Ninety percent of my game is mental. It’s my concentration that has gotten me this far.
The Value of Improving Your Concentration
To concentrate means having the power to focus all your attention onto one single objective. And it’s this single-minded attention that can help boost productivity and improve your ability to learn, remember and recall information far more effectively.
To concentrate means to focus on the details of what you are doing at each given moment. This is of course all about having the ability, willpower, and strength-of-mind to effectively manage unhelpful thoughts and negative emotions that can easily sidetrack you from your predetermined goal.
Concentration is therefore very much a soft skill that can help us make the most of the time we spend on specific goal-driven tasks or activities. Given this, it’s quite clear that concentration is often a key differentiating factor that separates those who succeed in one field of endeavor from those that don’t.
But what does concentration need from us? What does it take to develop our ability to concentrate for extended periods at a times?
What it Takes to Develop Your Concentration
For starters, developing concentration requires willpower. It requires strength-of-mind and the self-control needed to avoid distractions and stay on course with your task or activity.
As you work toward your desired objectives, you may experience emotional highs and lows along your journey. It is within these moments that we quickly lose our ability to concentrate and stay focused on the tasks at hand. It is therefore within these moments that people get easily sidetracked and lose their way.
Given this, it’s quite clear that in order to have the ability to concentrate over extended periods of time, we need to develop strength over our mind. More specifically, strength over our thoughts. Or in other words, mastery over the thoughts you allow yourself to dwell upon at any one time.
When things don’t go as expected, it’s easy to lose our focus and concentration. It’s within such moments that we must quieten our thought process and stay calm, composed and collected. Only in this state-of-mind are we able to bring our attention back onto what’s most important that can help us move forward toward our goals and objectives.
Concentration is however very much fueled by passion. When we passionately pursue something, we are naturally more focused and able to concentrate for longer periods at a time. The passion you have for something is kind of like a barrier between you and potential distractions. It helps you develop the laser-like focus you need to see things through till the very end.
Concentration is however not something that we suddenly miraculously acquire. It’s rather something that we need to consistently work on developing over time. In fact, it’s something that requires persistent effort, dedication, energy and practice. It’s something that you must consistently put to action in small ways throughout the day. Like a muscle, the more you use concentration, the stronger it gets over time.
How to Concentrate on an Important Task
Having the ability to concentrate on a given task is of tremendous value for helping us work more productively throughout the day. However, concentrating on a single task is never easy — especially not in this day-and-age. There are just too many distractions trying to take up our time and attention.
You can however develop your ability to concentrate on a given task if you take the time to put into practice the following six steps:
Step 1: Unclutter Your Brain
Improving concentration always begins with the uncluttering of your brain.
We come into each task with baggage in the form of emotions and thoughts from other parts of our lives. Bringing this baggage into this task will only distract you from fully absorbing yourself in the task.
Once written down, just let these thoughts be. Make peace with what you have put down on paper, and decide that you will focus on these things only when you have fully completed your task and/or achieved your desired objective.
Step 2: Clarity What You Want
Concentration requires having a focus and direction for your work or study session. In other words, it requires knowing your objectives. Ask yourself:
What do I want to get done at this time?
What specifically do I want to accomplish?
How will I go about getting this task done?
Now that you understand your objective, consider for a moment the sequence of steps required to perform this task at a high level. Our brains absolutely love progression, patterns and predictability, which is why listing down this sequence of steps will help improve your concentration levels.
The moment your brain realizes that there is a method and reason to your madness, it will jump on board and help you to concentrate as you work through this task.
Step 3: Prepare Your Workspace
You should be quite focused by this stage, however your ability to concentrate is irrevocably tied to your work environment. If your environment is messy and disorganized, then sooner or later this is bound to distract you.
With this in mind, ensure that you take the time to organize your work environment. Make sure it is comfortable, clean and that all your materials are easily accessible at any time throughout your work or study session.
Now consider that to concentrate means to work both effectively and efficiently. If your work environment isn’t organized in a way that suits the task you are undertaking, then the efficiency just won’t be there. In such instances it’s just easy to lose focus and concentration when you’re struggling to find something you need to move your task forward.
Step 4: Remove all Distractions
Your level of concentration is often tied to your ability to handle distractions most effectively.
It’s probably safe to say that no matter how focused you are, you will always get sidetracked if you’re unable to manage the distractions around you.
