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How Questions Can Help You Focus

Aug 18, 2007
Focus. That is the single most important ability determinant of your success. The lack of it is also the single most common problem faced by a major portion of the general populace.

The average person cannot focus his or her mind on any one thought, task or thing for extended periods of time if he or she wants to.

Just try this - picture a circle of any colour you choose for at least 68 seconds. That's only 8 seconds over a minute. Do this without letting any other stray thoughts, images or inner voices intrude in your mind. Not even one speckle of a thought should creep in your mind, other than that circle of your favourite colour centered in your imagination.

Try it now!

Ouch! Treacherously difficult, isn't it?

I notice a few things after several unyielding trials at meditation and concentration exercises.

If I am focusing on an image or visual object in my mind, that visual object or image tends to "morph" into something else, shifting shapes, changing colours and moving about with a life of its own.

I think that this stems from our mind being bored by our forcing it to concentrate on only one perception at a time, after having been exposed to a life-time of perceptual cognitive bombardment.

It just fights to let other thoughts and perceptions come in to kill its boredom, like a baby that is quickly bored by one toy and wants to play with the next.

If I am trying to focus on a word, a principle, a concept or idea, the intangibility of that thought and vagueness thereof simply demands other related (and un-related) ideas and concepts to flood into my mind, thus killing my concentration exercise.

Either way, I'm trapped.

The supreme kind of focus that is achieved by meditators and the highly successful (meditators are not necessarily highly successful, and vice-versa) only comes about through disciplined training and diligent daily practice.

But I'm not going to tell you to go through that kind of rigorous training to sharpen your focus until it becomes as a laser beam.

Most people do not have the time nor the stamina to take the torturous path braved by those few. Maybe you're one of them, like me, maybe you're not.

Don't worry if you're from the previous group. It's not now, but not never either, just, perhaps another time for you.

But do we really need that kind of perfect and supreme concentration ability? To be able to only think one thought and let no other, not one inkling, come in? To focus so deeply and intently on one idea and be immune to distractions both inner and outer?

The answer is no. We don't have to shave our heads bald and don robes to sharpen our mind. There is a way for you to help yourself focus your mind and all your resources on achieving a certain objective when you really, really need to.

It is through questions.

That's it. Just ask yourself questions about, relevant and pertaining to the thought, idea or thing you want to focus on. Only questions relevant to the object of your focus. Nothing that strays too far away from the theme or subject matter.

Questions are naturally thought focusers. That means, by their very nature, questions are designed to make your thoughts focus on what is being asked about.

Just think of riddles or puzzles. I just got one in my email concerning the 3rd word in the English language that ends in "gry".

Here it goes:

"There are 3 words in the English language that end in 'gry'. One is angry and the other is hungry. Everyone knows what the 3rd word is, and everyone uses it every day. If you listened carefully, I've already told you what it is. What is the 3rd word?"

The question "What is the 3rd word?" got my mind thinking so hard, and all my thoughts, for that moment, so focused and intent on finding the elusive answer to that puzzle that it distracted me from the actual answer itself that is already presented to my face (for the answer, go do a search on Google).

Or think back to a time when you were doing an English comprehension paper. I can recall myself doing my 'O' Level English Comprehension Examination paper. The article has got something to do with early child development and the human brain.

When you were trying to answer the questions, what do you do? You were searching for the answer in the comprehension article, right?

Or if it was a thinking-type question, you were also searching for the answer in your mind, in your memory, trying to find related ideas and concepts that could somehow match what the comprehension question demands.

If you were observant, I've already told you the purpose of focusing.

Okay, I won't play riddles with you. The chief purpose of concentration or focus is to search for something. You want to search for something, you focus on it.

Scholars, monks, philosophers, thinkers and writers who are in search of what they hold to be the Ultimate Truth, focus on it in order to find it. Some fail, some succeed; and the difference between the two is how much they know about what they are actually focusing on (or searching for) and why.

So here's one tip to help you focus better:

KNOW what it is you want to achieve with your focusing. What are you searching for? Where are you heading for?

How does one KNOW? How does one attain knowledge of something? One asks. Therefore, questions help one focus.

For example, you want to focus on a book that you're reading. You can't seem to understand what it is about, either because the author sucks or you are not focusing well enough on the contents and ideas presented.

Let's assume it's the latter case.

First, ask yourself some questions about WHAT information or knowledge that you want to extract from reading this book.

Second, think about HOW you're going to go about and retrieve that information or knowledge that you're seeking in the book.

Third, just for added motivation, ask WHY you want to or need to have that knowledge or information you're searching for in the book.

Fourth, formulate a few What, Why, How, Who, Where, When questions (whatever applies) to get you into "Search mode"; pretty much like a search engine, in order to get you to FOCUS on only those parts of the book that can provide you with the answers to your questions.

While you notice the CAPS that I wrote in the previous few paragraphs, do you see the connection now between focusing, searching for answers and asking questions?

Or let's say you're doing one of those concentrating-on-an-object exercises. You know, like candles, fruits, pictures and stuff. I don't know what the purpose for these kinds of exercises is, other than that they help you train your mind to focus, somehow, albeit on seemingly unconstructive things.

First, ask yourself WHAT that thing actually is (I realise how silly this sounds, but I have a gut inner feeling that I'm on the right track, and I trust my intuition very, very much, and I don't want to betray it). Okay, so, it's an apple. Ask yourself what it is that makes an apple, an apple. What are the elements constituting an apple that determines it to be an apple.

Second, ask yourself HOW an apple becomes the way it is. Think about how it was originally planted in the Earth as a seed. Think about how it grows, with the proper nourishment of sunlight, water, minerals, nutrients and other things you learn in high school science.

Third, think about WHY an apple exists. (Laughing out Loud) This is where you can get existential-philosophical. What purpose does it serve in our reality? In this world? In the universe? Ask why is it red? Or green? Why is it juicy and scrunchy? Why is it sweet? What makes it so?

Fourth, generate more questions surrounding that apple. The more you ask, the more you'll find that you're thinking deeper and deeper about that apple, and while you're thinking deeply about it, you're actually focusing on it, and you've exercised your focusing abilities, and hence have enhanced it, by an incremental percentage; and I think if you're focusing on it hard enough, you might just feel compelled to grab it and take a MUNCH!

Fascinating, isn't it?

I'll end this article with a few Meta-Questions:

Why must I focus on the most constructive thought at any given moment?

How can I focus on the most constructive thought at any given moment?

What if I am already focusing on the most constructive thought at any given moment?

How do I know I am focusing on the most constructive thought at any one time?

How soon can I be able to easily focus on the most constructive thought at any given time?

What is my purpose for focusing my mind on this thought I am thinking now?

How can I know that my purpose for focusing my mind on this thought I am thinking now is positive, constructive, optimal and serves to better my condition in the best possible way?

What am I really searching or seeking for while I am focusing on this thought?

What am I focusing on right now? (Ask this question from time to time, to keep track of your thoughts. Most people spend 99% of their time letting thoughts pass in their mind unchecked)

Why am I focusing on this thought right now?

Can you think of more questions already?
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