What is concentration? One definition explains it as an ability to totally focus one’s thinking on one subject. So, let’s go from here and explain more.
Symptoms of poor concentration
- You cannot focus on the matter in hand.
- You daydream as an escape from your current work.
- You become easily distracted.
- You avoid tasks that require mental effort.
- Your mind jumps from one thought to another.
What causes poor concentration?
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Physically unfit
- Bored/disinterested in task
- Too many simultaneous jobs distractions
- Lack of any training or practice in concentration techniques
Tips to improve your concentration
Improving concentration requires mental effort, but first check the following:
- You have an adequate balanced diet containing essential vitamins and minerals.
- You are getting enough physical exercise every day.
- You are getting enough sleep.
- You are keeping your brain active by taking an interest in the world and learning new things.
Start with the firm commitment to concentrate on the task in hand.
- Avoid multi tasking. Doing several things at once is a major enemy of concentration.
- Minimise as many external distractions as you can.
- Carry out “maximum concentration” jobs when you are at your best e.g. in the morning.
- Carry a note book to jot down ideas so that you can forget them until later.
- Plan in advance your schedule because it reduces anxiety about work you will be doing later.
- When you start to daydream, use a key word as a signal to refocus.
- Plan a specific “worry time”.
The above lists are self explanatory except for the last two items:
Your chosen key word (or phrase) acts rather like an alarm bell to bring you back to the task in hand. The instant you realise you have allowed your mind to drift, you say your keyword to yourself and refocus on the job in hand. Obviously, this will not start to work efficiently until you have conditioned your self to respond. This should take three to four weeks to achieve, but it is worth it.
Plan a specific “worry time”- that seems a bit stupid. However, it does seem to work for most people once they understand it and learn how to use it.
Each working day try to schedule time for a “personal space”. It should be towards the end of the day, but can be any time to suit your requirements. You should try to achieve about 30 minutes. This will be your personal “worry time” when you think about the things that are concerning you the most.
When you are trying to concentrate, and with the above in place this is how you use it. Every time a distracting thought or worry comes into your mind you make an actual (written) note to review the thought later at your scheduled time. Then just forget it and refocus on your work in hand.
At the appointed time, stop what you are doing and go through the list of things that have concerned you during the day. After about 4 weeks this routine will become a habit.
This works because you can start to rely on the fact that you mind does not have to be occupied with all the random thoughts and ideas that arise during the day because you know you will deal with them properly later in the day.
Here are some additional tips
Stamp on mental distractions
When you need to concentrate and your mind starts to wander just say “STOP”! and immediately refocus. You can re-enforce this by adding a physical action, such as banging the desk with your hand or even having a small convenient bell to ring. Obviously this depends on your environment but it works if you can do it.
Practice the Skill of Concentration
Over time, you can improve your concentration by setting aside 4 minutes every day to practice concentration. Find a comfortable chair and locate an object in front of you at about 2 meters. Now focus absolutely on the object and mentally describe it to yourself. Every time your attention wavers – stamp on the distraction and refocus.
It is also possible to practice the act of refocusing. To do this you can select objects in your current environment, concentrate on them for one minute and then refocusing on a different object. You can do this with just sounds by closing your eyes and focusing on different sounds one at a time.
If you feel you need a little more help with learning to concentrate consider a Yoga and meditation classes. They are not primarily about concentration but the concentration required in practising these disciplines can help you develop your overall powers of concentration.
We need to learn the skill of concentration. As with any skill this means practice repeated day after day until we achieve enough improvement to feel that we can concentrate when we need to.
Donna Lee Dearjane is a psychiatric nurse working with autistic children, helping them learn and Concentrate better.