Keeping our focus in today’s world can feel impossible. Demanding schedules often mean we have little time left to relax, while also being constantly bombarded with messages and other digital content—there are even screens at most gas stations, which means even pumping gas comes with a news update.
Finding ways to make lasting changes in our lives and routines doesn’t just feel difficult—it feels downright unrealistic. However, there are small changes we can make that can result in higher levels of concentration and focus.
Sound like something you’re lacking? Keep reading for tips to improve concentration skills, starting with the most basic principles and moving on to more advanced techniques. Remember to start slow and level up only when you’re ready.
Self-Care: Sleep Well
Disruptions to sleeping patterns are a foundational cause for a wide range of health issues, mental and physical. One way to take care of ourselves aside from diet and exercise is to make sure sleeping routines are a priority—from mattresses to blackout curtains.
First and foremost, a lack of sleep can lead to stress hormones. Not only are these damaging to the brain, but they can also be a key reason you’re unable to stay focused. When the brain is low on sleep, it struggles to filter out irrelevant input, like the sounds of passing cars or conversation.
Mindfulness: Spend Time in Nature
Being well-rested is the first step to fostering a more concentrated and critical mind. For those who haven’t spent time studying Eastern philosophy, mindfulness is the simple task of focusing on the present moment.
Given that trained practitioners can struggle to empty their minds of passing thoughts, one easy way to jumpstart mindfulness practice is by getting out in nature. When we quiet the clutter in our minds, our body’s endocrine, nervous, and immune systems benefit.
Cognitive Training: Strategy Games
Improved sleeping patterns and getting out in nature can calm the mind, preparing it for long stretches of focus. But games of strategy, such as poker, help hone the mind for critical thinking—even under stressful circumstances and for long stretches of time.
For many professionals, whether poker players or free-climbing athletes, performing at a high level under pressure requires plenty of preparation and visualization. But training the mind is different than grooming the body; a poker player, for example, will need to deal with unknowns based on what cards their opponents might have.
This adds an extra dimension to thinking clearly and thoroughly in a short span of time, then acting accordingly. In other words, they’re critical training exercises that prep our brains for even the most demanding situations.
Lifestyle Improvement: Align Schedules
So far, the path to improving concentration has relied on relaxation and strategy in equal parts. However, to make long-term changes in our ability to focus on daily tasks, it’s also worthwhile to investigate which areas of our lives aren’t aligned.
Improving our lifestyle doesn’t mean making huge changes, like buying a new house or relocating to a new city. It can even come down to something as simple as optimizing a schedule. In other words, are you expecting yourself to do something that’s unrealistic given the circumstances, like scheduling a workout right after a birthday party?
And, more importantly, can you simplify your schedule to fulfill all of your responsibilities without overcommitting yourself to a single one?
Physical Training: Prepping the Body
Sure, sleeping is the first step to prepping the body to improve brain function, but only consistent exercise can provide the brain with the tools it needs to develop new skills. In addition to seven to eight hours of sleep each night, doctors recommend around 150 minutes per week of exercise (which totals around four hours).
Simple activities such as brisk walking or cycling increase levels of brain chemicals that are responsible for thought processing (neurological links), as well as reducing the levels of harmful chemicals that lead to stress. Even better, exercise helps improve the quality of sleep, which in turn loops back to support all other steps in this list.