All industry leaders and excellent performers have one thing in common, they managed to concentrate and stay focused just a bit longer than everyone else. It is no secret, staying focused and concentrating on thing has become almost impossible today. What with a cellphone and Facebook notifications popping up at every turn, new YouTube sensation videos needing to be watched, emails, texts, GIFs – not to mention real-life distractions and responsibilities (namely kids) …all of these things are competing for our concentration and focus.
As much as all these opportunities present the perfect outlet for those who need a break from hard work, they also present the perfect distraction. So what can we do to improve concentration despite all these distractions?
Eat Healthy Foods
Your brain is a highly functioning computer. It is like an extremely fast and powerful sports car that is always running. Just as you would never dream of putting cheap gasoline in that expensive sports car of yours, you shouldn’t feed your brain substandard foods and expect it to perform at the same high-intensity level. Artificial foods and generally poor diet habits are the equivalent of low-quality gasoline being used in a Formula 1 car; it just doesn’t work.
Your brain needs healthy foods to keep up the good work. The problem is that most people hear about eating foods that improve their brain’s health and they immediately start thinking about all those complicated diets that pro-athletes and body builders have to adhere to and they get discouraged. Unfortunately, due to all the new lifestyle conditions we have developed, dietary advice has gotten a little bit more complicated than it should be.
To simplify matters, this is what you need to do: eat mostly plant based, natural foods. Stay away from refined sugar that only boosts your brain temporarily just to send it crashing down a few minutes later.
Eat more berries, nuts, green leafy vegetables, coconut oil, rosemary, cold-water fatty fish, dark chocolate and turmeric. All these contain essential fats, minerals, antioxidants, vitamins and phytonutrients that your brain needs to function optimally.
Get more, quality sleep
Sleep experts say that you need at least 7 good hours of uninterrupted sleep for your brain to function properly. They say that the inability to concentrate and focus in most people is due to the fact that they have not given their brains enough time to power down.
Your brain tends to power down during delta sleep. This is the slow-wave stage that comes just before REM sleep. This is when most cognitive functions strengthen and sort of refresh. You are advised to try getting a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours) for a period of about two weeks. Within that time, if you do not experience improved concentration and focus, then you should see a sleep specialist. Someone who can help determine whether you have an undiagnosed sleep disorder such as sleep apnea that could be the root cause of all these problems.
Limit your caffeine
Millions of people rely on coffee or tea to stay awake and focused. I drink black tea or coffee, but have found that too much at one time makes me jittery. A little bit is okay, too much and I’m all over the place.
Rather than drinking a huge cup-o-joe in the morning, try doling out the caffeine throughout the day in small doses to keep you the most alert and focused. There’s some studies to back this up this regimen: According to a joint study by Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School found that subject that took low-dose amounts of caffeine every hour performed better on cognitive tests than those that had a huge jolt at the beginning.
“Most people take a huge jolt of coffee in the morning to jump-start their day-they get the super grande latte from Starbucks,”
said one of the Harvard professors involved in the project.
“Their caffeine levels soar only to fall as the day progresses in the face of rising sleepiness. They might be better off taking much smaller more frequent doses of caffeine, equivalent to a quarter of a cup of coffee, as the day wears on.”
I am big believer in using essential oils for maintaining focus and can attest to the positive benefits I’ve noticed with my family. Depending on the situation, I go with a couple of options:
For a more calm, concentrated focus I recommend using oils such as cedarwood, vetiver and patchouli, sandalwood and bergomot. In fact every morning I apply vetiver directly to my feet for that calm balanced approach to the day. Additionally my husband absolutely LOVES an oil blend called “InTune” containing many of these same oils. He applies the blend using a roller bottle the back of my neck and feet for the same calm-yet-focused effect.
If you are feeling a bit tired or worn down, I use wintergreen, peppermint, rosemary or eucalyptus to give a bit of a natural pick-me-up without the jittery feeling. I never leave home without a doTERRA blend called “PastTense” containing many of these oils and find it helps relieve neck tension as well.
Follow the 5-more rule
This is a technique that some people use to power them through those moments when they just want to quit and log on to YouTube to watch a funny cat play the piano. The 5-more rule basically states that you should strive to do five more things before you decide to log off. Read and respond to five more emails, work for just five more minutes, write down five more improvement points and so on. Basically, just push on through five more things before you can take that break.
This method will help you get through a lot of ‘lull moments’. It is also the same kind of technique that athletes use to power through the pain. You know how pro-athletes get their second wind after pushing through the initial pain? This is what they do. The same thing could work for you too. Just push on for five more minutes; through five more tasks.
As part of my daily ritual, I meditate for at least 15 minutes before I start my day. I find that this daily practice of clearing my mind and focusing on positive things has improved my ability to concentrate and follow-through on tasks during the course of the day.
I was pleased to find out recently that a growing body of research is showing how meditating improves mental focus by intrinsically altering the way the brain works by reducing the fatigue it feels when concentrating.
Additionally research also suggests that the time spent meditating doesn’t have to be long to have a noticeable effect. One study at UNC Charlotte concluded that students were able to increase their cognitive skills test after only 4 days of 20 minutes sessions. This mean those will busy schedule (like, everyone!) can easily work in a regular sustained meditation schedule.
Reduce your clutter
This is both mental and physical clutter. Even though some people believe that there is order in chaos, sometimes, this chaos can make us lose concentration. In this case, to improve concentration and focus, you should try as much as you can to clear everything and get rid of clutter. We are talking about organizing your desk, keeping your workspace clean and making sure that everything around you is in good order.
The same principle applies to your mind as well. When you have way too many things going through your mind at the same time, you can lose focus and concentration. Try to compartmentalize and deal with one thing at a time. The thing about this technique is that you cannot tell your mind NOT to think about something else at that time because then all it will do is think about that which it is not supposed to think about. The best way to do this is to use what psychologists refer to as a start-stop time parameter task allocation.
Tell yourself that you will think about where you will get that vacation money as soon as you get home, but for the next one hour, I will completely concentrate on getting this report done.
Another trick is to write everything down on a to-do list so that it does not take up any valuable brain space. Trying to remember everything you need to do is another way through which you unnecessarily allocate brain power to mundane tasks and thus lose concentration and focus. Write them down; free up that brain space for more immediate tasks.
Aerobic exercises can help boost production of catecholamine (a neurotransmitter that helps with concentration) in the body. Try to jog, run, and even walk around the block every so often to get the blood flowing. Not only will this be good for your brain power but it will also be excellent for your overall health.
According to Dr. Karen Postal, a board certified neuropsychologist at Harvard. your brain’s “…prefrontal cortex works harder to resist distracters and performance on tests of attention improves”
There’s no silver bullet to maintaining concentration, you can take control with this common sense, manageable and healthy approach.
We all work best when we’re eating right, exercising and maintaining structure in our life and I personally feel that the natural compounds found in caffeinated drinks, herbs and essential oils are there to help, just so long as you do take them in moderation.