Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images


How to focus when you get distracted by everything

Self-confessed scatterbrain Viv Groskop has long been a sceptic about mindfulness. But she has realised it actually might help her learn how to focus

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By Viv Groskop on

Just in case there is anyone left in the universe who has not heard of mindfulness, it’s a practice that is (painfully?) close to meditation which encourages you to rest your mind, be aware of what’s around you and be in the moment. I know. I would far rather throw a television out of the window of a hotel room.

However. Like lots of people I can’t ignore the fact that I’m frequently, endlessly and hopelessly derailed from what I intended to be doing. How to focus when you are distracted by everything? Look! A squirrel! Or, rather, a cookie flashing up that dress I promised myself I would not buy! Look! Some shoes like the ones I already bought! Exhausting. Could it be that I would benefit from being more “mindful”? Would it help me be slightly less of an idiot who has 174 windows open on her desktop at once and then is surprised when her computer crashes? Hmm.

This is Happening is a useful new book by Rohan Gunatillake, super-hot mindfulness guru and tech sector executive. (If you are going to submit to the cult of mindfulness, definitely do it whilst being advised by someone hot, right?) He argues that while mindfulness might have become a slightly annoying Zeitgeisty buzzword, we ignore it at our peril. It’s the key to concentration. “When the mind is faced with anything hard, there is  a tendency for it to want to move away,” he writes, “and so it’s natural play is to look for a more pleasant experience elsewhere.” Look! My Etsy favourites! That man on Twitter who in a parallel universe is my secret pretend digital boyfriend! Scarlett Johansson on Saturday Night Live!

Rohan Gunatillake, super-hot mindfulness guru and tech sector executive argues that while mindfulness might have become a slightly annoying Zeitgeisty buzzword, we ignore it at our peril

No. Stop. Slow down. Listen to the nice mindful guru. “Underneath the impulse to escape, the reason my mind doesn’t want to be here is a mixture of fear and doubt,“ he says in his nice mindful guru voice. Give in to the discomfort, he advises. Feel it and acknowledge it. Don’t turn away from it. Let your body relax, whilst acknowledging that you feel discomfort and want to move away. (But don’t head for the web browser.) Guess what? This is mindfulness. Sitting in the feeling of wanting to be distracted but not actually giving in to the urge for distraction.

“Training ourselves in concentration is a dance,” purrs Gunatillake. “First there is the work of becoming more used to resting the mind in one place.” Tick. No clicking. No checking email. “Then there is the start of concentration training. It is the simple and persistent work of placing our attention with the breath, noticing when it’s skedaddled away and then bringing it back each time without judgement or a sense of uselessness.”

Hang on, isn’t this just meditation under another name? Sort of but not exactly. This is “mindfulness that is better designed for the realities of our modern lives.” Instead of putting on saffron robes, lighting incense and sitting in a temple cross-legged, this is an informal practice you can do at your desk. So put down the television set you have ripped off the wall, come away from the window and feel the discomfort of not giving in to the temptation of checking whether anyone might have posted any earth-shatteringly exciting status updates on Facebook. Stop. Breathe. Resist. I like it!

This Is Happening: Redesigning mindfulness for our very modern lives by Rohan Gunatillake is published by Bluebird.


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