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

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Last Updated on August 10, 2020

15 Simple Things You Can Do To Turn Your Life Around

15 Simple Things You Can Do To Turn Your Life Around

Life can be difficult. It can seem like nothing goes your way and the world is against you. The world can be a very cruel and lonely place. But there are things that you can do to begin turning your life around.

Whether you’re in a job you hate, struggling with a loss, or just not on the path you expected, only you hold the key to turning your life around. Here are 15 simple things you can do to turn your life around.

1. Read Daily

Reading lets you escape to a different place within your mind. It can be relaxing and calming. And it helps stimulate brain activity and keeps you sharp.

Reading daily can help you spend time away from the problems of the day and allow you to escape into a world of endless possibilities. Changing your perspective can help you turn around your life, and reading is a great place to start.

Here’re some recommendations: 20 All-Time Best Motivational Books to Inspire You

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2. Put Your Goals in Writing

When thoughts are banging around in our heads, they can easily slip away. Walk from one room to another and you forget what you were doing!

Make sure your goals are concrete and written down. This will help you stay accountable to yourself and is the first step in completing your goal. By writing it on a piece of paper, you must put in the thought of how you should word it, what exactly you want to accomplish, and will make you consider if it’s truly worth it.

3. Prune Your Relationships

Too often, relationships can be destructive. This is often looked at through the scope of romantic relationships, but also consider life-long friends, family, and acquaintances. Are the people you spend time with bringing you down? Are they helping you achieve your goals or hindering? It can be difficult, but pruning your relationships can be the quickest catalyst in turning your life around.

4. Make New Friends

Don’t underestimate how a new person or group of friends in your life can change your outlook. Be open to meeting new people, both at work and in your personal life.

5. Get Healthy

When you feel great, good things seem to come your way. Working out helps you feel better about yourself and can help change your outlook on life. Eating right can help you have the energy to do more. Getting healthy can improve your entire outlook on life and help turn your life around.

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6. Start Saving

For many, financial struggle can weigh heavy and be the cause of many problems. Without a change of job or career, changing your financial situation will take time and effort. Start saving with each paycheck to help build toward your future. Even if it’s a small amount each check, consistency in saving can help you change your path in the future.

7. Start a Business

Working for others can be tough. You may be underemployed, under-utilized, and under-appreciated. Starting a business can help you take control of your financial future.

Understand that you don’t have to quit your current job to start a business. Find something you love and have skills at and do it in your free time. If you’re in creative services, freelance. If you’re great at carpentry, build tables to sell. If you are a talented painter or crafty, start an Etsy store.

You may find that your side passion business can turn into more. Or, if you have the opportunity and skills, take the plunge and go all in. Working for yourself is challenging, but a great opportunity to change your life.

Here’re some tips for you: How to Start a Small Business with Little to No Money

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8. Find Opportunities to Help Others

Helping others can change your outlook and help turn your life around. Changing the way you think about the world can play a part. But helping others can also open up doors you never had available. Being a good person can help you get out of a funk and can be the catalyst for change.

9. Learn a New Skill

When you have more skills, additional opportunities will be presented. If you’re tired of your blue collar job, take classes to learn computer skills. If you’re struggling to move up in your company, find a skill that makes you more valuable. And if you want financial freedom, learn a skill that can help you change your life. Knowledge is power.

10. Stop Watching TV

Watching TV can keep you distracted and take up a lot of time. Cutting out the time you spend watching TV and replacing it with more productive activities can help you accomplish more and stay focused.

11. Listen to Inspirational Content

You can learn much about yourself from others. Find inspirational and educational content that matches your needs and give it a listen. You may find that the advice from others in similar situations can give you the boost you need to change your life.

12. Stop Complaining

Negative thoughts and talk can turn people against you and make your outlook grim. Stop complaining so much and make the best out of your situation.

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13. Find or Rekindle Your Passion

Doing what you love can change your entire outlook on life. When you’re doing things you hate, you can be more stressed and make life much harder than it needs to be. Find things you’re passionate about and rekindle the love for what you enjoyed in the past. Doing what you love can turn your life around and make each day more rewarding.

14. Take a Vacation (or Staycation)

Sometimes, hitting the reset button is all it takes to improve your situation. Taking a vacation, or staycation, is a great way to get away from the stress of the daily grind and recharge your battery. A vacation can give you the perspective you need to change your life.

15. Re-evaluate Your Attitude

How you view the world will often reflect in how you treat yourself. Re-evaluate your attitude and ensure that you’re doing all you can to make the most out of every situation. A change in how you view your situation can often be the push that helps you change your life for the better.

More Tips to Help You Change Your Life

Featured photo credit: Conner Ching via unsplash.com

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