How To Focus
壹心理翻译社 ◎ 荣誉出品
原作 | Will Coldwell
翻译 | 雪孩子
校编 | 张真Derek
Even the smartest people sometimes struggle to stay in the zone. What tricks do they use to get back on track?
1. Mary Beard
Professor of classics at the University of Cambridge
▲ Prof Dame Mary Beard. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex
Most of the essentials of my job come down to concentration and focus. It is not a matter of memory, but of how best to use and deploy what one has remembered.
That is true if, for example, you are marking a student’s essay.
It is not a question of seeing what they get wrong or right (my subject isn’t really about that, others may be). It is about seeing what the student was trying to argue, and how they could make it better and more convincing.
That sounds simple, but it requires a hell of a lot of thought. The same is true of lecturing, or writing the chapter of a book. It is all about how you can use what you know to make the most powerful case, to engage people’s interest, or to show why what you want to say is important.
When it comes to techniques that help me focus, the flip answer is “one glass of wine but not two”. It’s flip, but there is a point there. Sometimes concentration is helped by loosening up a bit (though not too much). Sometimes it is helped by taking a break.
I am not advocating laziness. But it takes a very long time to learn that simply ploughing on, hour after hour, isn’t the most productive thing to do (as I always tell my students, more marks are lost in exams by being tired than by not knowing enough). And you have to keep your intellectual interest up. You won’t remember ideas effectively if you are not actually interested in them.
The most important lesson I have learned when it comes to writing or conveying difficult ideas is this: if you sit all morning and find yourself having repeated attempts to crystallise something and it never works, and you just hit the delete button again and again, the problem is probably a bigger one.
It’s not that you can’t crystallise it on paper, it’s that you haven’t really worked out what you want to say. Why it never works is because you haven’t yet mastered the question. So it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Guardian crossword setter
▲ Photograph: Lulie Tanett
I find that just before giving any talk at an event I declare to myself how it’s going to go. Much like when we go to a party and we decide beforehand that it’s going to be rubbish – and it is.
我发现自己在做演讲之前，总会暗想即将发生的情况。这特别像人们参加派对之前就断定，这场派对会很糟糕一样 —— 结果事实就是，派对真的很糟糕。
We can also decide it’s going to be great. That’s the power of words. We get to say how our life goes.
I was giving a in front of 4,500 people, just me on stage with a memorised eight-minute piece to say on how wordplay can bring people together.
4500 名观众面前做一场 TEDx 演讲, 就我一个人，讲稿八分钟，话题是文字游戏如何把人们聚拢在一起。
Twenty minutes before I was due to go on, I got lost in the corridors behind the stage while trying to find the loos and I just about found my way back to the green room.
就在上台前 20 分钟，我为了找厕所，在舞台后的几条走廊里迷路了，好不容易才找到回后台休息室的路。
Then there was a problem with my microphone getting clipped on my back-stage pass, which I was trying to bite through with my teeth to release. With moments to go, my wife looked at me as if to say:
“You look scared.”
She was right. As soon as I realised what my face looked like, that was an opportunity to stop being so significant! As soon as we realise something doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things, we can relax. I said to myself: “This is going to be fun,” and stepped on to the stage.
Regarding elements of my work and concentration, I find playing short-term games works. For example, if I have 30 clues to write in a puzzle, I might plan to do six every hour. I can even set an alarm to give me a five-minute warning.
谈及我工作和专注力的要素，我发现玩 “短字谜游戏” 的方法很凑效。譬如，如果我有 30 条线索要写进纵横字谜里，我可能计划每个小时只写 6 个。我甚至还能设一个提醒闹铃，每次结束时间还剩 5 分钟的时候就闹响。
Am I winning? Am I losing? If I lose, I could always win the next game … It’s fun.
I sometimes run marathons too. My second London Marathon was the worst experience. I was thinking of the finish from mile one. And it seemed a long, long way! Playing 26 games to the mileposts was much more fun on the next marathons.
有时候我也会跑跑马拉松。我参加的第二次伦敦马拉松是人生中最糟糕的经历了，才跑了一英里我就在想着怎么跑过终点线，于是整个跑程就显得特别特别得艰辛。后来几次跑马，我把跑全程 26 英里当做玩 26 个 “短字谜游戏”，过程就有趣多了。
3. Liv Boeree
Poker champion and science communicator
▲ Liv Boeree. Photograph: Roger Askew/Rex/Shutterstock
The major test for playing good poker is to be as rational as possible. So emotions are generally the worst thing for a poker player.
