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Last Updated on November 26, 2019

How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain

How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain

In this fast-paced world we’ve created, we’re only going to feel more overwhelmed by the ever-increasing directions and distractions we feel pulled toward. With exponentially increasing demands on us in our work and personal lives, sustaining and improving focus on things which matter is getting tougher and tougher.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that keeping focused is no longer about trying to discover secret weapons of willpower or self-discipline. With these initial self-reflective exercises and different brain-training exercises, you’ll no longer be having arguments with yourself to get on with the job!

Here’re 7 ways on how to improve focus that you can start applying:

1. Have a Plan You Feel Clear About

One of the most common reasons we struggle to maintain focus is because we lack clarity about what we need to do next. The next best action step does not feel clear to us.

If you are trying to lose weight but aren’t clear on exactly what activities you need to do, with what intensity, the food you need to eat and the timing of when all this needs to happen, you increase your chances of staggered progress.

If there are not enough parts early in the process to that feel clear for you to make the next step, these emotional obstacles will derail you.

You must also recognize the amount of detail in the steps you need to feel ready and confident to move forward — this will differ between you and the next person. You and another person can be given exactly the same instructions to learn a task. He/she might feel completely ready and confident to get to work. On the other hand, you hesitate.

Work on developing enough detail clarity until you feel you have enough resources and know enough to take the steps. When you do, stepping forward will be easy and momentum will flow.

2. Set Your Mood and Environment to Maximize Your Capacity to Focus

It’s been argued that in slightly-above-ambient temperatures, you can be more creative. You feel more relaxed and your productivity increases. Conversely, lower temperatures have also been found to more positively influence decision-making ability and alertness.

Cornell University conducted a study of office administration workers whereby their productivity positively correlated with increased office temperatures.[1] At 25℃, the workers were typing with 90% accuracy. However, with a drop of 5℃, the typing rate nose-dived along with an increased error rate of 25%. The study also identified other factors which could greatly affect productivity and focus such as air quality and pollution.

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It’s not just temperature you need to pay attention to. Good lighting is essential. The wavelength of blue light emitted from neon lights and most electronic devices generally ignites our serotonin levels and keeps us awake. Consider though that natural light is best where possible. When your body is truly getting tired, you can honor its natural rhythms and listen to its cues for rest.

Switch off communication applications (e.g. Facebook messenger, Slack, Yamma). Make it hard for yourself to access such applications and devices by physically putting them in places that are inconvenient for you to access (try the 20-second rule and make it take more time to access). If you have to go outside to the garden shed to retrieve your phone (and it’s cold and raining outside), you’re less likely to do it!

Maximize your exposure to visual messages which direct you to stay on task. Rather than have your eyes cast across post-it-note messages such as: “Don’t get distracted”, have messages of what you want to direct yourself to do: “Keep going. Stay focused.” Surround where you plan to execute most of your day’s work with deliberate messages that directly tell you to stay on track.

3. Create a Distraction Procrastination To-Do List

When you know you have to prepare a complex report or assignment, the temptation to be carried away with the social flittings of your friends on Facebook or your colleagues chatting nearby will likely be stronger than ever. That story you spin yourself that you’re only spending a smidgin’ of time getting ‘up-to-date’ so it can’t really do any harm becomes the only story you want to believe.

Trying to resist the temptation completely can cost you valuable time and mental energy. The guilt you harbor for contemplating digressing from your important activity inflicts an emotional cat-o-nine tails upon you. That doesn’t serve you either. What do you do?

Submit half-way. Fully indulge at a designated time period to soak up that dopamine rush from scrolling through sporadic events and sponsored posts on your newsfeed or chat to whoever is online at the time. However, timing here is essential.

After pounding through a chunk of work, submit to that guilty pleasure. When you engage in it, do it fully. If you’ve been studying straight for three hours, it’s time to stand up, stretch and stroll to your favourite coffee shop and back. Go for a walk or swing on the swings in your closest public park.

