If you have ever found it very difficult to get through a challenging task at work, studied for an important exam, or spent time on a finicky project, you might have wished you could increase your ability to concentrate.
Concentration refers to the mental effort you direct towards whatever you are working on or learning at the moment. It is sometimes confused with attention span, but attention span refers to the length of time you can concentrate on something.
Before you start working toward improving your mental focus, you might want to begin by assessing just how strong your mental focus is at the present moment.
Your Focus Is Good Enough If...
You find it easy to stay alert
You set goals and break tasks up into smaller parts
You take short breaks, and then get back to work
Your Focus Needs to be Worked on If...
You daydream regularly
You cannot tune out distractions
You lose track of your progress
How to enhance your focus and concentration:
1.Train your brain for the better
Playing certain types of games can help you get better at concentrating.
Try: Sudoku, crossword puzzles, chess, puzzles, word searches or scrambles and memory games
Brain training activities can have a huge impact on concentration. Brain training games can also help you develop your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills.
Brain training can work for kids, too. Invest in a book of word puzzles, complete a jigsaw puzzle together, or play a game of memory.
Even colouring can help improve concentration in both children and adults. Older children may enjoy more detailed colouring pages, like those found in adult colouring books.
The effects of brain training games may be particularly important for older adults, since memory and concentration often tend to decline with age.
2.Improve your sleep quality
Sleep deprivation can easily disrupt concentration, not to mention other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention span.
Occasional sleep deprivation may not cause too many problems for you. But regularly failing to get a good night’s sleep can definitely affect your mood and performance at work.
Being too tired can even slow down your reflexes and affect your ability to drive or do other daily tasks.
A demanding schedule, health issues, and other factors sometimes make it difficult to get enough sleep. But it is important to try and get as close to the recommended amount as possible on most nights.
Many experts recommend adults aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Improving the sleep you do get can also have its benefits. A few quick tips:
• Turn off the TV and put away screens an hour before bed.
• Keep your room at a comfortable but cool temperature.
• Wind down before bed with soft music, a warm bath, or a book.
• Go to bed and get up around the same time each day, even on weekends.
• Exercise regularly, but try to avoid a heavy workout just before bed.
3. Make time for exercise come what may
Increased concentration is among the many benefits of regular exercise. Exercise benefits everyone. Daily physical activity could help improve both concentration and attention after just four weeks.
Just a year of moderate aerobic physical activity can help stop or even reverse memory loss that occurs with brain atrophy related to age.
Do what you can
Although aerobic exercise is recommended, doing what you can is better than doing nothing at all. Depending on your personal fitness and weight goals, you may want to exercise more or less.
But sometimes it is just not possible to get the recommended amount of exercise, especially if you live with physical or mental health challenges.
If you struggle to find time to exercise or don’t want to join a gym, try to think of fun ways to work it in throughout the day. If you get your heart rate up , you’re exercising. Ask yourself:
• Can you walk your kids to school?
• Can you get up 20 minutes earlier every morning to fit in a quick jog around your neighborhood?
• Can you split up your weekly grocery trip into two or three trips by foot or even bike?
• Can you walk to the coffee shop instead of drive?
If you can, try getting exercise right before you really need to focus on something or when taking a mental break.
4. Spend some time in nature
If you want to boost your concentration naturally, try to get outside every day, even for just 15 to 20 minutes. You might take a short walk through a park. Sitting in your garden or backyard can also help. Any natural environment has its benefits.
Scientific evidence increasingly supports the positive impact of natural environments. Including plants in office spaces helped increase concentration and productivity, as well as workplace satisfaction and air quality.
Try adding a plant or two to your workspace or home for a range of positive benefits. Succulents make great choices for low-maintenance plants if you don’t have a green thumb.
5. Give meditation a try
Meditation and mindfulness practices can offer you multiple benefits. Improved concentration is only one of these.
Mindfulness training that emphasizes attention focus could help increase attention and focus. Mindfulness can also improve memory and other cognitive abilities.
Meditation doesn’t just mean sitting silently with your eyes closed. Yoga, deep breathing, and many other activities can help you meditate.
6. Take a break once a while
How can taking a break from work or homework increase your concentration? This idea might seem counterintuitive, but experts say it really works.
Consider this scenario: You have spent a few hours on the same project, and suddenly your attention starts to wander. Even though it is hard to keep your mind on the task, you stay at your desk, forcing yourself to keep going. But your struggle to focus just makes you feel stressed and anxious about not completing your work in time.
You have most probably been there before. Next time this happens, when you first feel your concentration drop, take a short mental break. Refresh yourself with a cool drink or nutritious snack, take a quick walk, or go outside and get some sun.
When you return to work, do not be surprised if you feel more focused, motivated, or even creative. Breaks can help boost these mental functions and more.
