When I think about strategies for live better, I pay attention to Rule E: Efficiency, Efficiency, and Essentialism. Lately I’ve been on a roll about cultivating deep attention. In the age of social media and modern technology, we have lost the ability to focus. That’s why I made it my goal to be more attentive.
“Mindfulness” is a hot topic these days, and while more and more people are reading about it, its popularity has paradoxically robbed it of meaning. Tim Ferris defines “mindfulness” as an awareness of the present state that helps you to be non-reactive. This is a good definition, so let’s continue. Being non-reactive is necessary for deep focus in a world in which we are constantly besieged by inputs that distract us, drain our mental energy, and reduce our intellectual output.
Speaking of concentration and intellectual output, I was also on a fairly large hit on reading last time. A world-class expert will work 30 years to figure something out, devoting her entire life to one particular subject — and you can get all of her knowledge on that subject in a 200-page book that can be read over the weekend. And all for 10-15 dollars. Pretty good deal.
That is, of course, IF you can focus! Which brings us back to awareness. If you want to read a lot, you should cultivate “current state awareness that helps you be non-reactive” so you can really pay attention to the lines on the page, not your iPhone.
I don’t see reading as a leisure activity. It’s serious work—deep work that’s critical to the success of my business—and it takes effort.
Two Practices on How To Live Better
I recently dedicated myself to two practices that synergistically helped me focus deeper (effective), read more effectivelyand be carefulsignificant). Here’s how to live better.
Short Term Skill: How to Double Your Reading Speed
That’s how you read A LOT very quickly.
Buy a regular book (hardback or paperback) and then get the full audio version at Sound. Sit down, open a physical book and speed up to 2x or even 2.5x at the same time on Audible.
Follow the words with your finger or pen. You will absorb all the important information without wasting a second because it is like force-feeding your brain – and you will finish the book twice as fast or faster. Very efficient if you ask me!
I usually start at 1.5x for a few chapters to train my mind and eyes to keep up with the fast pace. It’s like using a treadmill: high-intensity interval training for the mind. Start slowly, gradually increase your speed, and then do “sprints”. I do 15-minute stretches at a very fast pace, then slow down for a while to give myself a cognitive break before getting back to business.
This is especially useful when you just need to “go through” a book because it contains important information, such as a business/marketing/money book. That’s how I got through Tony Robbins’ new hippo 3 days for example.
Another added benefit is that you are SUPER focused on what is being said because you are using not one but two senses (sight and hearing) to absorb the material as you follow along. There is no room for distraction! This is what we call hyper focus. This is amazing.
Long-Term Habit: How to Calm Your Mind (and Become More Mindful)
Meditation is a practice that allows you to become more aware. On a practical level, I like to explain meditation as taking a certain amount of time to focus on your breath and be aware of thoughts as they arise. Instead of saying “BOOM! EMPTY MIND! YES!’ the mission is to direct your attention to the connection with the breath as it fills and leaves the lungs. When a thought comes (and trust me, you will have a LOT of thoughts during meditation), just say “hmph. I just had this thought. Interesting. Now I’m going to get back to focusing on my breathing.”
Just as we are bombarded with a million text messages, pings and stimulations, paying attention to distractions that we never intended to consume, we are equally preoccupied with our own thoughts. We often give each of them equal attention and attention, which breathes life into an endless wave of new and often unconstructive thoughts. And the cycle repeats.
Meditation allows you to see each thought for what it is—an imaginary object—and gives you perspective and trains you to look beyond it.
Related Post: How to Cope with the Stresses of Today’s Business World
Moments of empty mind and pure bliss are just starting to happen, and over time, their frequency will increase with more practice. Most importantly, you slow down your mind, connect with yourself, and improve your overall self-awareness.
Here’s how I started: Find a comfortable chair or sofa and sit on its edge. Close your eyes and take 100 breaths. Deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count them out loud in your mind. The numbers will be in some way mesmerizing and will help solidify your thoughts. One session will take approximately 10 minutes. That’s all.
Believe me, it’s hard to just sit and “do nothing.” Simply relaxing can cause anxiety. There is a trigger in the human brain that fires when we feel like we are “not doing enough.” After all, the brain is primarily designed to solve problems.
When the brain has nothing to solve, this absence itself becomes a problem.
So in a way, meditation solves the biggest problem of all: it just teaches us how to be. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and it’s also the easiest thing in the world.
Meditation is eternal solitude. Even when things go wrong, you can always find that “inner space” like Michael Neal would call it. But just like traveling to any physical location, you will have to make many trips before you can find your way without a map. And if you don’t go there often enough, you will forget the route. Thus the importance of consistency in practice.