How to Focus and Control Your Thoughts - In 3 Minutes
Forget everything you’ve been told about how to meditate or practice mindfulness. This three-minute exercise will quickly give you control over your thoughts and help you access powers of the mind you didn’t even know you had.
When You Don't Have Time to Meditate
After using the exercise I’m about to describe for just a few days, 3 minutes at a time a couple of times a day, I achieved a clarity of mind that often comes only with months or even years of practice. I was able to quickly become aware of negative thoughts I had not even noticed before, but that had been derailing me just the same. This little exercise brought my powers of concentration to a peak level far faster than meditation techniques ever could. And it can do the same for you.
Let me be clear. A regular meditation practice can transform every aspect of your life. Mindfulness exercises can do wonders for reducing stress and boosting your mental focus. I teach a collection of validated mental exercises, rooted in the science of neurofeedback, that have helped my clients go from stress to relaxation at will, multiply their productive output several times over and speak and perform in public at levels they never previously imagined possible.
I fully believe in the power of the entire range of mental focusing practices to help us function optimally in everything we do. I teach and practice many of them. They are incredibly effective when practiced consistently.
The key word here is “consistently.” Like exercise, some methods work better or more quickly than others, but all will make you stronger if you consistently work at them. Like exercise, the best method in the world will do little if you do it only occasionally.
But many of us simply don’t have that kind of time, or even willingness to show up every day for a dedicated meditation or mindfulness session. At least not the kind of consistently dedicated time that’s needed for you to start noticing real differences.
I have had many clients who could benefit in countless ways if they would spend a half hour or more daily practicing meditation, mindfulness, or the mental focusing exercises that I teach.
But they won’t. They either see themselves as too busy, or don’t quite see the value in carving out large blocks of time for this, or they don't yet have sufficient ability to focus where sitting down for a half hour, or even 15 minutes, is an option.
The Three-Minute Mental Makeover
For my clients who don’t yet have the time, inclination or ability to engage in sustained mental focusing work, we start with this exercise that can be done in three minutes, or sometimes even less. It is as simple as it is powerful.
If you’re not yet ready to commit to regular meditation, or you’ve tried and you haven’t been able to keep it going, this is the perfect exercise for you. And if you do meditate or practice mental focusing exercises regularly, this simple technique can quickly make your meditation and mental focusing abilities far stronger.
I think of this as the Thought Video exercise. This is a variation I have developed on a technique first described by Ernest Wood in a book he wrote on concentration back in 1949. Surprisingly, few others have picked up on it, despite how easy it is to implement.
Simply do the following:
1. Choose an object. Think of an object. This can be an object that is in the room around you, or one you recall from your memory.
2. Watch the video. Close your eyes. See the object in your imagination. Now simply allow your thoughts to drift as they would normally. But, like you’re watching a video, observe your thoughts as they drift.
As an example, you might choose a lamp as your object. You see the lamp in your imagination. Which makes you think of a light bulb. Which makes you think of the sun. Which makes you think of that time last year that you spent on the beach soaking up the rays. Which makes you think of the friend you were with at the beach. Which makes you think of the fight you got into with your friend back in 8th grade. Which makes you think of your 8th grade math teacher. And so on.
3. Stop the video. You could of course allow your mind to drift for a long time, and wind up in a place not even remotely connected to where you started. But for our purposes, you’re going to let your mind drift for just about 30 seconds or so. And then you are going to affirmatively stop the drift. If we use the example of the lamp, your mind drifts to the light bulb to the sun to the beach. You then stop the video, so to speak. Instead of allowing your mind to continue to drift, you stop at the beach.
4. Resume the video. In our example, you would stay with the beach for about 10 seconds, not allowing the mind to continue to drift. Then resume the video – let your mind continue to drift, but now from the new starting point of the beach. Watch the video for another 30 seconds as the mind drifts from the beach to a whole new set of thoughts and images.
5. Repeat. Then stop the video, hold and resume again. Do this for 3-5 cycles. The entire process will take about 3 minutes, give or take. Of course, you can choose to continue for longer, and you can also do this for just a minute or two. But most people find 3 minutes to be a good length of time.
Why does this short exercise produce such impressive results so quickly? Our minds constantly drift from one thought and image to another. We usually are barely aware of them. Yet they impact how we think, what we feel, our motivation levels, and our actions. By practicing stopping and starting the drift of your thoughts, and becoming aware that you are doing so, you very quickly develop a keen awareness of your thoughts and the ability to redirect them at will to productive purposes that serve you.
In the next article, we’ll be discussing a more advanced version of this exercise and specific ways you can use it to reduce stress and boost your productivity and performance. In the meantime, try the exercise once or twice a day for a week, and watch as your awareness and focus quickly grows.