Guidelines To Maintaining Focus and Amplifying Creativity

By Khothatso Kolobe

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In continuation with David Rock’s Your Mind at Work. We cover scene 4 up to 6 elaborating on focus and creativity enhancing strategies. If you missed the first summary, be sure to read it here – Tips For Overcoming Distraction and Unleashing Your Full Potential At Work.

Quick clarification on our glucose increasing soda remedy (which I mistakenly called cola) on some drinks, glucose may be stated as energy.

Scene 4: Saying No to Distractions

Distractions can be categorized in two: external and internal. A study has shown that external distractions in an office consume 2.1 hours on average a day whereas another found that employees spend an average of 11 minutes before getting distracted. Guess what, it takes them an astounding 25 minutes before to recover.

Companies such as Microsoft study the manner people work. The mandate is to develop efficiency boosting software. They thought increasing the size of the screen would be a solution. Only to discover that even mere colour changes on it warrant a distraction. Who would have thought that switching from MS Word to Excel was a concentration crime?

Internal ones are even more fierce. Axioms such as, conquering the enemy within guarantees you victory externally (the enemy without, is this not a Bible scripture? No, the Bible says he who is within me is greater than he who is in the world). All is within, as spiritual gurus assert.

This reminds me of a book I read that explained how the universe moves towards entropy. The author detailed how most people are afraid of being alone because they are unable to control destructive thoughts. Therefore, distraction can be paired with destruction.

Ambient neutral activity is responsible for your wandering attention. This occurs because your nervous system is constantly processing, reconnecting and reconfiguring trillions of connections in your brain. It should make sense why you sometimes rush to a specific corner of your room and wonder why you were there initially.

Another nerdy phrase is default network. Its source is the medial prefrontal cortex, which is within the prefrontal cortex, around the centre of your forehead. It becomes active when you think about yourself and others. The default network takes over when you are not doing much at all.

Now you know why you call or text people randomly and say you were just thinking about them. It is not because you are the most caring person in the world. You are just not busy enough. Funny.

Both internal and external distractions are “knee-jerk” responses to information that bombards us every minute of everyday. The more novel, the more distracting. Shall we talk of the sight of that attractive person walking past you that resulted in you almost bumping into someone? That flashy car that made you stand flamingo still and admire for a second amid a conversation with a friend? The anterior cingulate cortex detects novelty.

Focusing is essentially blocking unwanted things from coming into focus. This is yet another challenge since resistance breeds persistence. The ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) is our guardian angel that inhibits wrong thoughts, leading us not into temptation.

Try focussing on one idea for five minutes and it becomes apparent that the VLPFC is an ineffective braking system. If it did, you could easily stop worrying about why the bae did not pick your three consecutive calls last night. The effort to resist thinking about it makes it persist.

Feeling powerless? Good. I hate it too. Let’s view the empowering solutions.
As much as it seems as if you may not possess free will, you actual have “free won’t”, which is a term coined by Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz. In implementing your free won’t, timing is everything. It depends on your awareness of internal mental procedure and catching the undesirable impulses before they grab on tight as action.

In staying clear of distractions, make it habitual to veto behaviors as early as they are just impulses. Do it swiftly and regularly before impulses mature to actions. As adequately stated by our author, it pays to know a lot about how your brain works, so you can catch your brain when you try to work. May I also state adequately that you should give your distractive impulses a vote of no confidence as early as they arise?


Scene 5: Searching for the Zone of Peak Performance

There is a sweet spot that enables you to perform at your best. In 1908, scientists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson uncovered a fact about human performance they named the inverted U. It was because they learned that performance was poor at low stress levels, hit a sweet spot at reasonable levels of stress and tapered off under elevated stress levels.

You might not want to hear this but increased stress leads to better performance. Stress as in urgency, not the other stress we all dread. Fear and urgency doubtlessly provide a beneficial level of focus sometimes.

Let’s unpack mentally shifting your chemical states harmlessly. These techniques enable you to mitigate either alertness or interest to get your desired outcome.

The easiest and simplest way to be more alert is to raise adrenaline levels by bringing urgency to an activity. Noradrenaline is the brain equivalent of adrenaline. Its the chemistry of fear.

When scared, you pay intense attention and become highly alert. The act of using a negative emotion such as fear to a positive end is called alchemy, just got reminded of that. We are alchemists now.

This one takes us back a little, visualizing an activity produces a similar metabolic reaction to actually doing it. This must have been what made Einstein declare that imagination is everything. To increase alertness, picture something going terribly wrong in the coming future. The key to the technique is control. Use the imagery to motivate yourself and end up fear obsessed and unproductive.

Arousing your interest is as easy as involving humor and positive expectations. For humor, watch funny videos, tell jokes to a coworker or call a crazy friend.

Maintaining focus can stem from adjusting the height of your chair to get a fresh perspective. Talking about what you are working on with someone. Read something interesting and entertaining. I am assuming celebrity gossip for ladies.

On the list of positive expectations, we have money, food, positive social interactions and sex. Placing sex last does not mean it is least significant.

Cautionary point, we have to guard against excessive arousal of alertness and interest. The reason being that too much of everything is bad, as said by my primary school teacher I will not state by name. The solution is to write ideas down as they come. The other instance is that of being stressed. Just take a walk to clear head and have your brain oxygenated.


Scene 6: Getting Past a Roadblock

The roadblock being referred to is an impasse. A blockage to a desired mental path. For example, a writer’s block or failing to recall an acquaintance’s name. This is a big deal because in the modern economy, a lot of money is generated from creativity. I do not even have to connect the dots for you to make my point.

Creativity is manifested through insights that originate from your subconscious mind. I suggest you read John Kehoe’s Mind Power into the 21st Century. They seem to come out of nowhere at the most unusual of times until you understand how to control them as illustrated in the suggested book.

They usually strike when you are in the shower, at the gym, or cruising on open road with less traffic. You must have experienced the “aha” moment.

Taking a walk during office hours puts you at risk of being fired. Here is what you can do to get insights. According to Beeman’s research, pull together distantly related information. This sits so well with me. I love discussing ideas. Taking a bird’s eye view of things because it inspires possibilities from insight.

Just a few weeks ago, I was invited to a radio show to talk about agriculture. To my shock, the host cornered me with questions that focused on details of seeds, soil, the colour of leaves and many other impossible things to explain.

All I ever wanted was to talk about amazing things my friends (most of whom I had met through Academic Youth Progress) were doing to inspire the will to produce agriculturally to the youth.

I am not digressing. If you focus on details. You miss the bigger picture. The less you see. The less you accomplish. So if you ever get invited to radio, ensure that the host understands what you intend to express and avoid unnecessary frustration.

Beeman further found a correlation between emotional states and insights. This means that the happier you are, the more likely you are to get an insight.

Our writer summarized this in a model entitled ARIA, which represents Awareness, Reflection, Insight, and Action. Try to reduce problems to their salient features. Reflect from a higher level observing subtle connections preceding insight. Stop and focus on insights when they occur.

We are down to Act 2 and will be exploring how to Stay Cool Under Pressure like James Bond. Shall we call it the James Bond Syndrome? Am I coining terms now? Silly me.


Khothatso Kolobe. I am just a creative willing to do and be anyone and anything to make a positive impact. My creative history is available on my Facebook and Instagram (@artzoniac). A multi dimensional being accomplishing universal good.