Georgia Dixon


How to focus on what’s important

How to focus on what’s important

Sophie Scott is the national medical reporter for the ABC, in addition to being a prominent public speaker. Sophie has won numerous awards for excellence in journalism and is the author of two books, Live a Longer Life and Roadtesting Happiness.

Why is it that your perspective on life can change so dramatically when you change your environment?

I have been fortunate enough to take some time away from my day-to-day routine. What I realised is that clear air, away from all the distractions, gives you space to reconsider what is important and meaningful to you.

Getting away from distractions can allow you to think more clearly, to quieten your inner thoughts so you can really listen to your intuition and authentic thoughts. But our modern world conspires against this quiet reflection.

We are so switched on with phones, emails, notifications, and devices pinging to get our attention. And a “fear of missing out” stops us from turning it all off and just giving our full and interrupted attention to what we are doing at that moment.

Neuroscience tells us that for every distraction, when we are disrupted or have to stop midway through a task, it can take up to 15 minutes to get back on track and focussed again. We fear we are “missing out” if we are not connected 24/7 but what I have realised that if we are plugged in and connected, what we are missing out on is a deeper sense of peace and calm.

One of the leadership experts I have been reading is Canadian author Robin Sharma. He’s a lawyer who became overwhelmed with the rat race and left that fast-paced life to write and lecture on leadership.

One of his key messages is that “focus is more valuable than IQ”. “An addiction to distraction is at the end of your creative production,” he writes.

I have come to believe that distraction really is the enemy of creativity. I think it’s one of the reasons that we find it hard to stick to the goals that we set, whether it’s to lose weight, succeed at work or be a better partner.

Think about the most successful person you know who is living an authentic life, according to their values. The great communicators, leaders and innovators, whether it’s Oprah Winfrey or Steve Jobs, were all completely focussed on their specific goals. They ignored distractions and instead stuck with what they believed in, even when obstacles were put in their way.

We can all bring that same sense of focus and quiet determination to whatever we want to achieve.

But how can we do it? Mindfulness and meditation is one good way to teach our brains to filter out the distractions and to boost our ability to focus. (I write about it in my book Roadtesting Happiness.)

Meditation is a proven technique to tame that voice in your head, to weed out the negative thoughts and to focus, really focus on what’s important. The science on the benefits of meditation to boost focus and reduce stress is unequivocal.

According to scientist Sara Lazar, from Massachusetts General Hospital, regular meditation can directly alter and structure and functioning ability of the brain.

“We found that regular meditation can lead to structural changes in the part of the brain governing sensory, cognitive and emotional processing,” she said.

So while I can’t promise you that I won’t check my social media, before I do, I will stop and think, “what am I giving up by doing this, take a few deep breaths and ask myself is there a more meaningful use of my time”.

What steps have you taken to feel more focused and less distracted in your busy world?

Related links:

How to create a life with meaning

Aristotle’s advice to live your best life

5 signs to help you spot a narcissist