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It’s uncommon we find one thing all humans unilaterally wish they were better at. Some wish they had a more artistic side, others wish they could improve under pressure. However, we can all stand to improve our memory and concentration. All of us want to maximize our efficiency throughout the day and the best way to do so is to have a “laser-like” focus. Train yourself to optimize your concentration with these 7 tips below and you’ll never again have to utter the phrase “there’s just not enough time in the day.”
1 Get Enough Sleep.
The first step in any successful day is waking up recharged. This means getting an adequate amount of sleep, between 7 and 9 hours, the night before. Many adults and students feel they can skirt by with a minimal amount of sleep as long as they have that coffee or energy drink to slam down in the morning. However, Lawrence Epstein, MD, medical director of Sleep HealthCenters in Brighton, Mass and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says “After two weeks of sleeping six hours or less a night, students feel as bad and perform as poorly as someone who has gone without sleep for 48 hours.”
Lack of sleep doesn’t only affect the realm of studying, however. A former student at Willamette University in Oregon conducted a study centered around your mind's ability to focus on a singular conversation at a party while being surrounded by outside noise. She had two different groups- one who slept as normal, the “control group” and one that was deprived of sleep for 24 hours. The participants were told a different story in each ear but told to only focus on one and the study recorded the brain activity. The results showed that the control group, who were not deprived of sleep, had a heavily enhanced signal and a separate signal that was suppressed. However, the group that was deprived of sleep had a much smaller differentiation between the enhanced signal and the suppressed one. Thus, they had a much more difficult time focusing on just one of the stories.
2. Stay Hydrated
Most people know its important to stay hydrated when doing physical activity, but how important is water in maintaining an elevated sense of concentration? Your body has high preservation of life, so when it lacks proper hydration it begins to prioritize where it’s needed most. Harum Master posted an article highlighting this very thing. He says “Your body changes how it operates in multiple ways when you lack water. Your brain suppresses certain desires, like your appetite, so you will eat less and introduce further salts and absorbent nutrients that can further dehydrate you. It also redistributes the water in your body, including your brain, which can leave cognitive areas of your brain that focus and learn dehydrated and less capable of focusing, while areas that control motor function and vital roles are protected.”
Often, we think we must be pumped with caffeine to achieve the highest levels of concentration, but, it can be as simple as assuring your body is properly hydrated. Master further backs this up by saying “Proper hydration plays a vital role in concentration. A dehydrated brain is like a poorly insulated computer, quickly overheating as your processing speed and critical thinking skills slow down.”
3. Set smaller goals within your bigger goals
Thinking big and having massive dreams is what drives us as humans. But frequently we get bogged down by not achieving them on our own self-determined clock. We lose focus because we don’t see the immediate results. Breaking down those larger goals into smaller, more achievable, ones allow us to build forward momentum. This forward momentum from crossing off those smaller goals brings confidence you are closer and closer to achieving that ultimate goal. Lewis Howes wrote an article for forbes.com on why thinking small is the key to bigger success. In this article he outlines his revised steps on goal setting:
He explains, “It’s much easier to start moving up a large hill with momentum and the same goes for achieving large goals.”
4. Seek out a quiet place
Mental clarity is the pre-cursor to better focus and concentration. In today’s age that is harder and harder to achieve. Distraction can take many forms. Our cell phones are most often thought of as our biggest interruption from continued attentiveness. However, the importance of a noise-free space cannot be underestimated. A study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, disclosed that a classic office worker could only achieve 11 minutes of uninterrupted time at once, while it takes over 25 minutes to refocus on the original task.
Furthermore, a study published in the National Library of Medicine in 2013 by Imke Kirste revealed that exposure to extended periods of silence could actually stimulate the production of new cells in the brain. The study had intended for silence to be the control group of the experiment but Kirste discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day, they were able to develop new cells in the hippocampus, the brain region associated with memory and learning. Eliminating distractions from your day and implementing long stretches of quietness can vastly improve your level of concentration and memory.
5. Take small breaks
Sometimes it's ok to take a brief cessation from work. Mental fatigue is a real thing and it’s alright to take a breather and reset. In a study done by the University of Illinois professor Alejandro Lleros, he proposes that "deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused," he said. "From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"
Humans can only expend so much effort on optimal concentration before their results vastly diminish. Tony Schwartz, founder of the Energy Project, teaches a “pulse and pause” strategy. He says “humans naturally move from full focus and energy to physiological fatigue every 90 minutes. Our body sends us signals to rest and renew, but we override them with coffee, energy drinks, and sugar… or just by tapping our own reserves until they’re depleted." He stresses that we must take breaks every 90 minutes to replenish our body with water, healthy snacks, and even a dose of exercise.
6. Listen to music
Most of our lives require long periods of concentration on a day-to-day basis. We are constantly searching for a way to maintain high levels of focus throughout. Many people find success in listening to music while performing tasks. In an article on how music can help you study and focus, Dr. Masha Godkin, a professor in the Department of Marriage and Family Sciences, explains “Music has the potential to take a person from the Beta brainwave state to deeper Alpha, and then Theta brainwave states, depending on the music.“ He goes on to say, “Music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, and the activation of both hemispheres can maximize learning and improve memory.“
In terms of what music helps in aid concentration the most, classical music is preferred. A Stanford University study found that “music moves [the] brain to pay attention.” Researchers employed musical compositions from the 1800s in their study and showed that “music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory.” To all the classical lovers, it’s time to rejoice.
7. Preach positive affirmation
Building mental stamina takes time. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel you got off track for too long or you don’t think you’ll finish your goal in time. Congratulate yourself on retaining a certain level of focus for a period of time. Don’t allow yourself to harp on what you haven’t done yet, and instead applaud yourself for what you have been able to accomplish up until that time.
An article by Remez Sasson on the power of positive affirmation lends credence to these thoughts. He says “Repeating positive affirmations and statements helps you focus your mind on your aim. They also create corresponding mental images in the conscious mind, which affect the subconscious mind accordingly. In this way, you program your subconscious in accordance with your will.” He continues “you repeat positive affirmations with your conscious mind, the mind you think with, and then the subconscious mind takes charge and helps you to change situations and circumstance and achieve your goals.” Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your mental endurance.
If you’ve made it through to this part of the article you have now been equipped with all the superior concentration skills necessary. Now take our focus and brain boosting supplement, F'ing Focus, and conquer the world.