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The 5 Rules of Attention Control You Need to Be More Productive

June 24, 2016

The demand for our attention in modern society is unparalleled in both scope and inten­sity. We carry smartphones that alert us to news and events constantly, we are bombarded with news on Twitter, Facebook, and twenty-four-hour news channels, and we are constantly distracted by the “ping” of a notification of yet another text or email. This makes the ability to zero-in on just one thing at any one moment hard work for the brain. Improving your attention control skills means training your brain to shut down the chatter in your head that comes from too much thinking about what you are doing.

Here are the 5 Rules of Attention Control, taken from When the Pressure’s On by Dr. Louis S. Csoka, an expert in performance psychology.

RULE #1: Right Before and Right After a “Shot,” There Is No Thinking

Using golf as an analogy, if you think, you sink. Your thoughts interfere with the automatic body mech­anisms you have worked so hard on in practice. Do all of your thinking when preparing for a shot you are about to make—what’s the target, the dis­tance, wind conditions, and so on. Once you are ready to take the shot, make sure it is silent in your brain.

RULE #2:  Attention Is Automatically Directed by the Brain’s Response to External Stimuli

There are certain stimuli or events that automatically grab our attention—a loud noise, a cough, a sudden movement. Our brains are conditioned to react to these events, and we instantly shift our attention.

How can you deal with this natural tendency of our brains being distracted by stimuli? You must completely immerse yourself in what you are doing at that moment. This takes deliberate practice, along with the recognition that you can be easily distracted. The trick is to avoid activities that interrupt the flow of the main task that needs your full attention. Stay in the present moment.

 RULE #3: Lock In, Not Block Out

If I ask you to block something out, where is your attention? It is on the very thing I am asking you to block out because I just directed your attention to it.

What you should do instead is not “block” the thought of the distraction from your mind, but instead “lock” in on the task at hand.

RULE #4: Attention Shrinks Under Pressure and Stress

This automatic response goes back to prehistoric times, when the sudden narrowing of attention due to a threat (the threat of a lion) was a survival mechanism.

The brain does not distinguish between real and imagined threats. So when you feel pressure, your attention will narrow too much and you will miss important information. Take a deep breath and calm yourself;  you will signal to your body and brain that this is not a time of danger. Your attention will broaden once again to focus on what is relevant and needed for that task.

RULE #5: Use a Solid Pre-Performance Routine

Routines keep you focused on the task at hand. They keep you from over thinking your performance.

Something as simple as having a breathing exercise (smooth steady breaths in a consistent rhythm) as a pre-performance routine will heighten your sense of focus and enable your brain to learn to focus on one thing at a time. Do one task successfully and then move on to the next.

Once you have learned to focus, you will achieve your goals with greater efficiency and speed.

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About The Author

LOUIS S. CSOKA, PH.D., has specialized in teaching performance under pressure for more than 30 years, starting as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a soldier in Vietnam. As a Professor of Psychology & Leadership at West Point, he adapted sports psychology to the demands of the military and founded the school’s pioneering Center for Enhanced Performance. He now serves as President of Apex Performance, which trains clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to professional athletes. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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