7. Listen to music
Turning on music while working or studying may help increase your concentration.
Even if you don’t enjoy listening to music while you work, using nature sounds or white noise to mask background sounds could also help improve concentration and other brain functions.
The type of music you listen to can make a difference. Experts generally agree classical music; particularly baroque classical music or nature sounds are good choices to help increase your focus.
If you don’t care for classical music, try ambient or electronic music without lyrics. Keep the music soft, or at background noise level, so it doesn’t end up distracting you.
It’s also important to avoid choosing music you love or hate, since both types can end up distracting you.
8. Vary your diet
The foods you eat can affect cognitive functions like your concentration and memory. Avoiding processed foods, too much sugar, and very greasy or fatty foods. To boost concentration, try eating more of the following:
• fatty fish (think salmon and trout)
• eggs (white and yolk both)
Staying hydrated can also have a positive impact on concentration for sure. Even mild dehydration can make it harder to focus or remember information.
Eating breakfast can help by boosting your focus first thing in the morning. Aim for a meal that is low in added sugars and very high in protein and fibre. Oatmeal, plain yogurt with fruit, or whole-grain toast with eggs are all decent breakfast choices.
9. Drink caffeine
There is no need to include caffeine in your diet if you prefer to avoid it; however caffeine can benefit your attention and focus.
If you feel your concentration starting to drop, consider a cup of coffee or green tea. A serving of dark chocolate — 70 percent cacao or higher — can have similar benefits, if you don’t enjoy caffeinated beverages.
Phytochemicals naturally found in matcha, a type of green tea, not only improve cognitive function but can help promote relaxation too. So matcha may be a good option if coffee tends to make you feel jittery or on the edge.
10. Try supplements
Some supplements may help promote better concentration and improved brain function.
You will want to check with your healthcare provider before trying any supplements, especially if you have any health conditions or allergies. A doctor can go over the possible benefits and risks of supplements with you and may recommend one that is best for your needs.
It is often possible to get all the vitamins you need by adding certain foods to your diet, but supplements can sometimes help you meet daily intake goals. The following supplements may help promote increased concentration and overall brain health: folate, choline, vitamin K, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids and guarana seed extract.
11. Do a concentration workout
Concentration workouts often tend to help children who have trouble focusing. This mental workout involves fully devoting attention to an activity for a set period of time.
Try these activities:
• Draw or doodle for 15 minutes.
• Spend a few minutes tossing a balloon or a small ball with another person.
• Set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes. Try to blink as little as possible.
• Suck on a lollipop or hard candy until it’s gone — resist the urge to bite into it.
Pay attention to the flavour, the sensation of the candy on your tongue, and how long it takes to consume it completely.
After completing one of the activities, ask your child to write a short summary or sketch how they felt during the experience. Young children can simply use words to describe their feelings.
Talking about where they lost concentration and how they managed to refocus can help them develop these skills for use in daily tasks.
A concentration workout can benefit adults, too, so feel free to give it a try yourself!
Conditions that affect concentration
Trouble concentrating can relate to things going on around you. Common causes include interruptions from co-workers, distractions from your roommates or family members, or social media notifications.
But it is also possible for concentration difficulties to relate to underlying mental or physical health conditions. Some common ones include:
ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) can create learning and memory challenges for both children and adults. It is usually characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Treatment can help improve ADHD symptoms.
Cognitive dysfunction or impairment can affect concentration, memory, and learning. These issues can include developmental delays or disabilities, brain injuries, or neurological conditions that cause problems with brain function.
Untreated mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety primarily involve changes in mood and other emotional symptoms, but they can also make it hard to focus, concentrate, or learn and remember new information. You might also find it harder to concentrate on work or school when under a lot of stress.
Concussions and other head injuries can affect concentration and memory. This is usually temporary, but difficulties with concentration can linger while a concussion heals.
Farsightedness and other vision problems can cause problems with attention and concentration. If you (or your child) find it harder than usual to concentrate and also have headaches, or find yourself squinting, you may want to get your eyes checked.
Anyone who has tried to concentrate on a difficult or boring piece of work will know how tough it can be, but science has some counter-intuitive/ unconscious findings that could help.
Many tips bear little relation to what psychologists are discovering about the way the human mind works.
People who are better at staying on task tend to do their daydreaming at times when it doesn’t matter.
A good way to boost your reserves of willpower is to have a good laugh.
Some studies suggest that due to natural variations in our cycle of alertness, we can concentrate for no longer than 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break.
The more we know about the brain, the clearer it is that stress is the enemy of concentration.
Written By :
Trishna Patnaik, a Bsc (in Life Sciences) and MBA (in Marketing) by qualification but an artist by choice. A self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practising art for over 14 years now.
Trishna is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She says, "It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to everyday." She is an art therapist and healer too.