The Moment That Ruins Our Focus

Learning to Surf the Uncertainty of Life


By Leo Babauta

I challenge you to do a test before you read the rest of this post (well OK, read the next two paragraphs then go do the challenge) …

Open an email that’s been sitting in your inbox but that you’ve been avoiding responding to or acting on. Pick the hardest one. Try to sit there, read the email, and then act on it and/or respond to it.

Then notice if there’s a moment when you want to just get away from that email. What does that moment feel like?

This moment of overwhelm and anxiety is usually invisible to most of us. It happens multiple times throughout the day (possibly dozens), and determines the actions we take or don’t take. But we rarely notice it — we just try to get away from it.

This is the moment that ruins our focus. It’s the moment that causes our procrastination and avoidance. It’s the moment that ruins our best habits and our best intentions.

It’s a moment that has a feeling we don’t want to feel. In fact, we’ll often spend a lot of our time trying to avoid that feeling. It feels too hard to feel.

We might have even set up a large part of our lives so that we don’t have to feel it — our lives are designed around that kind of feeling, to avoid it. For example, if you feel that feeling when you talk in front of a group, you might have set up your life so you never have to talk in front of a group. If socializing with strangers gives you that feeling, you might have a life where you don’t have to do that. If you get the feeling when you share your creative work with others, then you might have a life where you never have to do that. You get the picture.

That’s all fine — you don’t have to change your life. But if you’d like to not have to avoid the feeling, and you’d like to create amazing focus and the ability not to avoid your most meaningful work … read on.

The main thing is to let yourself feel the feeling, whenever you notice it. If you can do that repeatedly, as a training, you’ll get much better at it, and the feeling becomes much less of a big deal.

So first, notice when the moment comes — when you’re feeling the thing that is overwhelming and that you want to get away from. It might be because of a difficult or scary task, an upcoming event or meeting or trip, a difficult conversation or a frustrating person, an email or message you don’t want to read. Just try to catch the moment when it’s happening.

When you notice it, pause. Just sit for a few seconds, and breathe deeper and more slowly. Let yourself calm down for a minute, and just be with the feeling. That means to give it your attention and not to turn away from it, just for a few seconds.

If it’s too intense, get up and walk around. Shake it off. Distract yourself. Then you might try again, just for a few seconds. Maybe do that 2-3 times if you feel up to it. No need to push yourself too far.

If you practice this several times a day, you’ll get better at it. If you do it 10 times a day, you’ll get better even faster. Soon, you’ll be able to stay with it for 15 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute. Then longer. You’ll grow your capacity to be with this moment.

Then everything becomes possible.