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I tend to daven (pray) without sufficient focus and very quickly. In particular, I find that most of the time that I'm praying, my mind is on things other than the words that I'm saying. And, not that comparison with others is ideal in this realm, but for what it's worth, I frequently find that I am the fastest davener in a given minyan.

I would like to drastically increase my level of focus during davening. Secondarily, and more as a symptom of the primary goal than as a goal in itself, I'd like to daven more slowly. I have made resolutions along these lines in the past, but I find that my mind invariably wanders as my lips speed along, anyway.

Additional data: I was introduced to reading Hebrew and davening as early as preschool. Consequently, I can read prayerbook Hebrew fairly rapidly, have memorized most of the text of davening, and have a good idea of the meanings of most of the Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew words that the davening is made of.

I am looking for techniques for focusing more and speeding less from people who have successfully improved from a similar situation to mine. I am aware that there is plenty of literature, old and new, about focusing on davening, but for this purpose, I am less interested in what has been proposed in theory or proclaimed as successful by saintly sages of old than I am in learning what has worked empirically for regular people of our times.

Consequently, I would most appreciate responses that follow the rough format "My davening was ... So I tried doing ... Now, my davening is ..."

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Two years later, what ended up working for you? (I see your positive comment on one answer and your acceptance of another. Did they both work for you long-term?) –  Monica Cellio Feb 23 '12 at 1:39
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@MonicaCellio, Unfortunately, my performance in this area has been similar to that of a New Year's dieter, so I can't offer high-quality testimony as to the effectiveness of various tactics. I'll let you know. ... –  Isaac Moses Feb 23 '12 at 3:28
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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/26698 –  msh210 Feb 28 '13 at 21:32
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There is a lot more to davening than the p'shat. Have you considered learn some of the deeper perushim on the words in the siddur? Sometimes when I intend to take longer in davening I will learn something before hand ND periodically will take a short pause and think about what I've learned and how it relates to the tefilla –  Dude Oct 5 at 20:09

12 Answers 12

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Two things have proven effective for me over the years in this regard:

  1. Davening near/behind people who are more into it than me. This is inspirational not for competitive reasons but because it provides constant reminders that if I fall behind in my concentration I am missing out - for, as the other individual demonstrates, there is something to be missed.

  2. Pursuing a deeper understanding of the prayers independently and in context "off-line" (i.e. not during davening).

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I have occasionally experienced #1 and it made a big difference to me at the time -- that time I could more easily focus because I had a good example right in front of me. Carrying this into the rest of my davening has been slow going, sadly. –  Monica Cellio Oct 5 at 19:13

My rabbi told me a very nice suggestion which seems to help me every time I practice it and it's very simple: Follow along with your finger.

If you have your finger below every word that you say, it will make you have to look at the page that you're reading from causing you to slow down and think about the words that you are saying. Even if you don't understand the full meaning or even part of the meaning, you will at least make a association such that your eyes and finger are connected with the words that you are saying making harder for the mind to be somewhere else.

I've found even doing this is not so easy. But when I do it, it really helps.

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5.Keep your fingers on the place –  SimchasTorah Jul 20 '10 at 17:57
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Success! I tried this technique tonight, and it really did help me slow down and focus. At one point, I let my hand rest for a minute (late Mincha on 9 Av, OK?), and I automatically dropped right into speed mode. It was just like my surnamesake's hands at the battle with Amalek. Thanks, Chaim! –  Isaac Moses Jul 21 '10 at 5:17
    
Awesome! Baruch Hashem! I'm happy this worked for you. –  chaimp Jul 22 '10 at 5:59
    
Definitely true for me as well. If you just follow with your eyes, it is easy to skip a word or go by memory. By following with your finger, you are forcing yourself to look at and say every word. It does take practice, though. –  Dennis May 10 '13 at 15:08
    
This technique is extremely useful while learning as well. When I find myself in spacey mood, I put my finger to the book and go for it. –  user6591 20 hours ago

I was a major sufferer of the problem you describe, and to be honest, I have not completely cured myself of this; however, there are a few things that I have done recently that have made a huge difference in my level of focus during davening.

