Knowing how to improve concentration is an essential life skill you must master.
Even before COVID-19, balancing work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge for many. These days, it can seem downright impossible.
From distractions at work to information overload on social media, technology has made concentration even more challenging to achieve. Think back to a time when your mind was truly at peace. Perhaps it was while on a long walk in the woods, or maybe it was relaxing on the beach.
As you recall the moment, you probably remember nothing else. Your mind was completely focused.
Now, the real question is, how hard did you have to concentrate in order to achieve that feeling?
Table of Contents
- How to Improve Concentration
- 10 Causes of Troubled Concentration and How to Fix Them
- Health Conditions Related to Troubled Concentration
- Bottom Line
How to Improve Concentration
Before you know how to improve concentration, you first need to know the signs that cause many to have trouble focusing.
1. Knowing the Struggles
The signs can vary from person to person. However, what we can experience are:
- Have a struggling working memory – you don’t know what occurred not that long ago
- Trouble sitting still
- Not being able to think clearly
- Frequently losing things or can’t remember where things were placed
- Inability to make decisions or perform complicated tasks
- Lacking physical or mental energy
2. Understand That Focus is a Flow
Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. Having a Focus Flow when learning how to focus better can help.
This is how the Focus Flow works:
Set a Clear Objective
Like driving a car, you need a destination. In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.
A good focus objective, therefore, needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize, such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.
Draw a Focus Roadmap
There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal, but what comes first? What’s more valuable, and how long will it take?
That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to have at least a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.
To create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your roadmap should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve as you learn how to focus better.
10 Causes of Troubled Concentration and How to Fix Them
Want to know how to improve concentration? Here are the 10 most common reasons why you have trouble concentrating and the fixes for each of them.
1. Digital Distractions
Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right? This already speaks volumes of your lack of concentration.
The Fix: Schedule Your Day
You should set aside a period of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.
Schedule time to:
- Read and respond to work emails
- Make headway on your top two or three work projects
- Engage in professional development
- Do household chores
- Help the kids with homework
Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again.
2. Daydreams and Memories
Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than what you’re handling at that time. This causes you to have some trouble concentrating and away from what you need to focus on.
The Fix: Stay in the Present
Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.
Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, sleep deprivation, diet, eyestrain, and medications. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.
The Fix: Hydration and Pain Relief Products
Keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.
If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Difficulty focusing can be solved in simple ways. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.
4. Racing Thoughts
When you get busy, you suddenly remember five other items that you need to do or think about. If you want to know how to increase concentration, you need to calm your racing thoughts.
The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful
One scientific review found that “MBIs [mindfulness-based interventions] were moderately effective in reducing anxiety symptoms and improving mood….Moreover, improvements were sustained over an average of 27 weeks.” Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter, restore cognitive functioning, focus on the present, and restore razor focus.
Mindfulness meditation is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.
Aside from that, keeping a distraction list can help keep any impulses at bay.
A distraction list is a list where you write down unrelated questions, thoughts, and ideas that run through your head while you work. Once you finish your task or have the opportunity for a break, then you can look up the answers to those questions or research the thoughts and ideas you had.
5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments
Your anger and annoyance might be well placed, but it doesn’t help to linger on these things. Your brain cells are better used for something else, such as finding ways on how to improve concentration and focus.
The Fix: Get Some Closure
Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution. Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having difficulty concentrating.
6. Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during waking hours. This is one of the best tricks on how to concentrate better.
The Fix: Sleep Schedules
Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit is your routine. Key steps include to help restore cognitive functioning are:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
- Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
- Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
7. Lack of Exercise
Exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list for many people. When they run out of time, they skip it. But they pay the price later in the form of their concentration.
If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.
The Fix: Get Moving
At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability. If you find it difficult to focus on everyday tasks at work, try engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs.
If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.
If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. The same can happen when you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, too.
The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective
The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life. Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.
If you’re studying and want to learn how to improve focus, one particularly useful way to engage with information is to teach it to others. One study suggested that this is because teaching information forces you to continually focus to retrieve it.
You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:
If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.
9. Excess Stress
The pandemic, politics, the economy, what’s happening in the news, your work, and more can be big stress points. In some cases, they are manageable.
But there are some days when you can’t help but worry and get stressed out about these things. I understand that, however, it’s also a lifestyle choice for you to be getting stressed out about those things.
The Fix: Taking Control of Your Feelings
Learning to destress in various ways will help out a lot. These methods include:
- Making it a rule to stress out about things you can control rather than worry about what you can’t control.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation
- Give yourself a break
- Talk to other people about your worries
- Avoid using drugs and alcohol and instead, find some other way to unwind
10. Lack of Nutrients or Hunger
Lack of nutrition is very common since people can get distracted by other things that they forget to eat. That or they only grab small snacks and aren’t getting the nutrients they need.
The Fix: Eat Better and Healthier
It’s vital that you’re eating properly and that you’re getting the right nutrients in your body. A recent study found that a diet with a high amount of vegetables, fruits, fish, water, and fiber can improve sleep and mental health.  These things are related to causes of poor concentration we discussed earlier.
Beyond that, ensure you are eating enough at each meal and that you are eating consistently over the course of the day.
Health Conditions Related to Troubled Concentration
Though it’s not very common, you may also have trouble knowing how to improve concentration due to chronic conditions. Difficulty concentrating is a side effect of:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Cushing syndrome
- Major depressive disorder
When Should You Seek Help?
Looking for help should be a priority if you:
- Haven’t been diagnosed with any of the cognitive functioning disorders mentioned above, and you’ve tried several of those methods mentioned above to fix difficulty concentrating;
- Experienced loss of consciousness, severe chest pains, severe headaches, sudden and unexplained working memory loss
- Unusual feelings of tiredness
- Trouble sleeping
- Seeing a decline in performance in work or school.
Tips to Improve Concentration
Finding out how to improve concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.
Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com
|||^||Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do|
|||^||American Family Physician: Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation|
|||^||Applied Cognitive Psychology: The learning benefits of teaching: A retrieval practice hypothesis|
|||^||Nutrients: Diet, Sleep, and Mental Health: Insights from the UK Biobank Study|
|||^||Mayo Clinic: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome|