How to Improve Concentration
Concentration, or attention, is simply being able to focus your mind on one thing at a time, to the exclusion of other things. It is the ability to cut out distraction and tune in to one object or concept at a time. The opposite of concentration is attention deficiency, or attention deficit disorder, although lack of concentration could be due to many other things.
The inability to concentrate can cause havok in our lives. From not doing well in school, to poor work performance, or worse, poor and inattentive driving on our roads, losing concentration can cost us dearly. While concentration is easily scattered, especially in modern society with all our distractions, it is fairly easy to learn how to improve concentration and mental focus.
Our ability to focus our minds is innate, but we’ve been tempted lately by all of our cool gadgets and toys. Everywhere we look there is something competing for our attention. Even this blog that you’re reading right now is flanked on the sidebars by distraction. Go ahead and look, I’ll wait right here.
Good, you’re back. Now, let’s learn to concentrate and figure out how we can unclutter our minds enough that we can practice concentration and improve our attention span. It’s easy, but will take time and work, and yeah, lots of patience too…
- Take a deep breath, hold for a few seconds, then breathe out slowly. Do this a few times…or until you feel a bit calmer than you are now.
- Find an object, any object will do, but it’s better with something bland that you don’t have a mental attachment, or association to.
- Get a timer. There are computer programs, or use your phone, or a watch, or a kitchen timer…anything.
- Set the timer for one minute and hit start.
- Focus on the object that you chose. Hold your attention on that object as long as you can.
- Stop when the alarm goes off.
- Repeat this exercise, and increase the amount of time gradually.
This simple exercise allows you to feel what it is like to focus attention on something with all of your will power. The key word here is will power. You need that to be able to concentrate on anything in the beginning. Later on, and with more practice, you’ll be able to just naturally concentrate on things without much effort. That is, unless you have a disorder that prevents you from concentration. (beyond the scope of this article)
Learn Mindfulness Meditation
The University of Washington just published a study called “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment,” This paper, cited in an article called, “Mindful multitasking: Meditation first can calm stress, aid concentration”, brings up some very interesting data.
Three groups of about 15 HR managers were selected for a study. The first group received eight weeks of only mindfulness-based meditation training. The second group received eight weeks of only body relaxation training. The third group, or control group, had no training for the first eight weeks, after which, they were given mindfulness-based meditation training.
After the eight weeks, all groups were given stressful tasks to perform, which included heavy mental multi-tasking using all sorts of every-day distractions like email, chat, calendars, and other office-related tasks. In regard to the outcome, the authors state:
…The results were significant: The meditation group reported lower levels of stress during the multitasking test while those in the control group or who received only relaxation training did not. When the control group was given meditation training, however, its members reported lower stress during the test just as had the original meditation group.
The meditation training seemed to help participants concentrate longer without their attention being diverted. Those who meditated beforehand spent more time on tasks and switched tasks less often, but took no longer to complete the overall job than the others, the researchers learned.
No such change occurred with those who took body relaxation training only, or with the control group. After the control group’s members underwent meditation training, however, they too spent longer on their tasks with less task switching and no overall increase in job completion time.
After training, both the meditators and those trained in relaxation techniques showed improved memory for the tasks they were performing. The control group did not, until it too underwent the meditation training.
This is profound, and lends credence to the positive effects of mindfulness meditation. The simple techniques can be learned quickly, and have the ability to act fast, in just eight or so weeks (according to the article). There are plenty of mindfulness techniques on this site, so feel free to explore and see how they work for you. Check out Jon Kabat-Zinn as well, he’s all over Google.
It’s not difficult to learn how to improve concentration and mental focus. It takes some work, but it’s worth it. Go on, do it 🙂