I am a daydreamer.

On the one hand that’s good, because I am never bored. If I find myself in a dull lecture, or stuck in a long line at the market, my mind takes flight, dreaming of projects I’m working on, composing letters (okay, e-mails) to friends, or ruminating about essays on any of a thousand topics.

The downside of daydreaming is that sometimes I find myself miles away from where I want my mind to be. One challenge I face is concentrating when praying. I am religious when it comes to prayer– I consistently pray both Shacharit, the morning prayer, and Minchah,the afternoon prayer. I enjoy praying. I feel a special connection to the Creator of the World and I find prayer uplifting and comforting. I believe that G‑d really listens to me, small as I am, and that my prayers matter to Him.

However, I am human, and sometimes my mind wanders. So I’ve developed a few methods that help keep me focused during prayer:

Stop your train of thought. I remember once going to a class at the Berkeley Chabad House when I was a student, more than thirty years ago. The teacher, Rebbetzin Leah Drizen, said that when you become distracted during prayer and start thinking of other things, you may think that you should elevate your thoughts as an antidote. For example, she said, if you start thinking about a shopping trip, you might say to yourself: “I’ll think about putting Shabbat candles on my shopping list.” This is a mistake, the rebbetzin said. The thing to do is to stop, and redirect yourself back to the words of prayer.

It’s like what happens to me when I eat one or two (or three!) too many brownies. “I have to have an antidote,” I think. “I’ll eat a carrot.” That doesn’t make me feel better. So, I move on to a banana, or a pear, or something else I deem redeeming. Afterwards, I just feel fuller and no closer to feeling better. Once I finished with the brownies, I should have just stopped eating.

Point along. When I was a little girl, I would sit next to my mother during services, and she would hold my hand, extend my pointer finger and point to each word in the prayerbook with my finger. Now, I point to the words myself to keep focused. I don’t do this all the time, but when I feel distracted, my go-to practice is to point along.

Traditionally, we cover our eyes when saying the Shema prayer so that we can really concentrate with kavanah, proper intention. Since I don’t have all the prayers memorized, it would not be reasonable to always keep my eyes closed. But I have found the pointing method helps me to focus.

If you fail, smile and keep going. Sometimes I falter. But even when I do, I try to keep negativity at bay. We are commanded, “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha,” “Serve G‑d with joy.” How can I do that when I am annoyed at myself? I try another trick inspired by my mother.

She told me that when you smile, it registers in your brain. Even if your heart is unhappy, it’s as if the smile deposits money into your brain’s happiness account. So when I feel frustrated—by anything—I smile, and I feel the subtle shift in my mood. I don’t try to think of other things to boost me up (“Oh, Jolie, your praying is a B-, but that brisket waiting at home is an A+), but I smile as I re-focus on the words in my prayerbook.

Pick one prayer to focus on. A friend told me recently that her kavanah during prayer was shot. Instead of trying to pray all of the Amidah, the “standing prayer,” with kavanah, she tried extra hard to concentrate on every word of the first paragraph.

The paragraph begins, “Blessed are You, L‑rd, our G‑d, and the G‑d of our forefathers, G‑d of Abraham, G‑d of Isaac and G‑d of Jacob.” Why is it that the blessing doesn’t say, “G‑d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?” Why are the three separated? I heard once that it is because G‑d had a different, special relationship with each of our forefathers. Each of them approached Him in his own way, with Abraham instituting the morning prayer, Isaac the afternoon prayer, and Jacob the evening prayer.

The Amidah reminds us, not only of G‑d’s greatness and kindness, but also that He relates to each of us individually. We can each approach Him through prayer, not only with the prayers in our prayerbooks, but also with the personal prayers from our hearts. Knowing this is a real reason to smile.