Fixing your attention and keeping your mind focused increases performance and promotes emotional stability. But it is difficult when stimuli abound. We give you 9 tips to train concentration.
The selectivity of access to the university is approaching and preparing the exams requires concentration. The problem is that we have more and more problems focusing the mind, concentrating it on one activity and abstracting from everything else. And we miss it because, when we do, we perform better in the studio (and at work) and enjoy better than we like.
They are pleasant moments, of a rare plenitude because time does not seem to pass nor does it matter to us: we are concentrated and everything else vanishes around us.
But something seems to conspire against us because we are losing the ability to abstract ourselves in what we are doing, and even this difficulty in concentrating is becoming a serious medical problem among children and adolescents who suffer from the so-called attention deficit disorder or suffer from hyperactivity that affects their school performance and generates exhausting tensions in families.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR CONCENTRATION?
One response to the inability to concentrate would be today’s fast-paced life, in which there is hardly any peace from the moment someone gets up until they lie down and fall struck down in bed.
Perhaps we have the feeling that we are late for everything and look for shortcuts to remedy it: the report that demands a calm reading we barely glance over while making phone calls, the movie we are watching in the living room we interrupt to do one thing or another; the time we share with the children we remain absent calibrating procedures or an appointment.
We work with our heads at home and rest with our heads at work. This multitasking that we impose on ourselves is exhausting: we slide through everything without stopping at anything.
But it is not only current life that favors this lack of concentration. It is also the mind, always alert, awake, continually searching for something new to occupy itself with, pecking here and there.
As if it were a television remote control, we repeatedly press the button for our attention to change the channel, looking for something better that rarely appears, until changing for the sake of change becomes an end in itself or a way to follow several programs at the same time without seeing any in particular.
Something similar to what happens when browsing the Internet, jumping from page to page, or when writing emails or SMS with a concise vocabulary, so far from the parsimony of the old letters.
A SCATTERED MIND CANNOT FOCUS
Everything seems to tend towards the brevity, the immediate, the instantaneous pleasure, the dispersed, and the sensation of chaos continues to increase around us while the capacity for self-control diminishes.
Concentrating, that is to say, letting yourself be carried away by a task, only one! During the precise hours, seems almost impossible, although we need it, because a dispersed mind is a floodgate open to emotional agitation , to waves of stimuli, daydreams and thoughts that cross the mind without channels, like an overflowing river that floods what it finds in its path and leaves an unrecognizable landscape.
VITAL PRIORITIES THAT PREVENT CONCENTRATION
Concentration problems can be a vital alarm that should not be underestimated.
Concentration depends on the will: if we do not achieve it, it may simply be because what we are doing does not interest us or we do not like it. It is common, for example, for someone to complain about how hard it is for them to concentrate on work and then fall into a trance while ordering their stamp collection.
In the same way, that constant need for stimuli typical of the scattered mind can be an indication of an inner emptiness that nothing can fill and that requires a personal rethinking.
To pay attention, as the philosopher William James explains, is to take possession with the mind, clearly and vividly, of one of several possible objects or chains of thought.
The focus of consciousness is its essence. Or as one would say in the East, to concentrate is to discard objects and stimuli to preserve something more important, in this case inner peace.
The Tao Te Ching expresses it with a beautiful image: “The five colors cloud the vision. The five notes stun the ear. The five flavors fatigue the palate. Haste and ambition seize the heart. Precious objects disturb the behavior.” But today it is difficult to give up something because it is seen as an impoverishment, when in fact it is a choice.
THE INNER ORDER FAVORS CONCENTRATION
Another thing is that symptoms significantly interfere with activities over a long period of time. It is then about pathologies such as attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity, which affect a growing number of children and adolescents – around 10% according to some studies – and especially men.
To explain them, different theories have been proposed: genetic factors, a deficiency of the neurotransmitter’s dopamine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for the mental processes that determine the degree of attention of individuals, or even a high exposure to television in the first seven years of life, because it alters the perception of reality and imposes a calm rhythm.
Be that as it may, they require specialized medical or psychological care, but even then, some simple measures can be very beneficial.
