The Focus of a Monk

In the midst of all things busy, conscious practice of focus on a single task can help keep us from randomly jumping from one task to another in the day-to-day.As I write this, I’m on a long plane ride—I’ve written many posts on planes and trains, and I actually find it much easier to write this way despite the shakiness of my laptop on these rides.It’s easy to write on planes and trains because there’s not much else to do. I don’t get the Internet option on planes because it limits my options. That’s a good thing for focus.On planes, I can do one of a few things: read, watch a movie, sleep, or write—all good options, but limited. I tend to think about it for a minute, and then choose one to focus on for a while.At home and work, however, our options are unlimited. And our brains seem to want to do it all. We tend to jump from one thing to another, endlessly, until the sweet release of sleep takes us from all of our choices.Monks have long been people with limited options, intentionally. Like people who ride on planes (without buying Internet service)—they can read, write, pray, eat, clean, meditate (or commune with God, depending on their religion). All day, every day. And usually, they have designated spots in the day for each of these.That makes pristine focus easy.Related Stories12/31/2022What if we could develop the pristine focus of a monk? It’s not that they have superpowers—though this kind of training will ultimately develop your capacity to focus—but they have the structure and the limited options that lead to focus.Let’s talk about how to put those ideas into action. Pristine Focus on One ThingImagine that you sit for a minute, and let your heart (or your schedule) choose one thing to focus on. Just one, for a limited period (let’s say 10 or 30 minutes).Now you cut off all other options. Ruthlessly. It’s just you and this one thing.You’ll be tempted to move away from the one thing, but you’ve committed yourself. So you turn towards it. And you focus.You feel like turning away, but you’re committed. You breathe. Maybe you get up and stretch. Then you come back to focus.This is training in pristine focus. And you get better at it with practice.Everything you do starts to become easier, calmer. You make a bigger impact with each passing day while being less busy. This one simple practice results in everything you’ve been wanting. Support Focus With StructureThat kind of pristine focus doesn’t come for free—you have to commit yourself to it.Having structure to your day can help you focus on one thing. If it’s time to meditate—that’s what you’re focusing on—exclusively. If it’s time to write, that’s what you’re devoted to.So think about the things you want to focus on exclusively when you do them. Some ideas:An important projectExerciseAnswering emailFinancesA creative projectJournalingMeditation or yogaAnd so on. You might have others—playing music, crafting, reading. What would you like to have pristine focus for in your day?Then block them off on your calendar. Don’t block off the whole day—maybe between two-thirds and three-quarters of your available time—because you need time for unexpected things and taking care of yourself. You need space between things.Then trust the structure you come up with. Let the structure support your practice of pristine focus on one thing at a time. Let this be your practice of devotion.

The Focus of a Monk

.

In the midst of all things busy, conscious practice of focus on a single task can help keep us from randomly jumping from one task to another in the day-to-day.

As I write this, I’m on a long plane ride—I’ve written many posts on planes and trains, and I actually find it much easier to write this way despite the shakiness of my laptop on these rides.

It’s easy to write on planes and trains because there’s not much else to do. I don’t get the Internet option on planes because it limits my options. That’s a good thing for focus.

On planes, I can do one of a few things: read, watch a movie, sleep, or write—all good options, but limited. I tend to think about it for a minute, and then choose one to focus on for a while.

At home and work, however, our options are unlimited. And our brains seem to want to do it all. We tend to jump from one thing to another, endlessly, until the sweet release of sleep takes us from all of our choices.

Monks have long been people with limited options, intentionally. Like people who ride on planes (without buying Internet service)—they can read, write, pray, eat, clean, meditate (or commune with God, depending on their religion). All day, every day. And usually, they have designated spots in the day for each of these.

That makes pristine focus easy.

What if we could develop the pristine focus of a monk? It’s not that they have superpowers—though this kind of training will ultimately develop your capacity to focus—but they have the structure and the limited options that lead to focus.

Let’s talk about how to put those ideas into action.

.

Pristine Focus on One Thing

Imagine that you sit for a minute, and let your heart (or your schedule) choose one thing to focus on. Just one, for a limited period (let’s say 10 or 30 minutes).

Now you cut off all other options. Ruthlessly. It’s just you and this one thing.

You’ll be tempted to move away from the one thing, but you’ve committed yourself. So you turn towards it. And you focus.

You feel like turning away, but you’re committed. You breathe. Maybe you get up and stretch. Then you come back to focus.

This is training in pristine focus. And you get better at it with practice.

Everything you do starts to become easier, calmer. You make a bigger impact with each passing day while being less busy. This one simple practice results in everything you’ve been wanting.

.

Support Focus With Structure

That kind of pristine focus doesn’t come for free—you have to commit yourself to it.

Having structure to your day can help you focus on one thing. If it’s time to meditate—that’s what you’re focusing on—exclusively. If it’s time to write, that’s what you’re devoted to.

So think about the things you want to focus on exclusively when you do them. Some ideas:
  • An important project
  • Exercise
  • Answering email
  • Finances
  • A creative project
  • Journaling
  • Meditation or yoga
And so on. You might have others—playing music, crafting, reading. What would you like to have pristine focus for in your day?

Then block them off on your calendar. Don’t block off the whole day—maybe between two-thirds and three-quarters of your available time—because you need time for unexpected things and taking care of yourself. You need space between things.

Then trust the structure you come up with. Let the structure support your practice of pristine focus on one thing at a time. Let this be your practice of devotion.

.