If you work from home, bake a batch of scones, put on a face mask as you soak your feet in a foot spa. Or watch half of the football match you recorded but haven’t gotten ‘round to reviewing yet.

Cold-turkey abstinence is hardly ever effective. Not only are you wasting time and energy resisting the urge. You make the urge stronger by denying yourself! So, don’t deny yourself but manage it wisely.

4. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

If you’re yet to be convinced of how meditation can help you improve focus, look no further than the declarations made by the American Psychological Society praising its benefits.[2] More and more studies are demonstrating how meditation can reduce rumination, stress, anxiety and improve relationships, emotional stability, focus and working memory capacity.

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If you’re not meditating, you are doing yourself a gross disservice. Meditating allows to practice regaining focus. As you practice, you learn and increase your skills to notice when your mind is wandering off track. You then practice bringing it back to what you should be directing your attention to.

Include in your morning preparations for the day a gentle but directed review of what you need to devote your time to today. Throughout the day, consider that your attention span swings like a pendulum. Exercise it one direction and let it swing into a free-thought space for moments of reprieve.

The world, our bodies and our minds work in rhythms. Learn to exercise your mind and focus as such. If you try to beat yourself cognitively into submission, you’re unlikely to win. You’ll be unnecessarily exhausting yourself in repeated attempts of trying.

Here’s a beginner guide for meditation: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

5. Schedule Planning, Review and Recognition Periods Throughout Your Day

Management consultant and best-selling author of 18 Minutes, Peter Bregman recommends a simple plan to help train your brain to remain focused and help you track your progress.

Before the computer goes on, the first 5 minutes of your day, you invest in planning and write out your ‘today’s activities’ list. Physically writing down your activity goals for the day (using paper and pen, not electronic word processing) engages more functions within your brain (e.g. the generation effect[3]) which train it to recognize these activities are highly important.

Bregman then recommends that for 1 minute at the end of each of the next 8 hours, you stop and recall what you have accomplished in that hour. You congratulate yourself for what you have achieved and regain focus, recalibrate expectations and take a pause. You slow down to speed up.

By reviewing what you have accomplished, you attach a positive emotional experience to your work and progress. This action in itself will improve your focus as you fuel your motivation to keep the wheels of your momentum, rolling.

The final 5 minutes at the end of the day are spent in reviewing and planning the next day. Doing so makes it easy for you to sustain laser focus from one day to the next, to the next.

These 18 minutes of planning serve as plain but powerful guard rails to keep you mentally on track.

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6. Create Goals and Activities That Satisfy Your Highest Priorities and Values

Whenever you’re resisting doing something, it’s highly likely because it’s not topping your desirability charts.

As a human being, you behave and act in ways which ultimately keep you feeling safe and comfortable. As long as we can see we will get to continue feeling safe and comfortable, it doesn’t matter what activity we’re asked to do.

However, the moment a notion arises of your needing to do something that feels unfamiliar (and hence, uncomfortable), you can guarantee you’ll feel a sting of resistance. It might be slight but it will be there. However, life doesn’t let us simply avoid whatever we please.

The key is to examine and reframe what you need to do in a way that does satisfy your highest values and priorities.

If you believe you know what your values and priorities are, take a look at the results you have against the goals you’ve set for yourself thus far.

For example, if you believe one of your highest priorities is to have a healthy bank balance yet your balance statement shows more outgoings than revenue, having a lot of money is actually not a high priority for you.

At this point, you need to explore the variety of activities that yield a healthy bank balance that you’re not currently exercising. Saving, reducing costs, modifying and monitoring spending habits, making wiser purchase choices and finding ways to increase your income are all activities you need to explore. These things might sound dull and like hard work.

That’s probably why you’re not doing them! The great news is that they don’t have to be.

Work out which of these activities are the easiest and fun (i.e. create feelings of comfort and safety) for you. Then either get someone or engage a mechanism to do the rest for you.

If you are good at generating income, engage a financial adviser to set up structures which will monitor and wisely manage your spending. You can have your cake and eat it too.

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Simply work out which parts of the cake you like eating the most and invite others along who like eating the other parts.

