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Why can't I focus?

Focus is the key underpinning principle of the Positive Living Skills programs.

Being able to fully connect with a task or to a moment in time is a key driver of success in any area of life, and building the skills to actively direct our focus in positive ways from moment to moment allows us to move toward and to appreciate positive experiences and ultimately live our lives in positive ways as we move toward our potential.

We all know that we have the ability to focus but why can't we maintain our focus when we really want to? What gets in the way and what can we do about it?

In this article we explore 5 ways we all self-sabotage our focus, and how we can start getting a handle on how we can turn this around.

1. Staying in stress

Stress in short bursts can be great for our focus. It can help us remember that answer or shoot that final shot. When we experience anxiety or stress and it builds or continues, that prolonged fight flight response can start to have long lasting affects on our brains and our bodies. It can actually start to shrink your brain and affect your memory.

We must find ways to process that cortisol and get our cognitive brain back on track, and there are lots of ways to do that. Any movement or exercise, breathing techniques and meditation are just some of the strategies we can try.

2. Multitasking

Multitasking works if you are doing something habitual that doesn't take up so much of your attention. For example, walking while listening to a podcast can be a great idea. Multitasking doesn't work though when we want to work and need to focus on a task. If you are trying to have a conversation with a friend, and you're scrolling facebook, your friend will know. Or if you try to craft a response to an email while listening to a podcast you won't do either very well.

Consider the attention level of each task and which is the priority, then make your choice.

3. Your Devices

According to productivity research and author of 'Hyperfocus', Chris Bailey, we only have so much 'attentional space' and in as little as 40 seconds of so called concentration (particularly while working) before our brains want to look for distractions.

But we need to be able to maintain our focus for longer than that if we want to solve complex problems or achieve real productivity.

So, when you're working on your computer and your phone is right next to your keyboard, almost beckoning you, then you will naturally pick it up every time your mind wanders.

Try moving it across the room and turning off your notifications. Easier said than done? You'll only know when you give it a go.

4. Clutter

Evidence suggests that living or working with clutter is reducing your ability to focus. When multiple visual stimuli are competing for your attention, you have a harder time narrowing your focus to only one of them.

Decluttering brings better focus back to your world and there are many tips and tricks you can employ, or find a service to help you.

5. Past and future

When we want to focus on performing a task or participating in a conversation, or learning a new skill, we must bring our attention and focus to NOW. In the present moment. When we spend time ruminating about the past and what we would have changed or wished had never happened, we are doing it now. When we are worrying or wondering about how the presentation or conversation will go tomorrow, we are doing it now.

Practicing present moment awareness, and it is a practice and a skill, will help us to learn, remember and perform.

PLS program mentor and mental training expert Dr. Terry Orlick's work with 'fully connected focus' has helped countless high level performers achieve their personal and professional best. And we can all learn how to be more fully connected.


If you are one of the educators or staff from a licenced Positive Living Skills member Early Learning Service or Primary School, then you are invited to register for our Professional Development webinar -

'Enhancing Positive Focus Skills - Practical Strategies for Educators and their students.'

- where we will explore these concepts in more depth and apply the concept of focus to the educators own personal and professional life and their role with the children they teach. It will be an interesting discussion.

If you are a PLS member and you haven't registered yet, check your emails, or speak with your Director or Wellbeing Coordinator, or email us at and we'll send you the link.

'Only through focus can you do world class things, no matter how capable you are.' - Bill Gates

Until next time,

The PLS team

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