Have you ever tried to get through a challenging task at work, studied for an important exam, or spent time on an important project and failed to concentrate on it properly? It would not be wrong to say that all of us have faced this at one point or another.
Concentration refers to the mental effort you direct toward whatever you’re working on or learning at the moment. It’s sometimes confused with attention span, but attention span refers to the length of time you can concentrate on something.
Why do we find it difficult to concentrate?
Concentration can vary for a number of reasons. Some people just have a harder time getting rid of distractions. Age and lack of sleep can affect concentration too.
Most people forget things more readily as they age, and decreased concentration can accompany memory loss. Head or brain injuries, such as concussion, as well as certain mental health conditions can also affect concentration.
It’s easy to become frustrated when you’re trying to concentrate but just can’t. This can lead to stress and irritation, which tends to make focusing on what you need to do even more of a distant dream.
Don’t worry. Read on to know about some of the scientifically backed methods to improve concentration to help you focus on the task at hand.
1. Brain Activities
Playing certain types of games can help you get better at concentrating. Try sudoku, crossword puzzles, chess, jigsaw puzzles, word searches or scrambles and memory games.
Results of a study of 4,715 adults suggest spending 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, on brain training activities can have a big impact on concentration.
Brain training games can also help you develop your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills.
2. Video games
Brain games may not be the only type of game that can help improve concentration. Newer research also suggests playing video games could help boost concentration.
A recent study looking at 29 people found evidence to suggest an hour of gaming could help improve visual selective attention (VSA). VSA refers to your ability to concentrate on a specific task while ignoring distractions around you.
A 2017 review looked at 100 studies examining the effects video games could have on cognitive function. The results of the review suggest playing video games may lead to various changes in the brain, including increased attention and focus. But not much research is available in this area.
3. Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation can easily disrupt concentration, not to mention other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention.
Occasional sleep deprivation may not cause too many problems for you. But regularly failing to get a good night’s sleep can affect your mood and performance at work. Being too tired can even slow down your reflexes and affect your ability to drive or do other daily tasks.
A demanding schedule, health issues, and other factors sometimes make it difficult to get enough sleep. But it’s important to try and get as close to the recommended amount as possible on most nights. Many experts recommend adults aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Improving the sleep you do get can also have benefit. A few quick tips are:
- Turn off the TV and put away screens an hour before bed.
- Keep your room at a comfortable but cool temperature.
- Wind down before bed with soft music, a warm bath, or a book.
- Go to bed and get up around the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Exercise regularly, but try to avoid a heavy workout just before bed.
4. Stay Active
Increased concentration is among the many benefits of regular exercise. Exercise benefits everyone. A 2018 study looking at 116 fifth-graders found evidence to suggest daily physical activity could help improve both concentration and attention after just 4 weeks.
Other research looking at older adults suggests just a year of moderate aerobic physical activity can help stop or even reverse memory loss that occurs with brain atrophy related to age.
Although aerobic exercise is recommended, doing what you can is better than doing nothing at all. Depending on your personal fitness and weight goals, you may want to exercise more or less.
But sometimes it just isn’t possible to get the recommended amount of exercise, especially if you live with physical or mental health challenges. If you struggle to find time to exercise or don’t want to join a gym, try to think of fun ways to work it in throughout the day. If you get your heart rate up, you’re exercising. You could bring changes to your daily routine like
- Walk your kids to school.
- Get up 20 minutes earlier every morning to fit in a quick jog around your neighborhood.
- Split up your weekly grocery trip into two or three trips by foot or bike.
- Walk to the coffee shop instead of driving.
- If possible, try getting exercise right before you really need to focus or when taking a mental break.
6. Spend time with nature
If you want to boost your concentration naturally, try to get outside every day, even for just 15 to 20 minutes. You might take a short walk through a park. Sitting in your garden or backyard can also help. Any natural environment has benefits.
Scientific evidence increasingly supports the positive impact of natural environments. Earlier research found evidence to suggest including plants in office spaces helped increase concentration and productivity, as well as workplace satisfaction and air quality. Try adding a plant or two to your workspace or home for a range of positive benefits. Succulents make great choices for low-maintenance plants.
6. Try meditation
Meditation and mindfulness practices can offer multiple benefits. Improved concentration is only one of these.
An earlier review of 23 studies found evidence to suggest mindfulness training that emphasizes attention focus could help increase attention and focus. Mindfulness can also improve memory and other cognitive abilities.
Meditation doesn’t just mean sitting silently with your eyes closed. Yoga, deep breathing, and many other activities can help you meditate.
7. Improve your diet
The foods you eat can affect cognitive functions like concentration and memory. Avoiding processed foods, too much sugar, and very greasy or fatty foods. To boost concentration, try eating items like fatty fish (think salmon and trout), eggs (white and yolk both), blueberries, spinach etc.
Listening to music, staying hydrated, having a hearty breakfast, taking a break from the task are also some proven ways to improve concentration.