If you’ve ever zoned out for hours on Facebook instead of working, or driven to the grocery store only to forget what you needed, you’ve dealt with distraction.
Distraction is by definition the mind losing attention on whatever task is at hand, and it’s become the norm in modern society.
It’s easy to get distracted these days; smart phones bring social interaction, knowledge, and entertainment to our fingertips every minute of the day. When we’re not looking at screens, we’re usually trying to process all the information we absorbed from devices, plus what’s happening in the present.
Though some distractions seem more helpful than others (listening to music on the train seems harmless, while responding to emails during Thanksgiving dinner could cause more problems), distraction of all kinds can be destructive. Our human brains don’t work like machines, and there is only so much we can process at once.
When we lose focus on the task at hand by trying to focus on several things at the same time, we slow our own progress. We limit our productivity by splitting our focus – essentially doing several things at a low level of functionality versus one thing at our maximum capability.
The idea of doing more in less time is seductive, but it’s not as modern as it seems.
In the days before the internet and smartphones, people still struggled with distraction. Even 5,000 years ago, the earliest practitioners of yoga needed a method to shut out their distractions and focus.
Thus, the concept of drishti was born.
Drishti is a sanskrit word that roughly translates to “gaze” or “view.” A yogi or yogini uses a specific drishti during each pose to create stillness in the mind, and therefore bring awareness to the pose. For example, in utthita trikonasana, or extended triangle pose, the gaze shifts upward to the extended hand above, and can even be as specific as focusing softly on the thumb.
Including drishti in yoga practice allows a student to notice the subtle movements of their body while in the pose. Maybe the she notices that she is clenching her teeth, or that her weight is collapsing into her hip. The goal is to rid the mind of distraction by focusing it on one point.
Drishti works because it prevents the student from getting distracted by the most powerful sense she has: sight. When a student’s eyes are roaming around the room, her attention is shifted away from the pose she is trying to perfect. When she limits her focus to one single spot, suddenly there is room to process the more important parts of yoga, like alignment and muscle activation.
The beauty of drishti lies in its simplicity, and it’s application to life outside the studio.
It’s unrealistic to imagine holding your literal gaze on one point as you go about your day, but it’s entirely possible to apply the concept of “gaze” in a more figurative sense. With productivity, this involves choosing one thing – a project, an item on that never-ending to-do list, or a simple errand – and putting all of your focus into it. The results can be dramatic.
There are countless ways to build drishti into your daily habits. If you’re looking for productivity at work, one helpful step into cutting out distraction is downloading an app that blocks certain websites for a time.
Another tip is to ditch the to-do list, and instead try mind mapping (aka brain dumping). Set a timer for 5 minutes, and grab a blank piece of paper. In the time limit, write down everything that comes to mind. This map could end up looking like a concept map with one central idea, or it might turn into a hodgepodge of lists, drawings, and lightbulb moments. When the timer is up, circle three things that jump out as high priority items, and make those your tasks for the day.
They key here is to not get overwhelmed by the endless options for “things to do” – instead, just focus on one, and move forward.
From the studio to the office, it’s clear that distraction limits our potential. Using the idea of drishti in your work and home life might make things just a little less hectic, and a little more productive.