7. Transform Information to Make Things More Interesting

According to neurobiologists’ findings, we learn better when we actively do different things with the information. Not only are our experiences of learning more enjoyable, we activate more parts of our brain. This serves lessons and memories to be more effectively encoded into long-term memory.

You need to become clever at delighting and regularly stimulating your senses through variety.

If you’re studying, engage a variety of ways to exercise using the knowledge and skills you must develop. Discussion groups, creating informal quizzes, teaching someone the information you need to learn involves you exercising verbal communication skills where you must both give and receive information. You must adapt to your audience.

Drawing pictures and diagrams, creating voice memos about what you’re learning, using colors and symbols again different activates different parts of the brain. More connections are developed in your neural circuitry to aid your recall.

Furthermore, you become more adaptable and adept at applying what you learn to different situations.

Creating your own personalized manuals and notes becomes a passion project which pushes the personal gratification scale higher and higher.

Before you know it, staying focused no longer feels like a chore.

The Bottom Line

The need to stay focused drops when you set goals and make choices that steer you toward satisfying your highest priorities, values and principles.

Having arduous experiences on your journey are inevitable. Using these exercises and strategies, you can forecast when distractions and boredom are approaching and transform these into some of the most effective and productive chapters, ever.

More About Staying Focused

Featured photo credit: Trent Szmolnik via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Helen D'Silva

Performance Psychologist for Business and Entrepreneurship, Sport and Personal Development

How to Cultivate a Positive Mindset (A Step-By-Step Guide) How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious How to Manage Anxiety: Sound Advice from a Mental Health Expert How to Cope with Anxiety and Stress at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

50 Motivational Quotes for Work to Inspire Success

50 Motivational Quotes for Work to Inspire Success

Let’s face it – no matter how excited you are about a new project or priority in your life, there will always be days when your motivation lags. Days when – despite all the progress you’ve made in the past – it just sounds easier to sit on the couch playing video games than to buckle down and crank out the work needed to meet your goals.

In order to be successful, you must be able to motivate yourself past these humps. Whenever you feel your drive and determination lagging, turn to these motivational quotes for work to provide the extra spark of passion needed to keep you on track.

Quotes about Goal Setting

Whether you’re still in the planning phases of your business or whether you’re plotting a plan of attack to bring about your long-range vision, setting good goals is a critical part of succeeding in business.

Check out these quotes for extra inspiration on how to turn your dreams into reality:

quote-Benjamin-E.-Mays-the-tragedy-in-life-doesnt-lie-in-106113

    “The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”– Benjamin Mays


    “By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands — your own.”–Mark Victor Hansen


    “Give yourself an even greater challenge than the one you are trying to master and you will develop the powers necessary to overcome the original difficulty.”–William J. Bennett – The Book of Virtues


    “The entrepreneur is essentially a visualizer and actualizer… He can visualize something, and when he visualizes it he sees exactly how to make it happen.”–Robert L. Schwartz

    Quotes about Achieving Excellence in Work

    Once you’ve got your goals together, you’ll need to put in 110% of your effort in order to transform these visions into reality. To increase your motivation to work at a consistently high level, take a look at the following words of wisdom:

    “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”–Aristotle


    “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”–Charles R. Swindoll

    Desire is the key to motivation

      “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal — a commitment to excellence — that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”–Mario Andretti


      “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”–Pearl Buck


      “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”–Vince Lombardi

      Quotes about Determination and Persistence

      Since every business or other endeavor is bound to hit some rough patches, it’s often a person’s level of determination and patience that brings about either success or failure. These positive quotes give you an extra boost of encouragement:

      “Enter every activity without giving mental recognition to the possibility of defeat. Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses… on your powers, instead of your problems.”–Paul J. Meyer


      “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”–Hal Borland


      “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”–Calvin Coolidge

      quote-Thomas-Fuller-an-invincible-determination-can-accomplish-almost-anything-92190

