From perception and memory, to problem solving and decision making, our relationship with “focus” impacts all parts of our life.
It is also culturally and contextually defined. How people interpret “focus” varies according to local culture as well as global trends. The desire for a “hyper” focused state of mind, for example, is influenced by Western ideas around productivity and success. Meanwhile, concepts of mindfulness and creative flow are connected to ancient Eastern concepts of engagement. In a globalised world, people across the world are influenced by these ideas in different ways.
As part of our ongoing Illume Guide featured blog posts, we interviewed two of our Millennial Illume Guides from Japan and the US – two countries united by busy, dynamic lifestyles, but differing on their perspective on focus. We discuss how they define a happy relationship with focus, and explore the forces, such as Covid-19, that are shaping where this will go in the future.
Hi both! Tell us about yourself – what you do and what are you passionate about?
Yukari: I’m a designer, specialising in UX and concept design. In 2016, I graduated from the Royal College of Art before returning to Tokyo. I always try to pursue an ethical life, leading to my passion for yoga training and a vegan lifestyle.
Nate: I’m a professional experimental/electronic composer and technology developer. I also work in fashion design, with a focus on custom and sustainable methods. I identify as queer, but wouldn’t necessarily consider myself part of the LGBTQ community at large. My other interests include nature, gardening, rock climbing, and trail running.
How important is being able to focus for you? What would you say are the benefits of focus?
Yukari: For me, focus is all about following my heart and personal mission. To help unwind I do daily yoga, meditation and hang drum. I want to help everyone enjoy freedom and happiness through sharing the benefits of yoga and a vegan lifestyle. To me, focus is about achieving an outcome as best and fast as possible, allowing our minds to unwind afterwards.
Nate: Work and creativity are most important for me because they are complex and task-oriented. At work, I need to pay attention for a longer period of time and often have to manage multiple tasks or follow several directions.
I grew up diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, which influenced my inability to focus, and led teachers to say that I wasn’t applying myself after trying to stay attentive for seven hours a day. I’ve never worked in that structure unless I’m self-directed, and have an interest in the subject.
A mediation teacher helped me understand it’s harder to focus when there are more distractions, no matter how strongly I urge myself to resist. It’s better for me when I can construct a scenario with fewer distractions. That’s something that wasn’t really shared with me in my youth. I didn’t do too poorly in high school, but I did much better in college when the class schedule was lighter and I was studying something that engaged my interest.
Has the Covid-19 situation affected your ability to focus? Do you think this will have a longer-term impact on how you think about focus?
Yukari: I never felt the importance of being able to focus until now. Before Covid-19, my sure-fire way of focusing was to change my environment, usually working in cafes. Now I find it difficult to focus on work due to distractions at home such as food, my family, my dog and bed.
Working from home has made me realise two things – deciding what to focus on in life and allowing myself time for self-care without a sense of guilt. These are fundamental things in life that used to get swallowed up. I don’t think my personal wellbeing has been better.
Nate: Covid-19 has forced me to confront all the distractions I have in my room, where I also expect myself to work. It’s much easier to work if I set up in a different room, away from my bed.
Being forced to stay at home has helped me return to an internally oriented lifestyle; there are fewer distractions because I cannot go out and meet my friends or go to shows. I’m not sure if it will have a longer-term effect on my ability to focus, but it has brought some insight into what works for me and what doesn’t.
What have you been doing to help yourself focus?
Yukari: From a behavioural design perspective, I am redesigning my routine so that I can automatically focus when I need to, and unwind when it’s time to relax. I made a bullet list of what I want to achieve in the coming few months, and then did a break-down into a daily schedule.
Being a freelancer, I had an irregular sleeping pattern so now I’m transitioning to a consistent bed / wake up time every day. Other things I’ve introduced to my routine include morning yoga, which helps wake my brain and body before starting work. Also, morning walks in the sun and decluttering the house with the Maria Kondo technique. In Japanese schools, children clean their classrooms and corridors at the end of the day so they can start afresh the next day. I still find this very helpful.
Nate: I journal and meditate every morning. It brings me into a state of calmer awareness. If I try to repress those thoughts, I get distracted for the rest of the day.
Setting up a work-specific area, preferably in another room, has been extremely helpful. Sometimes it helps me to focus when I put in earplugs or headphones with music that isn’t too energetic. Also, taking breaks and holding myself accountable for returning to work is good. It’s easy to get distracted.
What’s emerging as a need that people want to focus on compared to before Covid-19?
Yukari: Remote work has changed things – not only the digitization of work, but also a shift of corporate guidelines and mindset. I think home renovation and at-home entertainment has become an emerging need. The idea of staying home all day is foreign to many Japanese people who are used to going out to restaurants, bars or karaoke after a day at the office. Now home gardening, decluttering, cooking and home fitness give a sense of peace as a therapeutic activity.
Nate: Here in NYC there are a lot of people who focus on their jobs, sometimes to the detriment of their social lives. I think Covid-19 has brought a lot of people away from the distractions of society and city life, and more into their homes.
Health seems to be an important need to focus on because all the health clubs are closed. People are spending more time sitting at home feeling the effects of being sedentary.
What would your advice to help people focus?
Yukari: Setting the right environment at home is important. Self-care such as online yoga classes, bath salts, aroma candles and meditation apps all help. Online coaching is also useful, it’s good having someone you can check in with to set the pace for achieving goals.
Given what people are experiencing in lockdown, how do you think people’s relationship with focus will change in the future?
Yukari: With many people being given opportunities to turn to themselves rather than external stimulations, I think people will have clearer priorities of what they want to focus on in life. Before, to focus was something people had to do to make a living or to attend a good school. Covid-19 has made me realise that focus isn’t something to even think about because when we do what we really love, we are ‘in the zone’ without even thinking about how to focus.
Nate: In the future, people will look back on this and think about how much time we spent in our homes. Some people are probably getting better at focusing because they have to, but I know parents with young children are having a hard time because the kids are home 24/7. I think people will probably see this as a time when everything changed socially, and we had to learn to adapt quickly. It’s probably a bit different for each person.