Whether it’s fear, excitement or anger, they all cloud your judgment because they make you motivated to come to a decision, rather than realise the truth of the situation.
You’re trying to be a judge, evaluating all these bits of evidence, but if you let your emotions get in the way, you’ll start to look for things that might not be there; for example, thinking another player might be bluffing, rather than pinpointing the objective truth.
Emotions can be helpful in inspiring us to want to be better, but for in-game decision-making you want to find a way to master them and keep a cool a head.
Imagine being in a big tournament. You start off with a 1,000 chips, you lose a big hand and you’re down to 500. Another player jumps up from 250 chips to 500.
想象自己正身处一场扑克大赛。你的起始筹码是 1000，输了一手之后只剩 500。而另一位选手的筹码从 250 翻到了 500。
You’ll both be in a very different mindset even though you both have the same number of chips. So you need to find a way to mentally detach yourself from things that have happened historically that might make you emotionally upset.
I was really tested in this way on the major final table at the European poker tour. I had the commanding chip lead, lost a hand badly and mentally just went to pieces.
I remember having this very angry dialogue in my head – it felt like a weird injustice. I had to recognise that I was in this emotional state – which is often the hardest part – but as soon as I realised, I could address it.
我记得脑海中冒出愤怒的声音 —— 这像是莫名的不公正。我必须觉察到我正在这个情绪状态中（这是最难处理的部分）但只要我产生觉察，就能处理好。
I told myself: “This is really important, and not the time to focus on past errors.”
I took a moment to breathe and did a little gratitude thing, telling myself how lucky I am right now to be in this situation. Then I did a big picture gratitude thing – telling myself I should to be grateful I was born in the 1980s rather than the 1600s when everyone was dying of anything – that kind of thing.
我深呼吸了片刻，并做了小小的感恩练习，告诉自己此刻的处境有多么幸运。接着我把这份感恩之情放大 —— 告诉自己应该庆幸出生在 80 年代，而不是连生命都得不到保障的 16 世纪 —— 类似这样的感恩练习。
I found it a really good way to get some instant perspective. Anything like that will just get you out of that emotional state and back to your objective. And ... I ended up winning.
It’s a very low cost thing to try, even if it doesn’t work out you might have a moment when you feel better about the situation.
In general, if I know that I have something important coming up, the most powerful thing I can do is a bit of meditation. Even a walk in the park where you stand barefoot – I find it makes you feel really present, just standing like a weirdo in the park for 10 minutes, focusing on your breath.
总而言之，如果我知道有重要事情即将发生，我能为此做的最强大的事是片刻的冥想。甚至光脚漫步在公园也可以 —— 我发现像个异类般地在公园里站上 10 分钟，聚焦在自己的一呼一吸上，这就能让你投入到当下的状态中。
That really sets you up well for the day, whether it’s playing poker, or anything else.
4. Suzanne Bertish
RSC actor playing Agamemnon in Troilus and Cressida
▲ Photograph: Walter McBride/Getty Images
Learning lines is a bore, period. For me, on stage, physicality helps. So the lines are in my body as well.
When learning for a play, I tell myself I have to know these lines by such and such time. Or that I’ll get to page 20 by the end of the week, page 40 by the second week…
每当看剧本的时候，我就告诉自己必须在某某时间点之前把这些台词背下来。或者告诉自己这周之前我要背到第 20 页，下周之前我要背到第 40 页……
I give myself a framework and a goal. I remember, years ago, someone telling me to put the script under my pillow. That may be a myth, but I do think learning last thing at night and first thing in the morning works.
I’d say my concentration is good but my memory less good. I take a supplement called gingko biloba and I take lecithin. I think those supplements help too.
It’s important to make the distinction between learning for the long term, for a play, and cramming for the short term like actors do for film and television. There’s a subtle difference, but for a play you really have to get it in you. And it’s not improvisational; you have to say what’s on the page. You have to be accurate.
With live theatre, there’s always the possibility that you’re going to go blank. And it’s really, really frightening. Once I was performing in the Cherry Orchard at the National Theatre and I had a speech. I knew it, I’d done it a million times, but I said the first two lines and just went blank.
