When was the last time you focused so intensely on something that you lost track of time and didn’t feel the hours passing by? When was the last time you focused on a single task without being distracted for more than 25 minutes?
Having the ability to focus on something deeply is becoming a lost skill in our interconnected world. According to some studies, the average adult checks their phone 150 times a day. If you divide that by the number of waking hours in a day, that’s roughly 10 times per hour! No wonder our focus is so fragmented.
Any successful person will tell you that the key to success is the ability to focus on long-term goals, short-term goals and important daily tasks without being distracted. And I’m not just referring to focus at work. We need to focus deeply to be successful in our spirituality, in our physical well-being, and even in our family and community relationships.
The more disconnected and fragmented our focus is, the less we’ll be able to live the best version of ourselves across all our roles.
How is focus linked to spirituality?
One of the best books written on this topic is Cal Newport’s “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, which has fascinating studies and practical strategies to help improve one’s focus. In one chapter, Cal recounts an anecdote about a high-performing professional who, as an orthodox Jew, studied the Talmud intensely early in the morning, which helped improve his focus and performance at work. I couldn’t resist drawing parallels between this practice and the Islamic tradition of reciting, memorizing and contemplating the meanings of the Qur’an, especially in the early hours after the dawn prayer.
Being able to sit still for 30–45 minutes after the dawn prayer and focusing on reciting or memorizing the Qur’an, away from distractions and everyday business, can be a powerful antidote to our hyper-connected world. It helps us develop the deep focus we desperately need to succeed. This is because concentrating intensely on divine texts and resisting the temptation to check one’s phone or getting up to do something else improves the focus wiring of your brain, which can have a long-term impact on your ability to get critical long-term projects done.
Tips to exercise your focus muscles
How do you develop this habit each morning so you can foster an intensely focused mind?
You’re not reciting or memorizing the Qur’an merely to exercise your focus muscles; you’re performing this as an act of devotion to Allah . This will help you stick to it for the long run.
Set a specific time
It should ideally be early morning right after dawn prayer. Aim for a minimum of 30–45 minutes of deep focus reciting or memorizing the Qur’an.
Don’t have distractions around you
Keep your phones away. Not in your pocket, or where you can reach them.
Tame your thoughts:
If your mind wanders while reciting, just bring your attention back to the Qur’an, and if you have a burning thought that won’t go away, have a pen or notebook next to you to record that thought so you can come back to it after you’re done.
Involve your imagination and senses when reciting
When reciting or memorizing the Qur’an, try to involve all your faculties, whether it is visual, by reading the text; auditory, by listening to yourself recite; or tactile, by holding the Qur’an in your hands in its physical format (instead of using your smartphone Qur’an app). Or use your imagination to visualize the meanings, images, and stories of the Qur’an as you recite them. This will get your brain fired up in many different ways.
If you care about living a meaningful, productive life and not a fragmented or distracted one, then you’ll need to develop your focus muscles. And there’s no way more powerful or blessed to exercise those muscles than by dedicating time early in the hours to the most important message to read that day, the words of your Lord.