What it is about, since inattention and difficulty in concentration are associated with a certain disorder or chaotic state, is to put order in the environment and in the mind. They are easily practicable measures that can be adopted when you need to concentrate, as a kind of warm-up prior to the activity that you want to develop with full awareness:
- Rejecting in the environment everything that causes dispersion, such as stacked papers, too many objects on the table, a chaotic room or office. Thinking correctly requires order and method and must begin with what surrounds us, because most of us are not geniuses able to focus the mind for hours on an idea even in the midst of the greatest disorder.
- Dispatch small unresolved issues or to-dos first. It is convenient to sit at the table without that feeling that there is something more urgent or pressing, or with your head busy with trifles that occupy time and space and that are magnified by the mere fact of thinking about them.
- Go little by little, challenging yourself to increase the depth of attention that is achieved in tasks. It is possible to motivate yourself with little tricks, such as agreeing with yourself daily increases in concentration time, and once you have reached certain goals, treat yourself to something that you appreciate; for example, attending a show or a shared lunch or dinner.
- Get motivated to enjoy what you do. Staying attentive with pleasant tasks is relatively straightforward, but effective attention is required in all types of jobs. A friend who worked in an insurance company as a clerk before being a university professor, encouraged himself by giving life to the files that fell into his hands: he tried to imagine what people were like, what they did, what motivated them. And so, he could spend hours and hours.
CONCENTRATING IS WITHIN EVERYONE’S REACH
Concentration, like meditation, a practice with which you maintain certain points in common, can be trained and learned. As much as circumstances seem to hinder meditation and concentration, in the end it depends on oneself.
The ability to concentrate is one of the most important personal and professional success factors imaginable. Few objectives resist for those who know how to examine an idea for hours, or for those who enter the complexity of a job being aware of its most significant edges.
But not only professional or measurable returns are obtained: concentration helps personal fulfillment, because it promotes serenity and inner peace and is a source of pleasure that we have all experienced.
WHAT DOES BREATHING TEACH US ABOUT CONCENTRATION?
Before facing a challenge, the athletes appear absorbed, attentive to their breathing, or move their mouths as if they were saying encouraging phrases. Something we can all do.
They close their eyes or fix their gaze on a stable point around them. Little by little all the stimuli from the environment are removed one after another to concentrate on the air that enters through the nose and on the warm sensation that it leaves when leaving.
You don’t fight the thoughts that arise while you breathe; it is preferable to let them pass and return to concentrating on the breath.
At the end, you think about your goal and start working, letting yourself be carried away by waves of concentration. When it decays, it rests, and when it increases, the most complex is undertaken.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR ABILITY TO CONCENTRATE?
The ability to concentrate depends on the way of life. If in this one tends to disorder, the mind will follow in its footsteps.
That is why the first thing is to think about personal habits and change the most harmful ones.
- Take care of the body. Try to get enough rest, eat light and healthy, and channel energy through exercise.
- Try to do only one thing at a time. Several activities can be carried out simultaneously, but it is usually to the detriment of quality and increasing the degree of stress.
- Free yourself from acquired habits. Performing things as if it were the first time they are undertaken, avoiding routine, is a good incentive to maintain attention.
- Set clear goals. The brain performs more and better when it pursues something specific, and there is no purpose, however complex, that cannot be divided into steps or smaller objectives.
- A useful exercise. All the attention is paid to a simple object until it is “appropriated”, and then, with the eyes closed, it is recomposed in the imagination with the maximum of details.
- Take breaks. It is advisable to give yourself a few minutes of rest for every 50 minutes of dedication, because it is difficult to maintain the same degree of attention for a long time.
- Write. You can write down what causes disturbance when you try to stay focused and not get carried away by the associations of ideas that often trigger such intrusions. When writing it, it should be said that at the end we will address that topic.
- Bring a dispersion token to encourage self-control. For example, on a blackboard or sheet a trace is made each time the mind wanders. Little by little, over the days, the number of strokes will decrease.
- Practice techniques or sports that promote concentration. Yoga, tai chi, chikung, archery, skating, basketball, tennis, ping-pong are recommended.