Attention economy is the new buzzword in this age of endless distractions and hyper-sensory stimulation. It states that focus is the bottleneck of human thought which limits our cognitive abilities. This highlights the importance of knowing how to improve concentration in today’s world.
It is hard to maintain focus when we are overwhelmed with information and devices vying for our attention. For this reason most of us struggle to maintain our focus for even a short period of time.
However there are some things you can do to help learn how to improve focus. To begin with, you can leverage the power of guided meditation, find ways to cut out distractions, and hack your work processes. In today’s article, we’ll discuss how to improve concentration.
The benefit of learning how to improve concentration
The necessity of learning how to improve focus is because of the attention deficit that we all suffer from. The average American has an attention span of just eight seconds. From children in school to senior citizens trying to learn a new technology, we are all victims of today’s overstimulating environments. The problems of concentration plague all of us and hold us back from achieving our full potential.
A lack of focus is a common occurrence in all our lives. Poor concentration among kids leads to under performance in school. In adults, it tends to manifest in problems at work, home or other aspects of daily life.
This is why knowing how to improve concentration is of paramount importance. By focussing on your daily activities, you can handle the barrage of distractions present in today’s world and perform at the desired level.
The causes of poor attention span
Before you go about learning how to improve concentration or analysing the root causes of it, know that lack of focus is a common occurrence between all age groups. Among children, it is believed that about 3-5% of kids in Australia display signs of ADHD, a defining factor for low concentration levels. It is hard to ascertain the number for adults within the country.
There are numerous factors that can trigger persistent issues with focus and concentration. Identifying the right causes can go a long way in knowing how to improve concentration. Some of the common factors are:
- Hormonal changes, which is more prevalent in children or menopausal women
- High levels of stress and anxiety
- Environmental factors such as poor work life balance and distractions in our highly stimulating environments
- Poor quality or quantity of sleep – the brain needs a time-out as much as the body. A tired brain cannot gather the resources to focus on the task at hand.
- Certain medicines and drugs can impact concentration by impacting the cognitive functions of the brain
- Lack of a balanced diet – this deprives the mind and body of the essential nutrients and energy required for high levels of concentration
- Personal factors such as your genetic makeup and innate ability to concentrate
Signs of low attention span
How do you know that you should consider learning how to improve focus or increase your attention span? The indicators of low attention span is different for kids and adults. This is because children’s brains are not fully developed till after their teenage years and so they are likely to have smaller attention spans. They simply cannot sustain the levels of focus that adults can possess.
The signs of poor concentration in children usually are:
- Seeming ‘zoned out’ when engaging them in conversation
- Being fidgety and highly distracted
- Having a hard time following the plot of a show or a movie
- Trouble understanding all that is happening in class. This is especially a concern if other children of the same age group are getting along fine
- Inability to finish homework
- Finding it difficult to stay attentive when doing an interesting activity
Displaying only a few of these symptoms is not a cause for concern among children but if they are frequently showing most of these signs, then it might signal poor concentration levels which need to be addressed urgently.
For adults, the signs and symptoms of poor concentration are:
- Easily falling prey to numerous distractions all around
- Not being able to sustain focus while engaging with another in conversation
- Taking unusually long to understand and get through with tasks as compared to others
- Finding it hard to read a book
- A feeling of heaviness or blockage in the head
How to improve focus – Meditation
Meditation has the potential to help you to learn how to improve concentration levels. Mindfulness meditation involves teaching your brain to maintain focus on a single object without giving in to distractions.
Most meditative practices suggest using your breath as the guide and channelling all your attention to your breath. By teaching you to harness your attention, meditation teaches your brain how to improve concentration and like any other skill, this can be improved over time.
Over time you will come to realize that as your attention develops, you are able to notice more and more of the world around you. You are able to engage with life on a deeper level and extract more out of every moment. All of us can get more out of life if only we pay more attention to all that it has to offer
Meditation allows you to immerse yourself in the moment and become aware of the What, the Why and the How of all that you are doing. It teaches you that attention is a choice. As you learn about meditation, you become responsive to your thoughts and emotions, and that in turn helps you understand how to improve your concentration levels.
How to improve focus – Ditch the distractions
Technology may have improved our standard of living but it has made our lives increasingly complicated and stimulating. We are relentlessly bombarded with stimulation of all sorts which has taken a toll on our attention spans.
Consider the following tips to allow you to learn how to improve focus and remove distractions:
- Turn off anything that blinks or vibrates when you want to focus
- Avoid multitasking; you may think you are doing more by doing many things at once but you are actually doing less of everything. Some people are able to multitask and achieve many things, but you’re more likely to find your productivity is higher when you focus on one thing at a time.
- Turn off notifications from email, instant messaging, and social media when you want to concentrate
- Put your phone in airplane mode or put it in a different room
- Place your work-station at a distance from the door and slightly away from the window
- Keep your workspace free of clutter to encourage focus and reduce distraction
- Spend some time meditating before beginning a task. It helps you focus and is also a great tool for stress management and relaxation.