First of all, the times when I paid the least attention to my davening were always when I was tired. When I'm barely awake and just saying the words to get through them, I would often find myself completing the entire shmoneh esrei in just barely over one minute with hardly any recollection of having said it at all. It was like the feeling that you get when you drive somewhere and pull into the parking lot and realize that you have absolutely no recollection of the entire drive that you just completed. The approach to fixing this is simple: make sure you are getting enough sleep. But be careful not to oversleep, because if you roll straight out of bed into shacharis, you will be drowsy and unable to focus. I daven in a very early minyan, but I am careful to always arrive with enough time to have at least 5 minutes to prepare myself and get situated before davening begins after I have put on my tallis and tefilin. This made a big difference.

Second point is something that I have been doing for a while and it has been quite successful. For all of the brachot of shmoneh esrei, I add my own little bit to the bracha. For shevach brachot, I add my own bit of shevach. For bakasha, my own bit of bakasha. For hoda'ah, my own bit of hoda'ah. In each case my little bit is related to the particular bracha that I am attaching it to. This makes me focus on the meaning of the bracha in order to come up with something to add. I do not allow myself to add the same thing from day to day in order to prevent myself from simply having added to the formula that I speed through without thinking.

My third point is something that I have only started since Shmini Atzeret (a week ago as of writing this post). Before starting shmoneh esrei, I pause to remind myself to add "mashiv haruach". At that same time, I also remind myself to go slowly through davening and focus on the words. So far, this has been very effective. I do not know how effective this will be once I am once again in the habit of saying "mashiv haruach" and no longer need to remind myself at that point.

These three things have helped me tremendously. As recently as a year ago, I was always one of the first people to finish davening, especially in the ma'ariv minyan that I attend. I would finish and then sometimes wait as long as 7 or 8 minutes after I was already done before one of the rabbis of the shul would finish and the shaliach tzibur would start kaddish. Since then, I really feel that I have come a very long way. I was inspired to answer your question because I thought of it when I had a little "mini victory" tonight at ma'ariv when, for the first time, the rabbi finished davening before I did. And it wasn't just because I was davening slowly without paying attention.

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"For shevach brachot, I add my own bit of shevach" Are you allowed too? –  shmuel 20 hours ago
    
@shmuel for shevach (and hoda'ah as well) I do not say what I have added out loud. –  Daniel 19 hours ago

Without checking sources: Psukei DeZimra (the psalms and passages from Baruch SheAmar to Yishtabach, before Shema) should be recited slowly, as though one were counting money. Try to pronounce each word separately (in a low whisper), with a pause after each verse. Don't stretch the words out, but savor them (like good wine). The same applies to Shema, and to the Amida. (perhaps Aleinu, too). On the other hand, don't pray so slowly that you always miss out on certain parts of the davenning with the minyan - answering Kaddish, Barchu, Kedushah. Another approach is to arrive earlier at shule, and daven slowly in such a way as to arrive at Shema or the Amida at exactly the same time as the Minyan.

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Perry Zamek, Welcome to mi.yodeya! Thanks very much for the advice. Is it based on your own experience, or only your memory of the sources? –  Isaac Moses Feb 1 '10 at 5:45

Sometimes, (when I'm feeling particularly not into it,) I pause before I begin every beracha of amida and ask myself:

  • Do I want to say this beracha?
  • Why do I want to say this beracha?

Helps me a lot, and I hope it can help others too.

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I recently tried enunciating the letter ע more while davening. This makes you go slower, at least until you get so used to it. Then, once you're going slower and paying more attention to the words, you end up having better kavanah.

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I read the following piece of advice in a pamphlet somewhere, and I tried it and it worked for me.

