Few jobs require as much focus as being a sniper. Dangerous conditions make the stakes high. The nature of the work leads to exhaustion being the status quo. The ability to survive and accomplish the mission is heavily influenced by the ability to block out the external conditions and maintain an intense focus on the task at hand.
It’s no surprise that this line of work comes with training on how to get back focus when the brain fog creeps in. As Jeffry Harrison, a former Army sniper says, his instructors taught him to take an SLLS break.
SLLS stands for stop, look, listen, smell. They are quick breaks used to refresh your focus. It shifts your body and your mind from a reactive mode where you are responding to your environment to consciously evaluating your surroundings.
When you feel your focus fading away, you first stop what you are doing. You stop moving, your stop working, you stop thinking, you just stop. This alone can be huge. So often we fall into a go go go routine, putting our day on autopilot as we scurry around to accomplish all of our tasks. We often are distracted, thinking about what needs to be done next. Taking a second to pause snaps us back into the present and forces us to just be for a moment.
Then, you look around. Gaze at your surroundings all around you, both what is in your immediate surroundings and what is off in the distance. For people who work at a computer all day, this can be especially helpful. The screens and staring at an object so close can strain the eyes, and looking off far away can help. Notice the details of what is in your view. Take a mental note of the different textures, colors, and shapes. Try to see the intricacies of your surroundings rather than scan quickly around.
Then, you listen to the sounds all around. You can try to identify as many as possible. Describe the different characteristics of the sounds: soft, harsh, cacophonous, comforting to the ear, etc. Work to name at least five sounds before moving on.
Breathe in deeply. Notice different smells. This step can be the hardest since we often only notice smells that stand out for being highly enjoyable or highly disgusting. Identify at least three smells before ending your SLLS break.
How to Use SLLS Breaks for Better Focus
The SLLS break sounds overly simple, but it works. All you need to do is actually use it. You can either use it once you feel yourself losing focus or you can use it as a preventative step to help maintain better focus. Harrison recommends creating an alarm on your phone set for every two hours. When it goes off, immediately take an SLLS break.
Making an SLLS break a consistent part of your daily routine helps you hone your SLLS skills. At first, it will likely feel awkward and uncomfortable. We are not used to taking the time to stop and be present in the moment, which is one reason so many people struggle with meditation or sitting in silence. By doing an SLLS break several times a day, you can allow yourself to more quickly adapt to this new way of regaining focus. Soon it will feel natural (and you may even start looking forward to the breaks). Once you feel you developed the skills, you can take the reminders off of your phone. Take an SLLS break whenever you need better focus, whether at work or in a conversation with someone, and see the difference it makes.