How to improve focus – Improve physical health
Your health plays an important role in your ability to focus. Here are two ways to improve your focus through your health:
Improving the quality and quantity of sleep
This is a guaranteed way of upping your attentiveness. Less sleep is more likely to make you distracted. This is because sleep provides the body and the brain with the rest they need to recover from the activities of the day. A tired brain is unlikely to have the energy and resources to sustain long periods of focus. While the required duration of sleep varies between individuals, aim for about 6-9 hours every day.
Getting more exercise
A study conducted by Harvard Medical School highlights how regular exercise has significant positive impact on cognitive abilities like focus and concentration. The benefits are apparent with even basic exercise routines so you do not have to be an elite athlete. There are many benefits of walking and even a brisk walk can work wonders for your body and mind. However it is important to note that a regular exercise routine helps your concentration levels so do ensure you build a regimen that you can fit into your daily life.
Hacks to teach you how to improve concentration
Two major ways you can prime your body to improve focus are:
Maintain a routine
If you have a different schedule every day for going to bed, working, and relaxing, you will spend a lot of time and energy on managing your time. Building a routine optimizes the functioning of your body and mind and allows you to work at peak levels and sustain long periods of focus.
Try the Pomodoro technique
Based on the Pomodoro timer, the technique is based on the practice of maintaining focus on a single activity for a period of 25 minutes at a stretch. After this, you take a short break of five minutes and return to the task at hand. With a fixed routine, your mind knows that it must focus during the 25 minutes of work time and you might find it easier to concentrate if you know a break is not far away.
One of the easiest and most effective hacks for improving your focus is to involve all your senses when engaged in a particular activity. If you are reading an important article, for example, read it out loud to yourself and conjure all the sounds, textures and other perceptions within your head.
Make it unfamiliar
The human mind focuses on the unfamiliar or peculiar and tends to remember it too. By finding ways to make something new, you are more likely to pay attention to it. For example, if you go for a walk on the same route every day, you are less likely to notice things on the way. When you choose a different route, you are more likely to remember it.
Break down information
Having a lot to focus on can increase stress levels by overwhelming you mentally and emotionally. If you’re trying to focus on something, break it down into chunks and focus on each section at one time. It is far easier for you to sustain focus for smaller chunks of time than for a large chunk at a stretch.
Break down goals
Break down your major goals into a number of smaller ones. Smaller goals are less likely to overwhelm you and are easier to focus on. Breaking goals down into smaller ones allows you to sustain focus long enough to complete one at a time. For example, if you are trying to learn a new language, focus on just learning the conjugations or the days of the week. Once you master this smaller goal, you are one step closer to the bigger goal of learning the language.
No one can sustain focus for inordinate amounts of time. This puts pressure on you and can cause stress. You have to learn how to relax and unwind in between. Make sure you take breaks between your work to gather your mental and physical energy and come back stronger for the next task.
Refine problem solving skills
We need our attention most when solving problems but for many people, this can be hard. We tend to focus on the emotional aspects of the problem – how we feel, what we dream of achieving, etc – instead of the process of solving it. To solve a problem, you need to be able to define it, brainstorm a handful of viable solutions, choose the solution that works best, and implement the same. When you break it down into these stages, you will be able to focus on the task at hand without being distracted by emotion.
Cut out distractions
Distractions can derail the concentration of even the most focussed individual. Make sure to remove all distractions from your environment to avoid your focus breaking down.
A bored mind is one that gets easily distracted and has a hard time maintaining focus. To improve your concentration levels, engage in activities that you find interesting. If you have to do tasks that you do not find engaging, brainstorm ways to make them lively and intriguing.
Use your emotions
While most believe that emotions are an impediment to focus and concentration, that is not completely accurately. Emotions can work against you, but you can also make them work for you and your concentration levels. You can leverage both positive and negative emotions to ensure sustained levels of concentration.
Listen to music
Listening to soft music is a great way to maintain focus and stay in the flow of things. The part of your brain that processes sound is the same part that scans the environment for danger, food and all other necessities. By listening to easy listening music, ambient music or white noise, you are giving that part of the brain something to do. This minimizes distractions and improves your focus levels.
Take up reading
Read books with stories that interest you. If you can spend a long stretch of time focusing on a book, you’ll be training your power of concentration to last for longer. For those who find it distracting to read a book on a screen, try a paper book.
Train your concentration like a muscle
One of the prevailing myths about focus and concentration is that our levels of attention is predetermined. We think there is nothing we can do about shorter attention spans but this isn’t true.
As you go about understanding how to improve focus, know that it is a skill. Like any other skill, it is one that you can learn and master over time. With persistence and practice, you can improve your capabilities to focus and ingrain it as a habit of your mind.
This is largely why kids are often told to pay attention – because it is a habit that can be cultivated. In today’s hyper-stimulating environment, children have to choose between paying attention to texting, surfing the web, listening to music and playing video games. But if you think of your attention as a muscle, you’ll understand that it can be built upon and also that it can erode when not exercised.
As adults, no one is going to tell you to pay attention. It is up to you to have the discipline and dedication to learn how to improve your own focus and attention levels. You may like to consult a counselor online or try health and wellness coaching to help you begin. Keep reminding yourself to become more attentive and to take steps to improve your focus. In time, it will become as natural to you as breathing.