Maybe you sit at a desk all day or maybe you just can’t stay on task to save your life, whatever it is, chances are you’re having a hard time focusing lately. It’s proven though that one of the things that separates us mere mortals and the super elite geniuses out there, is focus.
And that’s all good and such to know, but how do you get more focused exactly? If we need to improve concentration to be successful, is there some magic formula to get there?
Well it’s not magic, but it is science.
So, here are 5 scientifically proven ways to stay focused and improve your concentration today:
Many see meditation as a way to relax after a long day and clear your head before going to bed. But did you know meditation can also improve your focus in the long term? It makes sense if you think about it. Meditation is the act of expelling any thoughts that come to your brain, clearing your brain entirely. It requires a lot of mental control and the expel distractions.
In some studies, it’s shown that frequent meditators perform better than non-meditators in focus quizzes. It’s like mental aerobics, making sure you flex those brain muscles through meditation so you know that your brain will know how to do it when you need it most.
All in all, even short meditation sessions can do a lot for your ability to concentrate and control where your mind wanders. All of this equals more focus in every day life.
For a long time fidgeting was viewed as a symptom or cause of attention deficit disorders like ADD or ADHD. A recent study, however, proves otherwise.
In the study, researchers examined the brain chemistry when someone fidgets to see which chemicals were created by the body movement. What they found was dopamine and norepinephrine.
Both of these chemicals are also activated by ADHD medications, and there’s a reason why.
Though most of us know that dopamine is the “love chemical” you might not know what norepinephrine is. Essentially it’s a neurotransmitter that activates the brain or body, telling them to get up and get ready to go. This chemical is what makes us “lazer focused” in a meeting and at the top our game.
Because fidgeting has been discovered to have this affect, it’s been more popularized in offices and schools. Things like fidget toys help children and adults alike get that extra boost of concentration in whatever task their trying to perform.
A similar concept to fidgeting, exercise has been proven to stimulate chemicals in the brain that are crucial to staying focused.
You might not be surprised to hear this as you have probably felt the kind of “high” after working out, where you feel like your head is clearer and you’re ready to take on the world.
Karen Postal PH.D suggests that this is due to the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, which seems to happen at a rapid pace when we exercise. She goes on to also talk about how aerobic exercise in particular is important for attention and focus. This happens because the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is essentially working overtime, pushing away distractions and improving attention spans in the short term.
All in all, even just 30 minutes of exercise can give you a huge brain boost, so don’t forget to make the time for it.
4. Taking Breaks
Some people might find this counter-intuitive, especially those that love feeling “in the zone”. But continuing on with one task without a break – even if you’re in the zone – can actually make it harder to focus and lower your productivity as a result.
Studies have found that small breaks are essential in maximizing and improving concentration. It explores how the old idea of attention being something that can run out over time might be shortsighted. Although our attention does run thin, it can be almost “replenished” with breaks instead of being something attached only to the subject at hand.
After having test subjects take two short breaks during a task, they saw that their attention didn’t fade at all compared to the other group.
This idea is also explored in productivity techniques like Pomodoro, which times you on intervals of 25 minutes with 5 minute breaks in between. The Technique has been proven effective in focusing and producing work more quickly.
5. Training Your Brain
You might only think of strength training as something you do with your body, but it’s also important to train your brain.
One important thing to practice is exercises in focus and concentration. These are meant as brain teasers or problems that flex your brain “muscles” and make sure that their connections are working the way they should.
Just like anything else, concentration takes practice. One example of an exercise or tool to use is called a Distraction To-Do List. If you’ve ever felt the need to google why dogs hate cats in the middle of the work day or email your Dad about that thing you saw yesterday, write it down! Instead of forcing yourself not to do it, mark it down to do later so you brain is at ease and you’re avoiding the distraction.
When it comes to brain exercises, the more the better. Make sure you integrate exercises in your normal routine to increase your focus in the long term.
What helps you focus on the day to day? Let us know in the comments!