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Focus: Vision as a Superpower & Morning Pages

🤸‍♀️ Stretch 32

"Success isn't that difficult; it merely involves taking twenty steps in a singular direction. Most people take one step in twenty directions." - Benjamin Hardy

This edition is all about focus:

Our ability to narrow our attention to just one thing.

The brain people are adamant: there's no such thing as real multitasking—only very rapid task switching where you're shifting your attention from one task to another.

And this juggling takes a toll on your brain, even if you don't notice it.

🤸‍♀️ IN THIS WEEK'S STRETCH:

  • Our visual system. A bi-directional superpower we all have access to.

  • Morning Pages. Cognitive offloading & focus training.

  • Focus Toolbox. A few apps & resources to try out.

👁 THE BI-DIRECTIONAL POWER OF YOUR VISION

The way you feel affects your breathing.

Stressed = breath quickens. Relaxed = breath slows down.

No surprises there.

Increasingly known (and why breathwork is becoming so popular) is this process also works in reverse:

When you consciously slow down or quicken your breathing, you can shift your mental state towards relaxation or focus.

Now, here comes the juicy part:

The same is true for our visual system.

Our vision is a bi-directional superpower we all have access to.

When you're excited or stressed, the aperture of your visual window shrinks.

When you're relaxed, the aperture of your vision expands.

We don’t normally notice these shifts happening.

But, just like with your breath, you can take conscious control over your visual system by toggling between these two modes of vision:

1. Focal or narrow vision

This mode enables us to lock on to a particular object or position in space.

We use focal vision when we're reading, looking at a screen, or finding a friend in a crowded room.

Narrow vision is associated with increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the "flight or flight" response, increasing our levels of alertness.

It's a highly focused, soda-straw view of the world.

2. Panoramic or peripheral vision 

This wide-angle vision allows us to see all around us—up, down, right, left, and forward— at the same time.

We naturally go into this mode when we're looking at a beautiful view.

Panoramic vision is associated with the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This "rest and digest" response is experienced as feeling safe and calm, with having a broad yet flexible awareness of your surroundings.

A great skill to learn is how to regularly switch between these two modes of processing the world around you throughout your day.

TO FOCUS Narrow your visual field

When you need to concentrate on something, narrow your visual field.

Go into “Portrait Mode” and let everything else fall into the background.

By deliberately narrowing your vision, and blocking out all visual distraction, you’re sending a clear message to your brain about what matters and what needs its energy.

To increase your level of focus on the task you're about to do, stare at a point on a wall, screen, or object for 30-60 seconds before starting.

The finer your visual image and the more you can hold your gaze, the better.

I know—it's surprisingly hard to do.

That effort you feel is “top-down” attentional engagement and reflects the activity of neural circuits triggering acetylcholine release in the brain—the neurochemical responsible for focus.

TO RELAX → Expand your visual field

Without conscious effort, we spend most of our days in tunnel vision and rarely go into panoramic vision.

The beauty of this technique is that you can do it anytime, anywhere.

I'm doing it right now as I'm writing this. Try it for yourself, right now.

Simply expand your visual field and soften your eyes. Focus on seeing as much from your surroundings as you can, without moving your head.

You might notice your breathing slowing down. The muscles in your face and body relaxing.

There's a feeling of calmness and lightness.

Play around with this throughout your day

Be conscious about your visual field as you're moving from task to task.

When working, put intense visual focus on what you need to laser in on. Remove all distractions from around you and resist the urge to work on multiple things at the same time.

Once you're done with a task, don't dive into your phone to check your emails or hop on social media. Staring at your phone narrows your vision again and does nothing to help your brain recharge.

Instead, give yourself a couple minutes before you re-engage into work.

Go into panoramic vision: relax your gaze, lower your alertness.

Training focus is not only about single-tasking and removing all distractions. It's just as much about learning how to disengage and recharge.

🌅 MORNING PAGES FOR COGNITIVE OFFLOADING AND FOCUS.

Every morning, I sit down and fill one page with whatever's going on in my head. I can't stop until I've filled the page.

It's tedious. My hand hurts.

But it's also cathartic. And every time, I close the notebook with a sense of calm and clarity.

I've been a hardcore digital journaler for years but I've recently made the switch to pen and paper again, for 2 key reasons:

  • Focus training. Filling an entire page in full sentences, by hand, is surprisingly challenging. Resisting the urge to stop or to quickly do something else takes effort and is great focus training*.

  • Mental offloading. You get these benefits with digital journaling as well but it hits differently in your own handwriting. You have no choice but to slow down your thoughts so your hand can keep up. There's more time to process your thoughts. And less mental clutter means... more brainpower to focus on the stuff that matters.

I know many people intellectually understand the benefits of journaling yet find it impossible to start with.

My suggestion?

Start super super super small. Buy the smallest notebook you can find, and tell yourself you'll start with 1 page per day. And increase slowly from there.

Consistency > Intensity

The other comment I often hear is: "I wouldn't know what to write about!"

I feel like journaling is often described in the context of processing emotions, and while it's obviously ideal for that, it can be so much more.

  • Procrastinating on a project at work? Take 10 minutes to write about anything that comes to mind related to the project. By the end, you'll have identified a first mini-step you can take to get things moving.

(*mentioned specifically as a good focus exercise in the Huberman & Jocko Willink podcast episode - recap here.)

🧰 FOCUS TOOLBOX

Nervous System Fundamentals. Focus is a neurological process. There's so much value in having a basic understanding of how your nervous system works, and how you can use it to get better at focus AND relaxation. You quickly realise that you have have all these incredible physiological tools at your disposal to manage anything that comes at you. Check out the free Nervous System Fundamentals course by Jonathan Carson.

AudioPen. All the AI-hype hurts my brain, but AudioPen is truly useful. It's an audio transcription tool, but instead of just transcribing what you're saying (like Otter.ai), the tool converts your thoughts into an organised text. No wasting time going through your transcripts. Check it out. There's an early adopter offer of $39 for 1 year, which seems like a no-brainer to me.

Meco. Resist the scatterdness of newsletters in your inbox. Meco connects directly with your email account and then takes all the newsletters you're subscribed to out of your inbox and into your Meco app, where you can group them and customize your reading experience.

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