentration and yet to make these a part of our lives seems like a Herculean task to many. Having spoken to psychiatrists, yoga trainers and motivational speakers, we have discovered that making a few small, simple steps a part of our routine can help increase concentration levels tremendously. For now, all you need to do is concentrate on this article for the next five minutes. Come on, focus. American author Sam Horn did just that and wrote a book called ConZentrate, which received wide critical acclaim. He has come up with a five-point program to improve concentration. F = Five more rule: This says you can build mental stamina by pushing past the point of frustration. Whenever you are ready to give up, work for five more minutes; study five more pages – whatever it is, just do five more. O = One think at a time: Make a to-do list to organize and prioritize thoughts. C = Conquer procrastination: Delaying important work will only add to your guilt and make the onerous task occupy more of your mind and time. U = Use your hands as blinkers: Picture your mind as a camera and your eyes as its aperture. Most of the time, our eyes are ‘taking it all in’ and our brain is in ‘wide-angle focus.’ We can actually think about many things at once and operate quite efficiently this way. What if you want to switch to telephoto focus? Cup your hands around your eyes so you have ‘tunnel vision’ and look only at the chore at hand. Placing your hands on the side of your face blocks out surroundings so they are literally ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Also, cupping your hands around your eyes every time you want to switch from wide-angle to telephoto focus, will become a Pavlovian trigger. It will teach your brain to switch to ‘one-track’ mind and concentrate on your command. S = See As If For the First or Last Time: Next time your mind is a million miles away, simply look around you and really SEE your surroundings. Study that exquisite flower in the vase. Get up close to the picture on the wall and marvel at the artist’s craftsmanship. When you bring yourself to the present moment and stay there, you increase your concentration powers. Dr Prabhu, a popular psychiatrist from Mumbai, says that concentration is nothing but the elimination of unnecessary thoughts. He believes that adults need to prioritize their thoughts and decide which thoughts are progressive, worthy of focus and capable of leading to desired results. A ‘thought filter’ of sorts needs to be developed in our minds. Only when this is done, should one think of developing concentration power. Dr Prabhu suggests the reading of good books as one of the simplest and most enjoyable ways of increasing concentration. One can start with a few pages at a stretch every day – and increase the number gradually. During this reading time distractions like TV, telephone and other noises should be eliminated. ‘For children,’ says Dr Prabhu, ‘sports like table tennis, tennis and badminton are imperative for a powerful mind and good concentration.’ He further adds, ‘Although cricket and football help develop stamina – they are sports where one can be passive at times – whereas, the above-mentioned sports require the child to be in the present moment the entire time.’ Yoga does not fail us in matters of focus and concentration – it has its own solutions and answers. Sheetal Oswal, a Pune-based teacher, says, ‘The word yoga means ‘to unite’ and the very first thing yoga unites is the body and the mind.’ Since concentration is nothing but the body and mind working in tandem, yoga, by its very definition, helps in increasing concentration. An extremely simple yoga asana can help. Stand on the right leg, with the left folded behind in a hopping posture. Join both the hands in ‘namaste’ above the head and looking at one point in front of you, try to remain steady for 40 counts. Repeat with the other leg. In fact do this right away, and you will see while doing this exercise, try as hard as you may, not a single thought, except getting your balance right, will enter your mind. With time, as your balance starts improving – so will your concentration. Simple, huh? Okay, get off that leg and finish this article because we have yet another interesting technique coming your way. Alma Mater, a popular organisation that commenced from Chennai but now has branches in Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad, organizes programs for school children on focusing, called ‘Subject plus’. Jyoti Gosavi, a young member of Alma Mater, shares, ‘We start by telling the youngsters that the mind is conditioned to be a monkey. It jumps from one topic to another. For example, one could hear the sentence, ‘I love expensive china’ and immediately one’s mind could think ‘China has the Great Wall, the Great Wall is a sign of human hatred, come to think of it I really hate my Math’s teacher…’ and so on. As you can see, the first sentence and the last have absolutely no connection with one another – the mind has wandered away unnecessarily. And it is this wandering that takes it away from the important chores before us.’ ‘What is required is to un-condition this ‘monkey mind’ and condition it to become silent and still,’ says Jyoti. She uses the analogy of an elephant to emphasize her point. If such a large beast is undisciplined or unruly it can cause anarchy in a city – so when it is young itself, it is trained. A barbed chain is tied around the baby elephant’s leg, so each time it moves, it experiences pain. With time, its mind gets conditioned to the idea, ‘If I move right now I will get hurt'; after a few months, even when the chain is removed, the elephant doesn’t budge from its place. The same conditioning is required for the human mind. Luckily, the process Alma Mater devises for silencing the chattering mind involves no chains – rather it’s a pleasant, fun process. Body Rock Still is the basic step which requires one to sit for about five minutes without moving. No flicking of hair, no scratching, no nothing. Absolutely still. Sounds easy? Try it out and you will find that you will have a deep desire to twitch your lips, scratch your ears, yawn, etc. and yet when you persist with your steady sitting, you will have taken the first step towards conditioning your mind to ‘remain still and focused’. When five minutes becomes easy, start increasing the timing and you will notice that by the end of two months your concentration will have improved by 10 per cent at least. Concentrating on the breath or the words of music while sitting still can also help tremendously. This practice also helps tired muscles and tissues of the body relax. Amazingly, one notices a huge improvement in memory as well. Jyoti concludes by saying that each person has the same memory, the difference comes with recollection power – with greater concentration and focus, thoughts reduce, emotions become more handleable and one can recollect and retain a lot of information. This form of meditation has transformed my life to such an extent that people wonder if I am the same person. I was one of the most distracted 16-year-olds you could ever meet and I nearly failed a year at Sophia College, Mumbai. Whenever I sat to study, my face would be in a book, my thoughts in Mauritius; my eyes would be reading words from a textbook while my mind would be singing my favorite song. My terrible performance shook me and I decided to sit every morning for half an hour, concentrating on my breathing. Initially it was very hard, but gradually it became a part of me and I saw a marked improvement in my concentration and was able to study for two hours at a stretch. The result? I topped my college, came 13th in Maharashtra and my career has been on an uphill drive ever since. Today, with just 11 months experience in writing, I am already contributing to ten good magazines. A focussed mind, in the same way, can achieve even the most seemingly impossible dreams. Two horses, one called your desires and the other your mind, can now be yoked to the same direction and with one command from you can travel as far as you desire. Make any of these simple techniques a part of your life, pull the reins and gallop away!
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