Our brain actually acts in different ways in different situations. You will have noticed that it is easier to learn about something you are interested in than something you don't care about, no matter how much effort you put in. You may have also been in a situation where you are so focused on a task that you don't notice what is going on around you.
Attribution: Flickr - Allan Ajifo
These situations are caused by the brain's different modes, which our brain is able to switch between. With a few little tricks we can control our brain modes.
As said in the opening paragraph, we learn things that we are more interested in than those we don't care about. Does that mean we are limited to only learning about what we are interested in? Luckily we can turn on our learning mode.
Attribution: Flickr - CollegeDegrees360
Generally if we want to learn we have ramp up our interest and curiosity about a topic. This is why rewards are not particularly effective to stimulate learning. The best way with any topic is to have a sense of mystery and the unknown about it. Generally though, the more we ramp up our curiosity about one topic the more we will be willing to learn about other topics.
It is said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. The second part is much harder as most creative and inspired people find themselves easily distracted (more about that brain mode in the next section). Geniuses are are not just those who can focus on a task but those who can go from inspiration to highly focused effort.
Attribution: Flickr - Mark Hunter
Focus is usually achieved by a combination of several factors, the main ones are to set a goal and have a reward. Often though many people have trouble making this work. So what you need to is ramp up their energy and urgency. Deadlines help many people focus on their task though if you don't have a deadline you have to instead build your energy another way. I do this by exercising or giving myself a little "You can do it" pep talk. This sounds cheesy but it works.
When we are being creative our attention loses focus and we are bring in information from many different sources. This is why creative people have so much trouble finishing any task and often end up taking on more things than they can possibly get done.
Attribution: Flickr - Alice Popkorn
There are several things that help our brain switch into creative mode. Relaxation is vital to being creative. When are relaxed our attention also become less focused. Then stimulate your brain with lots of ideas. An easy way to do this is just typing in relevant words into a Google image search. I also find that just doing something different or doing the same differently will help my brain switch to creative mode.
While humans are social creatures we also seek solitude. This is an evolutionary adaption. There are many benefits of working together but also we have also had many solitary tasks as humans. For example when we set our brain to focus on a task, we neglect other distractions including people. However it is important to also switch to our people mode.
Attribution: Flickr - JD Hancock
When it is time to interact meaningfully about people it is simply a matter of engaging your empathy by thinking how something might impact on them. Most people put more time and effort into turning off their people mode by insisting they don't care or other people don't matter. This is because once you start thinking how others are feeling you can't help yourself but to interact meaningfully about people.
We are different people at different times
We need to be different people at different times. We need to able to sit down and focus on our tax return at one time, think creatively at other times or interact with people on a different occasion. When we reaslise that we don't have to be all things at all times we can do any one task better.