I didn’t have a clue what I was going to say. There was this long, long pause, it was horrific, I wanted to die in that moment, you’re so exposed. Eventually I said, in character:
“What do I say? What do I say?” and it came back to me.
In those few minutes the whole speech was just flashing through my brain. I did get back on track, but it was horrible. I don’t know why it happened.
can be just so mysterious. My godfather had a photographic memory and total recall. I remember my mother saying it was the freakiest thing, the first time he visited London – he’d just looked at a few maps and knew his way round better than she did, and she lived there.
But I do believe the part of your mind that works for memory is like a muscle and the more you work it, the better it becomes.
5. Lucie Green
Space scientist and broadcaster
▲ Photograph: Penguin Random House
My job is quite varied as an academic. I could be writing a computer program, reading long, detailed mathematical research papers or conducting my own research.
One of my most complex challenges was working on a European Space Agency mission to plan a satellite that could make more accurate forecasts for space weather.
It required having to think of lots of new things at the same time without immediately knowing what the path is to work out the answers to the questions we were facing.
I’m quite keen on physical space to give me mental space. That’s reflected in the place I work. I work at the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory. It’s in a Victorian mansion in the Surrey hills, so we’ve got an awful lot of countryside around us and the property sits in grounds with many acres.
I have a view of the South Downs. I like the feeling of open physical space and not feeling constrained, which helps me focus. At home, I work in the biggest room with the most light, so I don’t feel boxed in.
I tend to listen to baroque music when I work. I like ordered, very definite beats in the music I listen to. That can create a soundscape that stops me getting distracted by other noises.
I’m not motivated by having a particular composer or piece of music, I want it to be a barrier that surrounds me and stops the distractions of the outside world coming in. There’s something useful about having unfamiliar music so it doesn’t draw too much of your attention.
6. Robert Lordan
London cabbie and author
What really tests me on a daily basis are the anomalies which the public throw at you. Many passengers get areas and road names confused.
They may use colloquial names or aren’t even entirely sure of their destination, having only a vague description to go on. In such cases a lot of focus is required in order to ensure your fare ends up at the correct place.
But learning the Knowledge tested my ability to focus more than anything. You’re assessed in a series of one-on-one verbal exams; I had to endure 27 of them. Now and then an examiner will prod your temperament and so, while answering questions, they’ll try and throw you.
但备考 Knowledge（“伦敦知识考试”，传说中世界上难度最高的伦敦出租车司机考试）比任何事都要考验我的专注力。我被一连串的逐级面试轰炸，而我得忍受 27 个这样的面试。开始过程中，考官会时不时刺激你的情绪，当你回答问题的时候，他们还会试图让你犯晕。
In my own experience this involved, among other things, having a book hurled across the room while I was speaking. They play quite a few other psychological tricks, too. When you finally become a cabbie, you quickly realise that the Knowledge examiners were in fact providing a simulation of sorts, preparing you for a career which is often spent thinking under pressure.
除此之外，我还经历过在回答问题时，考官突然间把一本书远远扔过来，他们还会和考生玩心理战。当最后终于成为一名出租车司机，你能很快意识到 Knowledge 考官实际上给到你的是一套模拟训练，为你从事这份需要经常在高压下思考的工作打好基础。
There are quite a few techniques trainee cabbies use. For me, the most practical trick was to employ acronyms and mnemonics – the most famous example being Little Apples Grow Quickly Please that helps recall the order of theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue (Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, Queen's, Palace).
这里有一些技巧，见习出租车司机可以使用。对我来说，最实用的技巧是使用首字母记忆法和快速记忆法 —— 最为人所知的例子是 Little Apples Grow Quickly Please，它能帮助人们想起沙夫茨伯里大街上几个剧院（Lyric，Apollo，Gielgud，Queen's，Palace）的顺序 。
Very useful when you are struggling to pinpoint a place on a gloomy autumn evening. I’ve found the skills from the Knowledge have really helped when travelling abroad.
在昏暗的秋夜难以找到具体位置时，这方法就很实用。我发现，从 Knowledge 考试中学到的技巧在我出国旅行时，真还起到了不少作用。
As well as providing me with the tools to latch on to local maps and landmarks, the memory techniques I’ve acquired also provide a real boost when learning key phrases in a different language.
译者简介：雪孩子，壹心理翻译社 | 译员。心理学爱好者。愿与你一起思考与践行。