The ability to focus is a skill – it is not innate. Why do we sometimes have such trouble concentrating? Distractions as well as the mind and our attitude have a huge impact on our mental stamina to complete a task.
Here are 11 ways to strengthen concentration, even under difficult circumstances:
1. Connect emotionally to the task. Tightrope walkers and lion tamers have no trouble concentrating. That’s because their lives are at stake. It is easy however for the mind to wander when it lacks passion for what we are doing. Of course, life’s realities often require us to focus on tasks that don’t peak our highest interests. In those cases, ask yourself, “What aspect of this task do I care about most deeply?”
2. Chart your energy level throughout the day. Most of us have certain times of day when we are clearheaded and energetic. Use those times for tasks that require the most concentration. Make it part of your daily schedule to do these tasks at this time.
3. Remove items that regularly break your focus – mobile phones, social media, magazines, and any material that is not relevant to your task; even the icon on your computer that alerts you to email and other notifications that will cause you to click away from your current tasks.
4. Train yourself not to give in to distractions. When someone enters the room, or when a door slams, consciously keep your concentration on what is in front of you. When someone talks to you, don’t let your mind wander. Listen as if you were going to be required to repeat what is said back to the speaker.
5. Decide how long you intend to work, and what you plan to accomplish. Set strict time limits to complete subtasks. Ask someone to monitor your progress, and to apply gentle pressure when necessary.
6. Remember the big picture – but focus on the task at hand. If you keep mulling over the large, long-term consequences of your actions, your mind will shut down to keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
7. Use caffeine and sugar sparingly. True, they stimulate concentration, but their effects last only 30 to 60 minutes. The more caffeine or sugar you consume, the more you will eventually need in order to achieve the desired effects. Instead, try five minutes of light exercise, which will perk you up with no side effects.
8. Meditate. It strengthens your ability to control your thoughts. Try focusing solely on your breath going in and out. Start with five minutes per day and build up to 20 minutes. When your mind wanders, observe the distracting thought rather than trying to force it out of your mind. After a few minutes, refocus your attention.
9. Take breaks. You should be able to concentrate on one task for about 40 minutes. Then take a five to ten minute break. Periodically shift your sitting position at your desk. This helps keep you alert by promoting circulation and sending more oxygen to your brain.
10. Ask yourself where the block is. If you are chronically unable to concentrate on a specific task, perhaps something about what you have taken on is not right for you. In that case, consider whether you are being fair to yourself by forcing yourself to continue with it.
11. Reward yourself for completing particularly difficult tasks. There is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself for difficult task, in fact that internal motivation for the goal you set for yourself is much more likely to help you complete the task.