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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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7 Answers

up vote 4 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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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
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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
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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 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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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
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