With this in mind, identify all the things that you deem to be distractions, and remove them from your environment. Distractions could of course come in the form of people, internet, noise, and gadgets. In other words, remove your smart phone or it will distract you!
The less distractions you have to worry about, the better your ability to concentrate for extended periods at a time.
Step 5: Break Down Your Task
You previously identified the sequence of steps required to work through your task most effectively. Now it’s time to break this sequence into chunks that you will progressively work on for periods at at time.
In order to maintain high levels of concentration you must avoid falling into the pitfalls of overwhelm or frustration. The best way to avoid this trap is to break your task down into “concentration blocks”.
A concentration block is just a fancy name for working on very specific parts of your task at one time with single-minded attention. This is especially valuable for very large and difficult tasks. These tasks can quickly become overwhelming if you try to tackle them all at once. Instead focus on segmenting the task into related parts that you can work on one at a time. These are of course your concentration blocks that will help keep you focused for longer.
Step 6: Assign Time Limits and Deadlines
The final step to improving your concentration while working on a task is to set time limits and deadlines.
A time limit is a set time you allocate for working on a specific task throughout a single day. A deadline is a date you set for the completion of that task.
Setting time limits and deadlines is valuable for improving concentration because it brings a sense of urgency into your work. With urgency your brain is motivated to stay focused and therefore has the ability to concentrate for longer periods at a time.
The best way to set time limits is to simply use a timer. For instance, commit yourself to work for 30 minutes non-stop. Then outline what you will attempt to get done over that period of time. When you’re ready, start the timer and get to work. By focusing all your energies on hitting your set targets, you will find that your concentration levels dramatically improve.
How to Develop Your Concentration Muscle
We’ve already established that developing concentration takes work. But what kind of work does it actually take? In other words, how do we consistently work on developing our concentration muscle so that it strengthens over time?
Here within this section let’s explore how to channel your energies to help you focus on what you are doing and subsequently develop your ability to concentrate for longer periods at a time. Then within the last section we will look at concentration exercises you can practice daily.
Work with Purpose
Many people struggle to concentrate because what they are doing simply has very little value or meaning. In other words, they have no compelling reason driving them forward to work on their chosen task or activity. And without these reasons there is little motivation. And of course without motivation it’s difficult to concentrate as your brain constantly searches for other avenues of entertainment.
With this in mind, it’s important that you always find a compelling reason or purpose that drives you forward through each task and activity. One of the best ways to do this is to convince yourself that what you’re doing is relevant to your life, goals and circumstances. But in the off-chance that it’s not relevant, then you must take the time to make it so.
Purpose is therefore fueled by relevancy and reason. The task must be relevant to your life and you need to have a reason for accomplishing it. Only in this way will you put yourself into the right frame-of-mind that will fuel your concentration.
Given this, ask yourself the following questions for each task you undertake:
How is what I’m doing relevant to my goal?
Why is it important to accomplish this task?
What is my purpose and reason for doing this?
Stay Focused on the Present Moment
To concentrate means to stay present in the moment. This is of course all about being mindful of what you are doing and about fully absorbing yourself in the task or activity you’re undertaking. This is however easier said than done.
It’s difficult to stay mindful and focused on the present moment when we have a plethora of distractions to deal with. Many of those distractions come in the form of either auditory or visual stimuli.
With visual stimuli, you simply need to remove yourself from anything that could disrupt your concentration. Either remove yourself from that environment, or figure out how to remove the visual distractions from sight.
With auditory stimuli — that typically includes background noise — it’s not always easy to remove ourselves from these types of distractions. In such instances, you don’t necessarily need to remove yourself. You can instead put headphones on and play soothing music or white noise in the background. Alternatively, you can wear earplugs to dull the noisy distractions.
The less you need to worry about external distractions, the far easier it will be to stay focused on the present moment and concentrate on the task at hand.
Adopt a Beginner’s Mindset
When we are beginners undertaking a task or activity for the very first time, we are naturally very focused on all the details and on every step of the process we are working through. Within that moment we are fully absorbed in everything we are doing, and this naturally helps strengthen our concentration muscle.
In time, when we become more familiar with a task or activity, we know what’s coming next, and as a result it’s easy to get sidetracked and distracted while working through our chosen task. And this is of course when our concentration levels plummet and we end up making silly errors and mistakes.
In order to avoid this scenario and to keep your concentration levels high, pretend as though you’re working through the task for the very first time.
