Most people can only concentrate for eight seconds before experiencing a break in their concentration. A goldfish can concentrate for 16 seconds, so we have some work to do. The current culture with smartphones, the internet, and on-demand movies isn’t helping!
With so many inviting distractions, it’s easy to see why we have an attention span shorter than a fish.
- Practice meditation. This is a great way to learn to focus. Studies regularly show that 100% of the participants in meditation courses improve their ability to concentrate.
- It only takes a few days to see a real improvement. If you can’t afford a class, there are plenty of websites, books and guided meditations available online.
- Be well-rested and well-fed. If you’re tired or hungry, you’ll find that distractions are more likely to grab your attention. Take care of your body, and your ability to focus will be enhanced.
- Practice your concentration skills. Think of your ability to concentrate as a muscle. It won’t get stronger without exercise. Exercise your concentration for a few minutes each day. Here are a few ideas:
- Attempt to hold a thought for as long as you can. You can even use a timer. You might imagine a green elephant sitting in a tree. See how long you can hold that image before your mind wanders.
- Count slowly in your head. See how high you can count before you forget that you were counting. It’s also interesting to note how long your mind drifted before you noticed!
- Sit or stand still for as long as you can. Concentrate on staying as still as you can.
- Take a walk and keep your attention on your surroundings.
- Focus your attention on something in your immediate area, such as a book. See how long you can keep your eyes and thoughts on the book.
- Reduce the stimulation in your environment. It’s easier to concentrate on something in a quiet and visually boring environment. Imagine trying to concentrate in a loud environment with neon walls, a movie on the TV, and a lot of people moving around and making noise.
- Create an environment that supports your ability to pay attention. Declutter your home and work space. Disorganization saps your ability to concentrate and wastes time.
- An environment that is too hot or too cold has also been shown to lower the ability to concentrate.
- Take regular breaks. You can only concentrate for a period of time before you need a break. Regular breaks will allow you to spend more time each day concentrating. Avoid waiting until you’re mentally exhausted to take a break. Break when you’re still feeling good.
- Make lists. Putting something on a to-do list gives you permission to stop remembering it. It frees a lot of mental resources when you’re not trying to remember to give Mary a ride home, stop at the store, drop off the dry cleaning, and call your child’s school. Put it all on a list and attack them one at a time.
When you consider how much time is wasted through distraction and a lack of focus, it’s exciting to think about how much more you could accomplish by strengthening your ability to hold your focus for longer periods of time.
You can learn to focus like a Zen Buddhist monk if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. What could you accomplish each day if your powers of concentration were stronger?