Can't Focus? (3 BIG Reasons Why--And What to Do About It)

Jordan Brown

Something is happening to our brains.

Or, at least, something is happening to my brain.

A few years ago, I found myself being able to focus less and less.

I asked myself, over and over, "Why can't I focus?"

It was driving me crazy.

Maybe you can relate.

Social media has taken over our lives.

But we can't blame it all on that.

Because there are other things that are going on.

Things that connect back to mental health.

And once I realized what they were, I was able to focus more.

It comes down to knowing yourself.

Because before you can focus, you need to know what's happening inside of your body and mind.

First Things First - Why You Can't Focus

1 - You Use Social Media

I know, I know.

I said you can't blame your lack of focus entirely on social media, but you can blame it for some of it.

Social media is a brain killer. It thrives on uncertainty. Your uncertainty.

People go to social media--and go back to social media--because they never know what they're going to get. And that's the central part of its allure.

Your brain loves novelty. It wants to consume new and exciting information. It feels that, if it's not checking into the vast, ever-changing world of the Internet, it might miss something valuable.

We evolved to perk up when we get new, unusual information.

That worked great when our ancestors were roaming around hunting for food, but it doesn't provide much benefit these days.

Too much Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram---and your focus begins to deteriorate.

It convinces you that you need to be everywhere at once, which leads me to my next point.

2 - You're Trying to Do Too Much

If you're anything like me, you've kept to-do lists. And that's fine. They work for a lot of people.

But how much do you actually cross off your to-do list on a daily basis? Is it half of it? A quarter? Or are you one of the lucky ones who get everything done, every day?

The do-list can be a powerful weapon, but only if it's used correctly. And only if you're selecting the right things in the first place.

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. - Peter Drucker

So take a look at your to-do list--or however you keep track of what you want to do.

There's a really good chance that you're trying to do too much, that your focus is being pulled in many directions.

The reality is that there is a real cost to your mind and energy when you switch from one task to the next. Your mental health suffers.

Multitasking has been proven not to work. When you multitask, you do several things poorly instead of getting more done.

It's much better to focus your entire being on one task and THEN move to the next one.

Something that has helped me significantly is to set a 25-minute timer when I need to focus. If I'm at work, I use this tomato timer website to get my brain in gear.

It's a subtle reminder that I can focus for set periods of time AND that there is an end in sight.

Don't get lost in rabbit holes. The Internet is full of them.

3 - You Think You Need to Do Something, Period

This reason might seem strange to you.

It's good to do stuff, right? I should want to get things done, right?

Yes, but remember as I said above, you want to get the right things done.

And sometimes doing the right thing means doing nothing.

Because humans have a tendency to engage in action bias.

What's that, you say?

Action bias is a natural tendency to take action to resolve an issue, even if taking action would actually make things worse. It's our natural state to want to be fixers.

We're not good at immediately sizing up a complex system and realizing when it's NOT appropriate to take action.

So we default to taking action.

But how often have you intervened in a relationship when it would have been better to just let an issue go?

How often have you offered to contribute at work, and all it did was lead to having too many cooks in the kitchen?

Ego is a powerful force, and I'm just as guilty of wanting to rush in to save the day.

But it's not always necessary.

And it can seriously hamper your ability to focus.

If you think you always have to be the savior, if you think only your action will make the situation better, you start to see every situation that way.

You become the proverbial hammer that sees everything as a nail.

Instead, what if you tried pausing before you step into a situation?

I bet it would calm your mind and narrow your focus. It has for me.

A focused life is a happy life.


When You Can't Focus, Remember This

You're not a bad person if you can't focus.

It's not your fault that your brain evolved this way.

Our ancestors never could have predicted the world we would live in one day.

If you're suffering from attention deficit or a short attention span, know that it's not entirely your fault.

The bottom line is this: you have the power to focus, but only if you train your body and mind in certain ways.

Learning to focus is like developing any other habit. It takes time, and it takes consistency.

Go easy on yourself. Take short breaks. Focus on one thing at a time. Step away from YouTube, and the Internet in general, for longer periods of time.

All these phrases have real meaning. If you apply them.

When you can't focus, don't get angry at yourself.

Get angry at the way the world is set up to work against you.

Because the good thing is this: now that you know this about how your mind is being hijacked, you have the template you need to begin to focus.

It's now up to you to make it happen