Recall, how you approached this task the very first time. What kind of questions did you ask yourself? How much focus and energy did you apply to the task? What sequence of steps did you undertake? Now consider how you could improve your effectiveness and efficiency working through the task today. What could you do differently? How could you potentially challenge yourself in new ways?
Whenever you take the time to change up your approach and challenge yourself in a new way, that is when you automatically become more interested and engaged in what you are doing. This is the beginner’s mindset. And with the beginner’s mindset you naturally enhance your levels of concentration.
Multi-tasking was once a huge craze. Everyone was bragging about how multi-tasking can help to double our productivity levels. All we needed to do was figure out how to work on more than one task simultaneously and we could subsequently accelerate our results. All this of course sounds wonderful on the surface, right? But does multi-tasking actually work?
Our brain is actually hard-wired to focus on one thing at a time. Yes, you can certainly work on two things at a time, but that doesn’t mean that your brain is focusing on those two things at one time. Your brain simply jumps from focusing on one task and then onto the next task. It’s never fully focusing on both at the same time.
In order to build your concentration muscle, you need to stay focused on one activity at a time. Jumping back and forth between activities leads to inefficiency and error. Your brain can get easily distracted in between those jumps. You’re better off staying focused on one task until it’s done, and then working through the other task afterward. This way your brain will settle into a pattern and rhythm that can help you to work through each task far more quickly and efficiently.
Proactively Fight Boredom
One of the greatest concentration potholes comes in the form of boredom. When we are bored, it’s almost impossible to concentrate on what we are doing.
When your brain isn’t interested in the task at hand it desperately tries to escape its prison sentence by distracting you in any-which-way you could imagine.
The key to avoiding boredom is to make your task fun, engrossing, exciting and challenging. Either turn what you are doing into a game, or challenge yourself to undertake this task in a new way that gets your brain interested and engaged in what you are doing. This is one of the best ways to strengthen your concentration muscle.
Monitor Your Progress
One of the keys to strengthening your concentration muscle is to actively monitor your progress as you work on a task. This of course means understanding your objectives, and then taking gradual steps to reach certain targets that move you closer to the attainment of your goals.
Of course spending too much time monitoring progress can in itself become a distraction and hurt our ability to concentrate on a given task. However, progressive monitoring at set intervals can actually help you to make the necessary adjustments to your workflow — thereby improving your output on any given task.
Here are some quick questions that can help you to monitor your progress and concentration levels as you work through a task or activity. Ask yourself these questions at set intervals to help you monitor how the task is going.
What have I been working towards?
What is my goal? Am I on track?
What progress have I made toward that goal?
What adjustments might be necessary moving forward?
What have my concentration levels been like over this time?
How could I do better and improve my ability to concentrate on this task moving forward?
Take Care of Your Body
You can of course flex your concentration muscle in various ways throughout the day, however it will all be to no avail if you don’t take care of your body.
The body and brain are intrinsically connected. When your body feels good, is healthy and energized, your brain is in a better state-of-mind and can therefore concentrate for longer periods at a time.
With this in mind, be sure to get enough sleep, drink water at regular intervals, get enough fresh air to oxygenate your brain, and exercise for short bursts throughout your day. In addition to this, don’t eat heavy meals before undertaking a difficult task as this can significantly interfere with your concentration levels.
When your body is digesting food, it draws blood from other areas of the body (including the brain) in order to assist with the digestion process. This often leads to a sluggish feeling where we just struggle to concentrate and stay focused for extended periods at a time. It’s only when the food has been adequately digested do we regain that energy once again.
How to Exercise Your Concentration Muscle
Here within this final section let’s discuss how to exercise your concentration muscle. These are essentially small things you can do throughout your day that will progressively strengthen your ability to concentrate for longer periods at a time.
Working through some of these exercises will of course take practice. But with practice you will improve and this will allow you to stay focused for longer while working through critical tasks and activities
Practice Purposeful Conscious Awareness
Purposeful conscious awareness is all about staying present within the moment for extended periods at at time. It’s essentially a fancy name for practicing mindfulness.
In order to practice purposeful conscious awareness you must tune-in to what you are doing right now at this very moment, and ask yourself the following set of questions:
What am I doing right now?
Why am I doing this right now?
What am I feeling right now?
Why am I feeling these things?
Is it helpful to feel this way about this? Why? Why not?