Concentrate on the meaning of Hashem's name whenever it comes up. You can pick whichever meaning you want for it to work, although Halacha has an opinion about which one is the main one.

There are two reasons why I think it works. One is that Hashem's name comes up often enough that if you just refocus every time it comes up, you'll be on track for most of Shemoneh Esrei. The other is that I think the phrase ברוך אתה ה sends many people, even if they are putting effort into focusing, into "auto-pilot," after which they stay that way. If you consciously invest in focusing on the "auto-pilot" triggers, then you'll avoid the problem.

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The Koren-Sacks siddur can be worth a try.

Also worth a try is a siddur with a different version of the text than the one you're used to (Nusach Sefard, real Sfaradi, etc). Makes it much harder to plow through the text.

Of course, it's certainly possible you just adapt to this over time, and then need some other trick. But it's a start.

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I was going to suggest Nusach Sefard also, but was wondering if there are any halakhic implications? I know that if you are in a shul davening Sefard, than you can also, even if you regularly daven Ashkenaz, but if you are Ashkenaz in an Ashkenaz shul, is there room to change minhag? –  Jeremy Mar 16 '10 at 15:05
    
Yes, there is a halachic problem with switching Nusach's. There is basis if you are going to switch to Nusach Sefard (or vice versa) permanently, but lechatchilla one should not bounce back and forth. An alternative would be to daven at a minyan which uses an alternative nusach, in which case there are poskim who say you should use the kehillah's nusach for out loud portions, but you should consult your Rav about the implications first. –  Yirmeyahu Apr 9 '10 at 6:13
    
I don't know how long the effect would last, but along similar lines, I was once slowed down by a different edition of the same siddur I was used to -- so it was the same text, but the line breaks were sometimes in different places (different margins I guess?) and the pagination was different. I was much slower that day. –  Monica Cellio Oct 5 at 19:18

I too had this problem. I bought the Artscroll Interlinear siddur. It slowed me down a lot and imbued much more meaning into my davening.

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Copied from my answer here:

  1. Take a minute to clear your mind and try to fee the presence of Hashem all around you.
  2. Daven to Hashem to help you daven with Kavanah
  3. Every time you catch your mind straying, ask for Hashem's help again
  4. Keep reminding yourself that Hashem and all the Heavenly hosts are counting on you.
  5. Keep your fingers on the place.
  6. Learn the meaning of what you are saying
  7. Say only one phrase at a time.
  8. Daven aloud and if you are able try singing the words.
  9. Invest each Bracha in Shmoneh Esrai with personal details
  10. Specify your indebtedness to Hashem,embellish your praise and detail your requests
  11. Try to daven near those who pray with Kavanah

This is very basic summary, and additional answers to those already provided. (From: Ezras Nashim)

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learn about the greatness of G-d. study in depth shaar yichud of chovos halevavos, shaar yichud v'emuna in tanya and moreh nevuchim

also study the marks of divine wisdom in nature. the more you will know the infinite wisdom of God the more you will be humbled and prayer will become meaningful.

This is what I have found from personal experience.

I also wrote an article to force myself to study the divine wisdom in nature. It is available at:

http://dafyomireview.com/425

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Could you edit this answer to address I am less interested in what has been proposed in theory or proclaimed as successful by saintly sages of old than I am in learning what has worked empirically for regular people of our times. Consequently, I would most appreciate responses that follow the rough format "My davening was ... So I tried doing ... Now, my davening is ..."? –  Isaac Moses 20 hours ago
    
@IsaacMoses ok, but strictly speaking this is not an answerable question. primarily opinion based. –  ray 20 hours ago
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Experience is something one reports, unlike opinion, which is something one makes up. –  Isaac Moses 19 hours ago

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in Jewish Meditation discusses visualizing the words as black fire on white fire. Focusing on visualizing one thing on its own is very hard. Doing it for the whole prayer takes a LOT of practice. This slowed me WAY down.

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