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How to Improve Concentration

How to Improve Concentration

“I have an important project to work on.  Hang on, there’s a new text message on my phone.  Oh great, here’s an email from Steve.  He’s got tickets for Friday night.  Better check for directions on how to get there.  Now back to that article… I’m hungry. Let’s make a little snack.  Cereal or toast?  It’s sunny outside. I’ll go and put the dirty clothes in the washing machine–it’s a good day to dry them.  Oh, my phone is ringing, who could that be?”

A recent survey by the University of California estimated that the average person’s mind receives 35GB of information each day.  Thirty years ago we only received 15GB of information a day, half of what it is today.  We receive continual interruptions and have to process double the information that we used to, so it is not a surprise that our concentration spans are shrinking.  The Internet has made our ways of thinking very fragmented, jumping from website to website and having to process information but never to remember it.

The Downside of Multitasking

“What I have tried to do is actually eliminate multitasking, because when I try to do more than one thing at once, I end up reaching the end of the day and usually having none of them done,” says Tim Ferris, the author of the book The Four Hour Workweek.

When concentration is spread thinly, it is very counterproductive, causing both the amount and the quality of work to suffer.  Psychologist Dr. Glenn Wilson discovered that workers who were regularly distracted by phone calls experienced a ten percent drop in their IQ.  Perhaps even more interesting, psychologist Richard Nisbett discovered that Chinese-American students with an IQ of 100 achieve the same academically as white American students with an IQ of 120.  Nisbett said, “this is a result of their more focused attitude when it comes to school work.”

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It is possible to train the brain to become more consistently focused, which will lead to consistent results over a period of time.  “Motivation is essential but not enough. You also need consistency in your motivation,” said Arsene Wenger, Manager of the Arsenal football club.

The benefits that a person can get from consistent focus are unimaginably great, including achievements, wealth, relationships, confidence and career.  If a person can cultivate a great focus then that person will begin to take control of their life and not live a life of reaction.  When you are clear in where you want to go, a whole new world of opportunities will open up to you.

Here are some simple habits that can help you improve your ability to concentrate on one thing at a time.

Meditation –

I thought I’d attempt scare away the weak of you with this first point!  If you aren’t willing to try meditation, I can assure you that aren’t reaching your potential in both your career and happiness.  Meditation is not a religious thing; it is just a tool to improve concentration.  Just ten minutes a day can reduce stress, increase happiness and improve concentration.

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Eat a whole foods diet –

If your body’s nutritional needs haven’t been met, then your body won’t allow your mind to concentrate.  Instead, the body is going to send messages to your brain telling you to go and seek out food.  Avoid stimulating foods and ingredients that you don’t recognize.  Instead focus on lots of fruit and vegetables plus clean carbohydrates like brown rice, potatoes, quinoa, oats and bananas.

Hardest, most important task first –

Pick this task to do first and get it out of the way.  Typically after midday people’s concentration starts to wane as they get tired.  Getting your most important and difficult task out of the way first will allow you to do the other, easier tasks after lunch, such as responding to emails and doing design work.

Turn off all distractions –

Make sure your phone is on silent and Outlook is closed.  Give your important work your undivided attention.  You will be amazed at how much you can get done.

Take breaks –

Sustained attention is the level of attention that produces consistent results over time.  The typical adult can’t sustain focus for any longer than forty minutes, although they can choose to re-focus on the same task.  The more you train yourself to focus the easier it will become to focus for longer and longer periods of time.  Initially take a quick toilet or water break ever forty minutes and then re-focus on the task.  A few days later take a break every fifty minutes and a few days later take a break every hour and then re-focus.  Keep expanding your focus comfort zone by gradually increasing it.  Set a countdown timer on your computer to beep after reaching a certain time so you know when to take a break.  If you don’t do this, then forty minutes will pass and you might start to check emails and websites without realizing it, and before you know, it your mind is lost in the information vortex of the Internet.

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Concentration music –

The best music to help stay focused when working on a task is music with a slow, regular rhythm that has no singing.  Type ‘concentration music’ into YouTube and you will find some great one hour long tracks to listen to when working on a task.  In concentration music, the chords typically change every eight seconds.  This slow chord change trains the brain to develop a longer period of focus.

Regular exercise –

A healthy body creates a healthy mind.  Daily exercise will get the heart pumping and the blood flowing around the body to the brain.  Exercise also produces endorphins which make a person “feel good.” When a person is feeling good they will find it easier to concentrate.  When the body is not happy, it will send signals to the brain which will reduce concentration.

Create habits –

A person only has a certain amount of “will power” available to them each day to spend on tasks.  Turning a task into a daily habit will stop the task requiring will power to do it.  Instead, the brain will accept the new behavior as a subconscious task.  Habits don’t require will power because they become automatic behaviors that the person does every day.  It typically takes thirty days to turn a new action into a habit.  Setup the beginning of your day to look something like this:

  • Wake up at x time
  • Breakfast
  • Meditate for 10 minutes
  • Go for a run
  • Shower
  • Start concentration music and timer, then begin work on hardest most important task
  • 40 minute toilet and drink break
  • Re-focus on hardest, most important task
  • 40 minute toilet and drink break
  • Re-focus to finish the hardest most important task for that day
  • Check email
  • Break for Lunch

You will get more done by lunch time than most people can do in a whole day.  The “after lunch” part of the day can be spent on easier tasks, like emails, design, organization and maintenance tasks where less concentration is required.

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A daily to-do list –

Before going to bed each night, list the tasks you want to do the following day.  Make sure you list the hardest, most important task first and then other subsequent tasks.  Having a clear focus of your goals for that day will make it a lot easier for you to concentrate.

Stay Hydrated –

Scientists from the University of Connecticut have found that even mild dehydration alters a person’s mood, energy levels and mental function.  Dehydrated young men experienced difficulty with mental tasks, memory and increased anxiety and tension.  During each forty minute break remember to pour yourself another big glass of water to help maintain concentration.

Best,

Robert King

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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