These questions will help you to focus-in and concentrate on your behavior and actions in the present moment.
Most people typically would never do this. However, it can be quite a valuable process as it allows us to consciously identify what we’re doing, assess how it’s working, and specify how we feel about our circumstances.
Undertaking this process several times per day, can help you to build your concentration muscle. It helps because it forces you to tune into the present moment, when typically we would normally get lost in our own thoughts and unfulfilled desires.
Practice Being Attentive to Your Surroundings
Another great way to practice developing your concentration muscle, is to tune into your surroundings. In other words, tune into what’s going on around you using all your senses, and then just stay focused in the moment.
What this essentially means is to become a witness of your surroundings. For instance, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the environment, to people’s speech, or to the music playing around you. But don’t just listen, also try to understand what’s happening and tune into the dynamics between various elements and how they interact with one another.
Here are some questions you can potentially ask yourself that will help you to attend to your surroundings:
What do I sense within my surrounding environment?
What exactly is going on around me? Why?
What’s important about all this?
What do the words of this song mean?
What instruments are playing in this musical piece?
What are these people saying?
What are their motives for saying these things?
Practice Observing Fine Details
Typically we go about our day lost in our own heads. We see what’s happening around us, but don’t truly take the time to observe the finer details.
One of the best ways to improve your levels of concentration is to practice observing the details of your surroundings. For instance, while commuting or walking, stay present in the moment and just observe what’s happening within your present environment. See the details, identify objects, and explore patterns. Really take the time to concentrate and try to see things in a new way like never before. In fact, identify things you’ve never observed before and concentrate all your energy on trying to understand why things are the way they are and not any different.
Practice Focused Meditation
Practicing focused meditation is another fantastic method for developing your concentration muscle.
Begin by sitting in a quiet place with no external distractions. Take a moment to settle your mind and clear your thoughts. Nothing else should matter but this very moment.
Now focus your eyes on a single external object within your present environment. A clock face or a candle flame often work well. Just focus on this object with all your mental energy for as long as possible without allowing your mind to drift. However, be sure to relax. Don’t strain. Just settle in the moment and allow yourself to become one with the object you are observing.
The more often you practice focused meditation, the easier it will be to concentrate for extended periods at a time on the tasks and activities you are working on.
Practice Recollecting Fine Details
One of the more effective ways to improve your ability to concentrate can be done anywhere and at anytime.
Simply take a moment to close your eyes and recall what you did last week, last year, this morning, or at another time in as much detail as possible. Think about what happened, where it happened, for how long, what the weather was like, who was there with you, etc. The more details you can bring to mind, the higher level of concentration will be required.
Alternatively, flip through a magazine. Observe several photos, and then close your eyes and recall all the fine details from memory.
These simple concentration exercises will help you to become more mindful of your surroundings as you go about your day.
Additional Suggestions for Improving Concentration
Essentially, all that’s require to improve your ability to concentration is to challenge yourself in some way. When we challenge ourselves we are forced to stay focused on what we are doing. And of course staying focused for extended periods at a time helps improve our concentration levels.
An effective way to challenge yourself is to practice spelling words backwards from memory. Or how about counting backwards in threes or sevens? Or how about recalling the alphabet from Z to A in reverse? You could also count words or letters on a page for an extended period of time. Do this without getting distracted, and you will progressively build your concentration muscle.
In the end it’s all about doing something that moves us away from the norm, and away from the day-to-day habits and routines that we are just all too familiar with. In many ways, it’s essentially about simply challenging yourself to do things differently — pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and adopting a beginner’s mindset. That is the way to improve your concentration.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 4 Simple Tricks to Improve Your Concentration @ Health
- 8 Reasons You Can’t Focus, and What to do About it @ Readers Digest
- 11 Easy Ways to Boost Your Concentration @ Business Insider
- 12 Ways to Improve Your Concentration at Work @ Health
- Brain Fitness Tips to Improve Concentration and Memory @ The Creativity Post
- How to Focus: 4 Proven Tricks to Improve Concentration @ Huffington Post
- How to Improve Your Concentration and Memory @ Psychology Today
- Improve Your Concentration and Focus in 5 Easy Steps @ Inc.
- Improving Concentration: Achieving Focus Amid Distractions @ Mind Tools
- Losing Focus? Studies Say Meditation May Help @ Time
- The Secret to… Improving Your Concentration Levels @ The Guardian