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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Focus, People, Focus!


We live in a culture of sound bites, text messages, Tweets and bullet points. A Facebook status update or an email that’s longer three sentences raises our eyebrows and creates judgments about how long-winded the author is.

There are times when brevity is the soul of wit, but there also times when brevity reveals the absence of wit.

Your Brain: Use It or Lose It

What we know about brain plasticity warns us that relying so exclusively on short, instantaneous and disposable messages will change how we think. In the moment, what we think determines what we communicate, but in the long run, what we communicate will determine how we can think. If all you give your brain is short and simple, it won’t be long before your brain can’t handle involved and complex.

We are losing our capacity to sustain focused attention. If we can’t focus long enough to thoroughly think about and analyze complex situations, we won’t be able to solve complicated problems. (And we are facing some whoppers of complicated problems.)

Writers Change the World

We can change this dangerous trend. We start by changing ourselves. We start by giving ourselves – as a form of Self-care and an act of Cultural Revolution – time to focus our attention.

For at least an hour a day, we can refuse to think in bullet points. We can refrain from fracturing our focus with constant interruptions – we turn the phone off, we wean ourselves from TV and Satellite Radio and other media, we stop stuffing ourselves with the mental junk food of email, Facebook, Twitter, eBay and countless other electronic distractions every 10 minutes.

We stop ingesting information and reflect on what we’ve consumed so far. We ponder. We consider. We mull. We stop rushing around in the world. More importantly, we stop rushing around inside our own heads. We let our brain slow enough to allow our thoughts to go deep.

Restore Your Focus

Meditation is one form of focus, and one of the benefits of mediation is that it restores our capacity for reflective, nuanced contemplation. Walking my dogs in the morning without another person to talk to is one way I focus. I get an awful lot of writing done during my morning walks.

Relaxing in a hot bath, hot tub or sauna is another way to focus. Reading a book or a magazine article that’s more than 2 paragraphs long challenges and stretches our ability to focus. Reading printed copy is a different, more focused cognitive activity than reading electronic copy. Reading on the internet does allow you to link to related stories and videos, but that ability to jump around scatters your focus and impairs your comprehension.

And scary as it may sound, just sitting without any input at all (no electronic media, no printed words, no conversation) is a powerful to focus your attention. Listen to the ambient sounds of the world around you. Listen to your own thoughts. Filter out the distracting noises of traffic and the distraction of your monkey-mind and ego-based anxieties so you can hear yourself think for a change.

Please share: do you consciously restore your attention and ability to focus? How?

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  1. Keeping Your Writer’s Brain at Creative Optimum | The Bane of Your Resistance - March 15, 2013

    […] Focus, People, Focus […]

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