How to focus in the Age of Instagram
In this world of constant access to a screen that can completely throw you off the goals you’ve set for yourself, there is a definite need to find ways in which you can maintain your focus.
I’ve had a hard time focussing because (I admit) I am addicted to social media. I’m the sort of person who is so into social media that I will actually judge you if you are not into social media. Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I secretly laugh at people for not knowing how to post a story on Instagram.
These social media apps have really figured out how to get us really hooked. The first thing that I do after opening my eyes is — that’s right, open my Instagram! And the worst part is, I’m not even that popular on social media. I do not have thousands of followers or hundreds of likes on my posts. I am a normal, average person with no influence on my social media network whatsoever. Yet, my fingers involuntarily unlock my phone and open Instagram every darn morning, sometimes even before my eyes are fully open (Does it help that I feel terrible about it right after?).
And I wish I could have justified this kind of addiction by being a social media influencer, where my world revolves around putting great content on Instagram for millions of my followers. Unfortunately, I am not that cool.
I’m a software engineer. I have a LOT of software engineering to do every day at my job. And if I don’t complete my work during normal work hours, I have to work outside of normal work hours to make sure my team still likes me. And what particularly does not work well for my social media addiction is that I actually have goals outside of my day job. I have dreams, and ambitions, and I get all starry-eyed looking at houses on Redfin with infinity pools.
Now to be able to materialize even a small percentage of those dreams, I need to make sure that my constant scrolling on social media does not reduce my attention span to that of a goldfish. I’ve had to find ways to focus on my goals so that I actually get some work done.
So here’s a VERY SHORT list of things that have worked for me. If you find out that social media is your main form of distraction that has the potential to actually disrupt an otherwise smooth ride to your goals, these may work for you too.
KEEP YOUR PHONE IN THE OTHER ROOM
That’s right. Not at a one-arm distance away. Not on your coffee table where your peripheral vision can spot it (or worse, where it can spot you). Not only does your phone have to be out of reach, but it needs to be out of sight. Out of sight is out of mind, remember? Trust me, my phone is a foot away from me right now while I write this post on How to Focus, and I’m struggling to not pick it up and continue scrolling (oh, the irony!)
If you can’t put your phone in a different room (But why not? Aren’t you working from home like every other person on the planet?), try putting it in your bag or in a drawer. You just have to put it in a place where you can’t see it, not even from the corner of your eye (else it can summon you at will).
SET A CONSCIOUS INTENTION TO FOCUS
Have you heard of people journaling every day to set intentions for the day? They write things like “Today I plan to accomplish this X at work, meditate for Y minutes and work out for Z minutes”.
I’ve started to do the same but I simply write “I will work with complete focus on every task that I take up” at the start of every week. And I don’t type it on a computer or my phone. I actually write it. With my hands. In an actual notebook with an actual pen. I’ve read somewhere that using your hands to set your intention works to imprint it in your subconscious better. I don’t know if that’s true but I can say that it seems to work for me (just as long as my phone is in a different room).
To be honest, I can’t say for sure if meditation has helped me focus. All the books and Youtube videos say it does, and trust me I’ve wasted far too much time on Youtube trying to figure how to focus while blissfully ignoring the thing that I was supposed to be focussing on in the first place.
But for the last few months, I’ve been meditating every morning for five minutes. This happens right after I wake up and scroll my Instagram for about thirty seconds, and right before I feel incredibly miserable about it. As an attempt to immediately remediate this, I close my eyes and force myself to meditate (I wish I was making this up).
Meditation is fun for me because it’s challenging. I do the kind of meditation where I try hard to focus on my breath. But my breath is so boring that I’ll almost immediately switch to thinking about something else — like my stocks on Robinhood, or that show on Netflix, or that influencer that I was just checking out on Instagram. And as soon as I find my thoughts drifting, I force myself to bring my attention back to my breath.
In. Out. In Out.
Oooh but her abs looked so fab, I almost wish I could lift like that.
Nope. Reigning it in.
In. Out. In. Out.
Oh, I wonder what I’ll make for lunch. That enchilada recipe video on Facebook looked so appetizing.
No no. Reigning it in. Again.
In. Out. In. Out.
This goes on until my monkey mind gradually returns to a place of control (or my head starts hurting). After five whole minutes of constantly shutting up the various thought streams, I can finally use my breath to find my anchor for the day.
That’s all I’ve got, folks! Thanks for getting to this line of the post. If I find more ways to focus, I’ll be sure to add them in.
And if you like me, do follow me on Instagram (uttarashekar@)! :D
P.S — This post was written to avoid writing what I was actually supposed to write today — a book I’m authoring called “The Startup Leap”. But I’ll tell you all about that in another post. Stay masked, you. ❤