Does this sound like you?
You sit down to pray but soon you’re thinking about the movie from the night before. And what snarky Facebook status to post.
You catch your mind wandering, so you return to prayer, but then you notice the door trim is peeling and oh, when was this door knob changed?
You coach yourself to fight the good fight, but this Facebook status is so brilliant, you grab your smartphone and post it. You just have to. Then you try to find your way back to prayer.
But it’s too late. You’ve seen a picture of kittens boxing and the Grand Canyon and what your friends are up to, which gets you thinking about your day—dry cleaning, oil change, work.
And you need to email this person back, and you should get to it because not much is going on here. So you abandon prayer before it really gets started.
How do you keep your thoughts from wandering during prayer? I learned some lessons from the book, Your Brain At Work, by David Rock, and then applied them to prayer.
Declutter your mind before you begin.
Your mind has limits to what it can hold at one time. If you go into prayer thinking about other things, it’ll be difficult to focus. Take a few moments to clear out your mind. Write down the things you’re trying to remember. If a loose but important thought comes to you during prayer, write it down and move on.
Create a consistent routine.
Your brain is wired to focus on what’s new and different. So if you want to focus on God, create consistency. If you can, use the same physical space for prayer. If you listen to music, use music that is familiar. Try to pray at the same time every day. Routine things require less energy than novel things.
Move around to activate different parts of your brain.
Moving around during prayer activates your brain’s motor cortex. This prevents you from over-taxing certain parts of your brain. When you exhaust your brain, you’re likely to feel tired and give up. This is why an afternoon walk can renew your mind.
Write your prayers down or say them out loud.
Like I said, your brain isn’t a bottomless pit. There’s a limit to the information it can hold. Rather than trying to hold your thoughts in your head, write your prayers down. Or say your prayers out loud. Prayer is a conversation, anyway.
Power down or shut off distractions.
Your mind likes to diverge; nearly anything can set it off its path. A ping on your phone can be an avalanche of distraction. An email notification can set your mind in a spin. So remove distractions. Power down your computer, shut off your screen, turn your phone on silent.