How to focus: 4 exercises & 9 tips for more concentration
Unpredictable and seemingly invincible: good levels of concentration can bring you a whole ton of success, both in your personal and professional life. We have some top tips and exercises for you to increase your focus and prevent problems with concentration.
Our focus likes to dwindle just when we need it most. After a span of 30 to 90 minutes, it takes on a life of its own, as focusing consistently requires great effort on the part of the human brain.
Why concentration is so important
Once you have maxed out your cognitive abilities, you won’t be successfully able to grasp content. Your brain will almost automatically look for new stimuli that are less taxing for you. These uncontrollable periods of distraction prevent you from being productive.
The ability to concentrate, however, is crucial for efficiency and thus success, especially before important exams or at work. After all, it prevents procrastination.
Reasons you may have difficulty concentrating
Do you find that you can only concentrate on work for a few minutes and then keep getting distracted, even though your work is important right now? There are various reasons for this type of difficulty concentrating.
Children, for example, are generally less able to concentrate, but for adults, difficulties concentrating may stem from being frustrated, not particularly motivated, or overworked.
Multitasking, for instance, can make you less able to focus on one individual task. Stress and fatigue are other causes, as are psychological issues. You can, however, learn how to maintain concentration for longer.
Nevertheless, it’s important to pay attention to your body and not to overexert yourself when you’re fatigued, for example.
Learn more about how to relieve stress in this article.
Exercises to help you focus on something better
You can take conscious steps to counteract any difficulties you have concentrating, like doing certain exercises and following our tips. In this way, you’ll gradually be able to increase your productivity again.
The classic coloring mandalas have made a comeback and they’re no longer just for kids to enjoy. Special, more challenging adult mandalas can help you to relax and train your concentration skills at the same time.
Similar to visualization and imagery techniques for uplifting the soul, mandalas free the mind and body from mental disarray. These concrete visualizations have a meditative effect, rebalancing your thoughts and boosting your creativity. Thus, they can also help with acute concentration difficulties, such as in the middle of long study sessions.
Not only does exercise boost brain development in children, but it also revives concentration. If your focus is noticeably waning, take a break.
In this case, even doing some small motor exercises can revive your cognitive performance – it is often enough to walk around your apartment, change sitting position or do a short fitness routine.
For a focused start to your day and to boost your circulation, you can simply take a morning walk. This should be repeated several times a day if you have a persistent lack of concentration.
Breathing exercises and meditation
If your eyes are starting to get tired and your brain just doesn’t want to take anything in, consciously controlling your breathing can work wonders. It’s best to set aside a fixed period of time for this, ten minutes for example.
During this time, you simply count instead of letting your mind drift back towards stressful thoughts. One number per breath and you’re guaranteed to escape from everyday life. This exercise works in a similar way to coloring mandalas.
Alternatively, you can do regular breathing exercises where you focus fully on your breathing and feel how your stomach rises and falls. Every time your mind wanders, let it pass and begin to focus anew.
Puzzles and other exercises
There are also various playful ways of training yourself to concentrate better. Regularly solving puzzles conditions your brain to stay focused for longer periods of time. Board games such as "Mikado" or "Jenga" can also come in particularly handy here.
Mental exercises train conscious focus. Examples of such exercises include going through your daily routine backwards or remembering what you have eaten in the last few days.
Spelling backwards has the same effect, or when you’re out and about, you can simply follow the seconds hand on a watch or clock for an extended period of time and count the seconds. Counting your steps when you next go on a walk also helps you to stay focused for longer when studying and gives you a good workout to boot.
Another productive method is working with the written word. This involves marking or counting certain letters in a newspaper article or writing down words or entire sentences so that they are mirrored or backwards.
Top tips for improving focus
Besides the exercises we’ve named here, you can also make use of some very simple tricks to increase your concentration.
It goes without saying that you should treat yourself to a candy bar every now and again. In general, however, the best way of laying the foundations for high concentration levels is through a vitamin-rich diet and plenty of fluids, providing the brain with sufficient nutrients and oxygen.
Sugary foods cause fatigue, whilst nuts, on the other hand, provide the body with important omega-3 fatty acids that enhance performance. What’s more, getting between six and seven hours of sleep is enough to stay focused. Too much sleep has the opposite effect.
Mix things up to combat boredom
Monotonous work is tiresome and leads to more frequent dips in concentration. Here it’s best to mix things up so you feel less like falling asleep.
Vary the subjects you’re studying for school or university, or study two subjects in tandem. Motivation and thus also focus dwindle as soon as learning becomes robotic and lackluster. In an office job, for example, alternate between presentations, writing and telephone calls.
Changing locations is invigorating
Although it sounds extremely simple, our surroundings have a significant impact on our ability to concentrate. First and foremost, you should choose a place where you feel comfortable. Bare rooms without any decoration or sensory stimulation have little to offer here.
In contrast, working in nature can often be very inspiring and daylight also has an invigorating effect. If you don’t have the direct possibility of working outside, you can also just change your location. From study to living room to bedroom to kitchen, balcony or garden, you should change things up every now and then.
Study in groups
This approach is certainly not for everyone, but many people find it helpful to study in groups. They feel pressured to be productive when others next to them are working hard. It also means that you can look forward to taking breaks together.
It is important not to keep talking to each other and going off at tangents, but make sure you do discuss things, as talking things over together can often give rise to a whole host of new ideas. It also helps you retain the material you’re working on.
If you’ve got multiple days of studying ahead of you, it’s always a good idea to incorporate social contact into your schedule, as it stimulates important regions of your brain that serve to absorb information.
To-do lists free up your mind
Not writing down important things you have to do means worry can cause them to spring to your mind over and over again throughout the day.
Having an abundance of important information and deadlines on your mind prevents you from giving your full attention to one particular task.
In order to bring yourself back in check, you should write down all your appointments, duties and any other important thoughts. The best way to do this is to create a to-do list.
Once you’ve written it all down, you’ll have much more peace of mind. You can even use the same trick when stress prevents you from getting to sleep.
Give yourself rewards and set yourself goals
As we all know, motivation and focus go hand in hand. To boost your motivation, it’s important to set specific goals and reward yourself after you’ve achieved them.
Activities which involve getting up and out are ideal ways of treating yourself. Meeting friends or enjoying some good food at a restaurant make for great incentives for most people.
Even if you would prefer to go straight to sleep, you should still experience something when you’ve had a day full of concentration. In this way, you can prevent multiple days of loneliness and long-lasting fatigue, which often culminate in a kind of "learning depression" and have lasting negative effects on your ability to concentrate.
Avoid overworking: set small goals
Small goals and short breaks are more effective than powering through for hours on end and then taking an inevitable break from exhaustion. Not only does this keep your concentration levels constant, but you’ll also experience relief and happiness every time you get a small step closer to your overarching goal without losing track of it.
Multitasking is toxic for staying focused. When concentration is required, you shouldn’t eat, listen to music or think about your next activity.
When it comes to important topics that you need to learn, you shouldn’t just stop abruptly, but find a good stopping point instead. This is the only way to find mental closure and not confuse different topics.
Hands off your phone
Your mobile phone should be part of your well-earned breaks and either set to "silent" or kept in a different room when you’re concentrating. Having constant access to your phone and the curiosity to check it encourage stress and prevent your mind from truly focusing on one thing at a time.
You don’t have to give up your phone completely, but you should only use it at certain times.