Ninety percent of my game is mental. It’s my concentration that has gotten me this far.
The Value of Improving Your Concentration
Concentration means having the power to focus all your attention on one single objective. And it’s this single-minded attention that can help boost productivity and improve your ability to learn, to remember, and to recall information far more quickly and easily.
To concentrate means having the ability to focus single-mindedly on what you’re doing at any given moment. This, of course, requires willpower and strength-of-mind to help you 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 be used to help us make the most of the time we spend on specific goal-driven tasks and activities.
Given all this, it’s quite clear that concentration is often a critical 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 of time?
What Does it Take to Develop Your Concentration?
As you work toward your desired objectives, you may experience emotional highs and lows along your journey. It’s in these moments that we quickly lose our ability to concentrate and stay focused on the tasks at hand. It’s therefore, in these moments that people get easily sidetracked and forget their way.
Given this, it’s quite clear that to develop the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, we need to build strength over our mind. More specifically, power over our thoughts. Or in other words, mastery over the thoughts you allow yourself to dwell upon at any given moment.
When things don’t entirely go as expected, it’s easy to lose focus. It’s during such moments that we must learn to silence our thoughts — to stay calm, composed, and collected. Only in this state-of-mind are we then able to bring our attention back to the present moment — on what’s most important.
It’s essential to note here that concentration is often fueled by our passions. When we passionately pursue something, we are naturally more focused and able to concentrate for more extended periods of 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 until 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, and practice.
Concentration is something that you must consistently put into action in small ways throughout the day. Like a muscle, the more you practice 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 as it helps us to work more productively throughout the day.
Concentrating on a single task is, however, rarely easy — especially not in this day-and-age. There are just too many distractions competing for 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 settle into each task with baggage in the form of emotions and thoughts that we invite from other aspects of our lives. Taking this baggage along for the ride will only distract you from fully absorbing yourself in the activity.
Having piled all your thoughts down on paper, it’s time now to step away and just let things be.
Make peace with what you’ve put down on paper. Decide that you will focus on these things only when you have fully completed your task and/or achieved your desired goal.
Step 2: Clarify What You Want
Concentration requires having a clear focus and direction in mind for your study or work 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 needed to perform this task at a high level of productivity.
Our brains love progression, patterns, and predictability, which is why listing down this sequence of steps will help improve your concentration.
The moment your brain realizes that there is a method and reason for your madness, it will jump on board and support your intention to concentrate on the given task.
Step 3: Prepare Your Workspace
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 workspace. Make sure it’s comfortable, clean and that all your materials are easily accessible throughout your work or study session.
Now consider for a moment that concentration is primarily about improving your effectiveness and efficiency. If therefore, your work environment isn’t organized in a way that accommodates the task you are working on, then the efficiency just won’t be there. In such instances, it’s easy to lose focus when you’re struggling to find essential tools and resources you need to move the task forward.
Step 4: Remove all Distractions
Your degree of concentration is often tied to your ability or inability to handle distractions.
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 a distraction, and immediately remove them from your environment.
Distractions could, of course, come in the form of people, internet, noise, and gadgets. In other words, remove your smartphone, or it will distract you!
The fewer distractions you have to worry about, the better your ability to concentrate for extended periods of time.
Step 5: Break Down Your Task
You previously identified the sequence of steps needed to work on your task more efficiently. It’s now time to break this sequence of steps down into chunks.
To maintain high levels of concentration, you must avoid falling into the pitfalls of overwhelm and 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 particular parts of your task at one time with single-minded attention. This is especially valuable for substantially tricky tasks.
These tasks can very quickly overwhelm you if you attempt to tackle them concurrently. Instead, focus on segmenting the task into related parts that you can work on individually.
Dividing your time into concentration blocks in this way will help keep you focused for longer.
Step 6: Assign Time Limits and Deadlines
The final step for improving your concentration 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 instills a sense of urgency into your work.
With urgency, your brain is motivated to stay focused and therefore develops the ability to concentrate for more extended periods of time.
The best way to set time limits is to use a timer. For instance, commit yourself to working for 30 minutes non-stop. Then outline what you will attempt to accomplish over that period of time. Then, when you’re ready, start the timer and get to work.
By focusing all your energies on hitting set targets will dramatically help boost your concentration levels.
How to Develop Your Concentration Muscle
We’ve already established that developing concentration takes effort. But what kind of effort does it actually take? How do we consistently work on improving our concentration muscle to help strengthen it over time?
Here in this section, let’s explore how to channel your energy to help you focus better on what you’re doing. Let’s discuss how to develop your ability to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Work with Purpose
Many people struggle to concentrate because what they do has very little value or meaning. In other words, they have no compelling reason driving them forward. And without reason, there is very little motivation, which subsequently makes it difficult to concentrate as your brain searches for other avenues of entertainment.
