The drop in attention is often given by physical fatigue, boredom, stress and multitasking.
How can we learn to focus, especially on the days when we experience one of these situations?
Experts suggest an approach capable of intervening on several fronts that will minimize both internal and external distractions, improving concentration skills. Let’s see below what they are.
1) Reorder the case
According with Dr. Sabine Kastner, PhD at the Center for Studies on Brain, Mind and Behavior at Princeton University, the normal condition of the mind is disorder, with random thoughts, perceptions and sensations, all in “competition” with each other to get attention. Adults generally manage to turn this chaos into a reasonable order by exercising “attentional control”, to filter out some things and pay attention to others. In the exact moment in which we try to control multiple aspects simultaneously, in an attempt to exercise perfect control, we end up losing control. If you realize that you have entered this dysfunctional vicious circle, it could be useful to learn how to leave a small mess daily and deliberately (the desk to be tidied up, a non-urgent email to send …)
2) Take care of yourself
Food, rest and regular exercise can help increase concentration levels enormously. “Feed your brain.” According to the American Dietetic Association, skipping breakfast and / or meals is detrimental to concentration and adversely affects performance. Starting the day with a nutritious breakfast and then snacking (every 3–4 hours) is a good way to improve concentration and maintain it. Davis, a researcher at the “Western Human Nutrition Research Center” at the University of California, suggests that diets low in iron, magnesium and zinc may endanger concentration skills. What can be said about supplements such as ginseng or vitamins that would promote concentration? Current studies say that they can potentially increase concentration levels, but there is currently no clear and definitive result.
The importance of resting
“Get enough sleep.” Improving concentration requires mental effort and a tired body is unable to concentrate properly. Resting can be one of the most important steps to improving concentration skills. How many hours do you need to sleep? The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7–9 hours, or at least enough to feel rested. “Keep fit.” There is a lot of research that shows that regular exercise improves concentration, mental alertness and memory, therefore, to movement!
3) Concentration techniques
Some mental strategies can improve concentration levels:
– Minimize external distractions. When you can, limit sources of distraction, for example, by turning off your cell phone; in addition, watch out for distracting elements, including background noises and odors. In a study on the attention of the University of London, people performed better in noise-free environments than when background music was inserted. Translated into real life: turn off the radio when you have to study!
– Maximize your peaks. Most people manage to do their best in the morning, while so-called “night owls” work best late, says Cynthia R. Green, researcher, author of Total Memory Workout: 8 Easy Steps to Maximum Memory Fitness (Bantam 2001). Improve your performance by scheduling activities that require full attention and mental skill during your personal peak periods and, on the other hand, schedule more routine tasks in your periods of less vigor.”
4) Manage time with the right strategies
Green recommends taking pen and paper to quickly write down the actions you need to take to get your job done. In addition, the author suggests to stop procrastinating. These classic time management techniques “relieve” your mind of mentally writing down long lists of “what should I do”, allowing you better attention to the here and now.
To avoid concentration dips, plan ahead for the things you will need to do, in this way, your mind will only face last minute “interference”. Try to get into the condition of a concentrated person. Have you ever lost your car in a parking lot? This happens because you probably haven’t paid much attention to it from the beginning. Try to train daily to concentrate on performing gestures or actions.
Use a mantra.
When you park your car, for example, try to pay attention to the points of reference, so that, afterwards, you will be able to remember the parking space. The more you practice concentration, the more it will become part of your routine. Use a Mantra. When your mind deviates, close your eyes, breathe in slowly and deeply and say to yourself, “Be here now.” Try repeating it at least twice. This simple practice, borrowed from Zen Buddhism, can help you regain concentration and be present in the “here and now“.
6) “Plan” times of concern
A final strategy for improving concentration is to plan times of concern. “Periods of concern” may sound strange, but research has shown that people who plan them experience lower levels of anxiety and stress. Fewer concerns equate to less intrusive distractions and therefore there is an improvement in the ability to concentrate.
Practical exercise to decrease worries
Here’s how to practice this exercise: a) Identify a specific date and time – for example, 4: 30–5:00pm each day – as your personal time period in which to think about the things that worry you most, that create anxiety and stress. b) When you realize a thought that distracts you – for example, an imminent evaluation by the boss – remember that you will think about it later in the expected period. c) Let your thoughts go, and watch out to your task. With practice, this technique will soon become automatic and help reduce distractions for the rest of the day.
7) Training concentration
Sports psychologists know that the best performance depends on your attention span. Useful strategies to increase attentional skills are described below:
- Learn to identify and stop mental distractions. When you are doing a task – for example, you are working with a client – and you realize that your mind starts wandering (“When’s the next date?” “What’s for dinner tonight?”), Try saying to yourself: “STOP!” and immediately regain attention (stop technique).
- Practice one minute of “selective refocusing”. Often times a day, focus on a specific sound for a few seconds – for example, a voice. Then he deliberately switches to another sound, like a bird singing; then it changes again, for example traffic noise. Quickly keep changing for a minute, actively focusing on individual sounds as you try to block others. You can also do this exercise visually, focusing on one person or object, then quickly refocusing on another.
- Keep an eye on the ball. One of the easiest ways to improve concentration is to perform the following exercise for 3 minutes a day: sit one and a half meters away from a ball, trying to focus your attention on it, concentrating, describing all the characteristics of the ball, seeing nothing but the ball. Whenever your mind starts wandering – say “STOP!” And refocus.
- Attend a concentration-oriented group. Yoga, meditation and other disciplines where concentration is an integral part of performance, are effective in terms of a greater increase in concentration and attention.