Set up an attention ritual

A ritual is an activity or habit that gets you in the zone – it helps you to get into the state of mind necessary to perform a task. In the business world, before COVID-19, for example, shaking hands when meeting someone is a welcoming ritual. It sets your mind to start engaging with this person. Rituals can similarly be used for focus.

A simple ritual at the start and end of a task you need to undertake sends a clear signal to your brain when it is time to concentrate and when it is ok to relax. Rituals quickly become habits, or automatic behaviors – a brain favorite as they save up energy. They are familiar neuronal ‘operating paths’ within the brain that can be put to quick use with lower energy input. When a ritual becomes a habit, we no longer stop to question it (think, for example, about teeth brushing). We understand the clue and simply get on with the task at hand.

An attention ritual can help create the same automatic response and set the scene for clear beginning and end boundaries to your task. In between these boundaries it is clear to all involved (i.e. you and your brain) that it is ‘full-on focus mode’. Gradually your brain will learn to recognize the signal as dedicated ‘Focus Time’.

Many people have a subconscious attention ritual they are not aware of. In case you’re not sure, here are a few example rituals for setting your mind in the zone:

  • closing the door of your study/room
  • setting everything you have on your desk aside, apart from what you need for your specific task
  • settling down with your favorite beverage
  • putting on the same (instrumental) track of music-for-concentration
  • saying a small blessing or repeating a short mantra (footballers do it, too!)
  • leaving the mobile phone in another room