With this in mind, it’s vital 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 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 in the right frame-of-mind to 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 about being mindful of what you’re doing. It’s also about fully absorbing yourself into the task or activity you’re undertaking. This is, however, easier said than done.
It’s difficult to stay mindful and focused when there are a plethora of distractions trying to steal our attention. Many of these distractions come in the form of auditory and 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 (background noise) it’s not always easy to remove ourselves from these types of distractions. But 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 Mentality
When we are beginners — undertaking a task or activity for the very first time — we are generally more focused on working through all the details of the process. At 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. As a result, it’s easy to get sidetracked and distracted while working on our chosen task. And this, is, of course, when our concentration levels plummet, and we end up making silly errors and mistakes.
To avoid falling into this trap, pretend as though you’re working on the task for the very first time.
Recall, how you approached this task the very first time around. Ask yourself:
What kind of questions did I ask myself?
How much focus and energy did I give to the task?
What sequence of steps did I use?
Now consider how you could improve your effectiveness and efficiency working through the task today. Ask yourself:
What could I do differently?
How could I potentially challenge myself in new ways?
Whenever you take the time to adjust your approach and challenge yourself in a new way, that’s when you automatically become more interested and engaged in what you’re doing.
This is the beginner’s mindset. And with the beginner’s mindset, you will find it much easier to concentrate.
Multi-tasking was once a huge craze. Everyone was bragging about how multitasking can help to double our productivity. 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 indeed 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 merely interchanges between the tasks. It’s never entirely focused on both at the same time.
Given this, 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 errors. Your brain can get easily distracted in-between those jumps.
You’re better off staying focused on one task until it’s completed before moving onto your next task. That way your brain will settle into a rhythm that can help you to work on each task far more quickly and efficiently.
Proactively Fight Boredom
One of the greatest concentration potholes comes in the form of boredom. When we’re bored, it’s almost impossible to concentrate on what we’re doing.
When your brain ain’t interested in the task at hand, it desperately tries to escape its prison sentence by distracting you in any-which-way it can.
The key to avoiding boredom is to make your task fun, engrossing, exciting, and challenging.
Either turn what you’re doing into a game or challenge yourself to undertake this task in a new way that gets your brain interested and engaged. 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, then taking gradual steps to reach specific 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. However, regular monitoring at set intervals can actually help you make the necessary adjustments to your workflow — thereby improving your output and efficiency.
Here are some quick questions that can help you monitor your progress and concentration levels as you work on a task. Ask yourself these questions at set intervals to help you monitor how the task is going.
What have I been working towards?
What’s 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, make sure to get enough sleep, drink water at regular intervals, get enough fresh air to oxygenate your brain, and exercise for short bursts throughout the day.
Furthermore, avoid eating 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) to assist with the digestion process. This often leads to a sluggish feeling that interferes with our ability to concentrate and stay focused for extended periods of time. It’s only when the food has been adequately digested do we regain our energy once again.
How to Exercise Your Concentration Muscle
Here in this final section, let’s discuss how to exercise your concentration muscle.
What follows is a breakdown of several small things you can do throughout your day that will progressively strengthen your ability to concentrate for more extended periods of 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 in the moment for extended periods at a time. It’s mainly a fancy name for practicing mindfulness.
To practice purposeful conscious awareness, you must tune-in to what you’re doing at the 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 allow you to hone in and concentrate on your present moment activity and behavior.
Undertaking this exercise regularly throughout the day can become 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.
Partaking in this process several times per day can help you build your concentration muscle. It helps because it forces you to tune into the present moment when typically we would 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. Once there, just stay focused in the moment.
What this essentially means is to become a witness to your surroundings.
For instance, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the environment, to people talking or to music playing. But don’t just listen. Try also 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 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 in your current environment. Spot the details, identify objects, and explore patterns. Actually, take the time to concentrate and try to view life in a unique way.
Take time to 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 in 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, make 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 of time on the task at hand.
Practice Recollecting Fine Details
One of the more useful methods for improving your ability to concentrate can be done anywhere and at any time.
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 each memory.
These simple concentration exercises will help you to become more mindful of your surroundings as you go about your day.
Improving concentration takes work and effort. However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a complicated or difficult process. In fact, all it really takes is to challenge yourself in some way.
When we challenge ourselves, we are forced to stay focused on what we’re doing. And, of course, staying focused for extended periods of time helps improve our concentration.
An efficient way to challenge yourself is to practice spelling words backward from memory. Or how about counting back in threes or sevens? Or how about recalling the alphabet from A to Z 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’re just all too familiar with.
Ultimately, to improve your concentration, just challenge yourself to do things differently. Push yourself outside your comfort zone and adopt a beginner’s mentality. That is essentially what’s required to boost concentration.
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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