How to Improve Self-Awareness and Master Focus

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Power of Unwavering Focus" by Dandapani. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you lack control of your life? How can you improve self-awareness?

Focus consists of intentionally directing your orb of awareness to specific regions of your mind, without letting anything else direct your orb of awareness for you. In The Power of Unwavering Focus, Dandapani explores how to improve your self-awareness and stay in control.

Below we’ve organized Dandapani’s techniques for improving self-awareness into three steps, with additional advice on developing focus over time.

1) Become Conscious of Your Awareness 

The first in learning how to improve self-awareness is becoming conscious of it. Before you can guide your awareness, you have to reflect on its current state: Where is your floating orb right now? What region of your mind has it traveled to? See if you can find out.

(Shortform note: In Mindfulness in Plain English, Henepola Gunaratana writes that being fully conscious of your interior state requires you to be non-judgmental and accepting of what you find. Simply observe your own mind without judgment. Therefore, becoming conscious of your awareness may require you to suspend judgment and observe where your awareness is without yet thinking about where it ought to be.)

2) Redirect Your Awareness from Distractions 

If your awareness isn’t where you would like it to be, you must pull it back from whatever is directing your awareness. Dandapani recommends shifting your awareness in a small way, like wiggling your toes. 

You can also pull your attention away from a distraction by reframing your interpretation of it. Whenever you find something engrossing, you’re interpreting it in a way that makes it seem worth your awareness. You can redirect your awareness by changing your interpretation so that the distraction is no longer worth paying attention to. For example, if your awareness is absorbed in a game on your phone, remind yourself that you’re only looking at colored lights on a screen. 

(Shortform note: In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle gives further advice for dislodging your attention from distraction. Tolle recommends that you strive to maintain a sense of presence by turning your attention to your inner body. By observing your inner sensations and focusing on what you’re feeling at this moment, your awareness will naturally detach itself from external distractions.)

3) Set an Intention and Guide Your Awareness 

Dandapani writes that to guide your orb of awareness to the proper region of your mind, you must first set a destination. Tell yourself where you want to focus. Then try to gently guide your orb of awareness to the desired region of your mind. Once you arrive there, notice if your awareness is able to settle there, or if it keeps pulling away. 

(Shortform note: Some psychologists state that people have a hard time setting and following through with intentions because of competing needs. That is, they have unfulfilled emotional needs and desires in the backs of their minds, competing to direct their intentions. For example, if you’re planning to focus on getting some work done but can’t stop dwelling on a recent argument with a family member, you may have two different emotional needs competing to direct your intentions. In this situation, psychologists say that simply acknowledging your competing needs can help you prioritize and clarify your intentions, freeing you to guide your awareness as needed.)

Develop Focus Over Time Through Practice 

Dandapani stresses that while the methods of directing your awareness are simple, the ability to focus most of the time requires years of practice. Your awareness has the power to slowly reshape your mind by directing your flow of spiritual energy to different regions. Therefore, by focusing your awareness on the ability to focus your awareness, you’ll strengthen this ability over time. However, if you frequently allow yourself to fall into distraction, this will also reshape your mind to make you more distractible over time. Dandapani encourages you to think of focus as mastering a sport. The effort will be enormous, the results will be slow, but the rewards will eventually be great. 

To get moving on your journey to mastery, Dandapani recommends that you start by making a plan to incorporate focus into the activities you do every single day. Here we’ll discuss his practice plan in four steps.

1) Choose a Daily Activity to Center Your Practice On 

Pick an ordinary activity that you do every day. This should be something that you have to do, such as brushing your teeth, getting dressed, or making breakfast. Don’t pick something that you feel you ought to do every day but might not get to, like exercising.

2) Practice Focus Every Time You Do This Activity

For example, every time you brush your teeth, move your awareness to the present moment and focus on thoroughly brushing each tooth without letting your mind wander from the task. 

3) Track Your Progress 

Dandapani recommends that you create a grading rubric for yourself. Every day, you’ll grade yourself based on how well you focused during your chosen activity. For example, every time you brush your teeth, you could give yourself a letter grade of A, B, or C. You would give yourself a C if you were completely distracted while performing this task, an A if you were completely focused, and a B if you were somewhere in between. This will keep you accountable and consistent as you can look back at your rubric and see whether you’re growing or slipping in your practice. 

4) Expand Your Practice

Once you’ve mastered focusing on this activity every day, choose a second activity that you have to do every day, and add this to your practice. However, note that Dandapani suggests that truly mastering the first item on your list should take at least a month, if not several. Recall that mastering focus is like mastering a sport. Start small and work your way up.

How to Improve Self-Awareness and Master Focus

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Power of Unwavering Focus summary:

  • How focus isn't just something that happens to you—it's a learned skill
  • Why focus is so important and how to improve your focus
  • The unexpected benefits of wiggling your toes

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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