A Simple Exercise to Help You Refocus

Listen to and count the sounds of now.

Have you been struggling with overwhelm lately? Or do you find that when you try to make some progress on a project, you become too distracted to proceed effectively? If you don’t know where to start, try this simple exercise to help you refocus your attention and clear away the intrusive and distracting thoughts that keep coming up, that make it difficult for you to pay attention.

Be present to the now. Listen to the now. Let yourself come back to the present moment by taking five minutes to sit quietly and count the sounds surrounding you.

A Practice to Refocus
First take three or four long slow deep breaths in. Let your out breaths be even longer and slower than those in. Notice where are you experiencing your breath happening in your body the most (the nostrils, throat, upper chest, lower chest, belly) and focus on the gentle rise and fall of that area with each in breath and each out breath. See if you notice any space – however brief – between the inhale and the exhale.

When you are comfortable with noticing your breath, let yourself listen to all the sounds you hear – outside from where you’re at; inside the same room; inside your own body. You might hear cars driving by, or sirens in the distance; or someone running water in the next room; or the air-conditioner hum. You might hear a swallow of yours, or maybe even your heart beat. Simply notice each of the sounds and try to count them.

Every time you notice a new sound, or the same sound repeating, count it. Keep counting how many sounds you hear in five minutes (ie: the creak of the heater – 1; an airplane in the distance – 2; a bird’s coo – 3; a car drive by – 4; the rustle of a breeze –5; that plane again–6; a twig drop from a tree –7; music in the next room – 8; the scratch of the pen you are writing with –9; your stomach growling – 10; your breath in –11; your breath out –12; the silence between breaths – 13; a big sigh –14; your meditation bell chiming – 15, etc.). Count as many sounds as you can. And keep breathing gently alongside the sounds you hear. What’s the last sound you hear when the time is up?

Notice how you feel after completing this exercise. Do you feel relaxed; less stressed; still distracted; pleased you were able to stay with it?

Benefits of paying attention to the present moment and its sounds
The act of focusing only on what you hear, and listening carefully for all sounds, helps to build your ability to focus and pay better attention. You might practice gently directing your awareness to where you want to focus your hearing attention, and in the process, see that you have more control over where your thoughts go than you’ve realized.

By practicing listening to the now regularly, you may realize that the number of sounds you hear actually goes up, or you may hear different kinds of noises and sounds; or you might notice that your ability to concentrate and focus your attention improves and you’re more able to get things done. You may notice clusters of sounds, interspersed by no sounds or sounds that flow one into another.

Also, by listening to the sounds of now, you will find you are not frittering your precious attention away into random distracting thoughts or worries, and instead are having more reserve available to you, to use purposefully on tasks that are important to you.

Five minutes to hear, take in, reflect on, let go of, and notice again another sound can be a good way to clear out and settle in before a stressful meeting or transition, or while you’re waiting for something or someone, or when you notice you have a few unfilled minutes. This practice builds good skills for moving through your day in an effective, self-caring way.

For advanced practice, you might write down all the sounds you’re hearing for five minutes; or listen to music and note the sound of each instrument, or voice tone, or beat, or word sung through the whole song.

I’d love to hear from you how this exercise worked for you, or any questions you might have about how to improve your focus. Simply respond to this email or post… Here’s wishing you the richness of many sounds noticed and counted…

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT

Marriage, Family Therapist
[email protected]
(510) 482-4445

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