        “An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men.”–Thomas Fuller

        Quotes about Leadership

        Whether you use it to engage your employees, to encourage teamwork or motivate others to follow your unique way of thinking, leadership is crucial. Take your leadership cues from these renowned leaders’ famous sayings:

        “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born — that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” –Warren G. Bennis


        “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”–John Kenneth Galbraith

        Leadership is not magnetic personality

          “Leadership is not magnetic personality — that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’ — that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”–Peter F. Drucker


          “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.”–John Buchan


          “High sentiments always win in the end. The leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.”–George Orwell

          Quotes for Success

          Think of success as a holistic process – one which results from the combination of goal-setting, excellence, patience, determination and leadership you prioritize throughout your career. These highly successful people provide you with an excellent source of motivation:

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          “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.”–Stephen Covey


          “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”–Norman Vincent Peale

          Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

            “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”–Winston Churchill


            “Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.”–John Maxwell


            “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”– Thomas J. Watson


            “The great successful men of the world have used their imagination.  They think ahead and create their mental picture in all its details, filling in here, adding a little there, altering this a bit and that a bit, but steadily building – steadily building.”–Robert Collier


            “It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.”–Arnold Toynbee

            Sports Quotes for Athletes

            You don’t need to be a Michael Jordan-caliber athlete to draw inspiration from the following quotes. Even if you’re just a recreational player or someone who’s using sports as a means to get back in shape after long periods of inactivity, the following motivational sports quotes will encourage you:

            “My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”–Michael Jordan


            “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”–Lance Armstrong

            Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths.

              “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”–Arnold Schwarzenegger


              “I know what I have to do, and I’m going to do whatever it takes. If I do it, I’ll come out a winner, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else does.”–Florence Griffith Joyner


              “Every time you stay out late; every time you sleep in; every time you miss a workout; every time you don’t give 100% – You make it that much easier for me to beat you.”–Unknown


              “If you are hurt, whether in mind or body, don’t nurse your bruises. Get up and light-heartedly, courageously, good temperedly get ready for the next encounter. This is the only way to take life – this is also ‘playing’ the game!”–Emily Post


              “We must train from the inside out. Using our strengths to attack and nullify any weaknesses. It’s not about denying a weakness may exist but about denying its right to persist.”–Vince McConnell

              Quotes to Motivate Learning

              Committing yourself to pursuing knowledge in a single area is a tremendous endeavor – one that often seems overwhelming given the depth and breadth of information that’s available today. Keep the following motivational quotes in mind if you’re learning:

              “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.”–George Washington Carver

              quote-William-Arthur-Ward-if-you-can-imagine-it-you-can-36189

                “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”–William Arthur Ward


                “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”– Aristotle


                “Success is not the key to happiness.Happiness is the key to success.If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”–Albert Schweitzer


                “Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it, merely to show that you have one.”–Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield


                “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”–Chinese Proverb


                “Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.”–William Arthur Ward


                “Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life’.”–Helen Exley


                “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.”–Chinese Proverb

                All-Time Favorite Positive Quotes

                Finally, whatever your goals are in life, you can’t go wrong by taking the advice of the following famous motivational quotes:

                “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”–Norman Vincent Peale


                “Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drowned your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”–Steve Jobs


                “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”–Maria Robinson


                “Out of clutter, find Simplicity. From discord, find Harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies Opportunity.”–Albert Einstein


                “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”–Lyndon Johnson

                If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

                  “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”–Thomas Edison


                  “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”–Wayne Gretzky


                  “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”–Winston Churchill


                  “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

                  Final Thoughts

                  To use these motivational quotes effectively, find the one that speaks to you. Although all of the phrases listed above can be considered “motivational,” only you can decide which one resonates with you most directly.

                  Next, take the quote you’ve settled on and copy it onto small index cards or other pieces of paper that can be stored around your home and workspace.

                  If you’re creative, you can create inspiration boards, signs or other decorative displays featuring your favorite motivational quotes – really, though, the most important thing is that your chosen phrase be accessible in a variety of different places. This will make it easy to access and review whenever you feel your motivation slipping away.

                  More Inspiring Quotes

                  Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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