Regardless of our age or where we work, we’re all guilty of falling victim to the constant distractions that pop-up around us on a daily basis. Whether it’s the pinging of new messages on your phone, email notifications on computer or something else, we’re always being pulled away from the things we should be focusing on instead.
If you’re looking to put an end to the distractions of everyday life and upgrade your focus, keep reading…
What is focus?
Before we dive into the ways you can increase your focus, we first need to talk about what focus is.
Focus (or “attention“) is the behavioral and cognitive process of concentrating on a singular aspect of information while ignoring outside stimuli. Confucius described focus quite eloquently, “The man who chases two rabbits catches neither.”
The reason why people fail at being focused comes down to the sheer amount of distractions we have to deal with from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. Technology, while providing us with many benefits, pulls us in different directions, not allowing us to concentrate on one thing for any long period of time.
While many people think they can multi-task their way through life, that isn’t true. Research has shown that people who allow themselves to be distracted and switch from task to task have brains that don’t work at full capacity.
“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Wagner, an associate professor of psychology.
When you multi-task, your brain isn’t actually able to focus on two things at once. It is a constant internal battle where your mind has to decide what it most important. This isn’t optimal for your brain because it isn’t able to make those transitions between tasks seamlessly, leading to a much lower rate of focus and concentration.
The good news is, if you’re able to cut multi-tasking out of your routine, it can be very simple to dramatically increase your focus.
Ready? Here’s how…
1. Exercise regularly.
You may be a little tired of seeing exercise as a recommended tip on basically every kind of health and wellness article, but there’s a good reason why… It’s important! Regular exercise isn’t just great for keeping our bodies healthier and fitter, but it’s also essential for our mental health.
Dr. John Ratey, author of “Spark – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain“, found that a workout session can actually increase your focus for two to three hours after you’ve finished your exercise. And the good news is, it doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym and start lifting weights. Any kind of exercise that elevates your heart rate will get the job done.
Here at Brain Wiz, we’re big fans of walking to help improve focus. It may sound too simple to work, but you might be surprised at how well it works. Look at the daily routines of some of the most successful people that have ever graced the earth – from Steve Jobs to Beethoven — and they all took long walks. These walks gave them the ability to put their mind at ease and disassociate themselves from distractions, all while getting exercise.
2. Get hydrated.
The average adult human body is comprised of 50% to 65% water. It may be redundant to say this but staying hydrated is essential to our physical and mental wellbeing.
Research has found that dehydration can cause headaches, a loss of focus, feelings of fatigue, and low mood. The scariest part of the study was that the participants were not severely dehydrated, they were only at around 1% lower than optimal hydration.
The key thing to remember is to be drinking water. Many people think that since they drink coffee or tea, it helps to keep them hydrated. That isn’t the case. Anything with caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, which makes you urinate more frequently and can thus lead to dehydration.
If you find your mind starting to scatter during the day, ask yourself, “how much water have I drank today?” Men should be drinking about 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total fluids per day. Women should be drinking about 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total fluids a day.
If you find yourself having trouble remembering to drink water during the day until it’s too late and you’re already in a “slump”, here are a few tricks to help…
- Buy a big transparent water bottle and add time markers for how much you need to drink to make it through the day. That way you know exactly how hydrated at any given point in your day.
- Set little reminders on your phone. If you’re having a hard time remembering to drink water at all, you’ll need a little extra push. Creating 3-4 alarms on your phone that remind you to get up and drink water will help.
- Make drinking water more fun. It’s okay to “jazz up” your water drinking experience. Many people like to add lemons or limes to give it a nice taste. These acidic fruits also help reduce any bacteria that might be lurking in the cup.
3. Eat some “brain foods.”
A lack of focus could be due to a variety of factors. However, the two we see most often are lack of energy and the dreaded “brain fog”, both of which could be connected. The food we put into our body plays a vital role in how we feel. Putting in “bad” food such as sugars (fructose and sucrose) leads to spikes insulin and also triggers the release of inflammatory cytokines. Inflammation in the form of inflammatory cytokines can take over your brain by producing anxiety-provoking chemicals like quinolinate, and inhibiting serotonin (which makes you happy and give you energy).
Which foods should you eat if you want laser-focus? Well, be sure to steer clear of sugars and try adding these to your diet…
- Avocados: Avocados are a fantastic food to eat if you want to improve cognitive function. However, many people are afraid to consume avocados because they have a lot of fat. It’s important to note that avocados are actually loaded with monosaturated fats, which are the good kind of fat.
- Broccoli: A fantastic option because it contains high levels of vitamin K and choline, which will keep your memory sharp.
- Celery: A nice choice for a snack because it has plenty of vitamins and minerals while being low in calories. Green, leafy vegetables have been shown to prevent dementia, which is great for long-term mental health.
- Spinach: This leafy green contains high levels of chlorophyll and health promoting carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin). These have anti-inflammatory properties. Since inflammation can cause “brain fog”, spinach is great for keeping your mind focused.
- Blueberries: These little fruits make the list because they’re packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber. They also contain gallic acid, which is great for protecting our brains from degeneration and the effects of stress. You can easily get a dose of blueberries by adding them to a smoothie or your oatmeal, or even pairing them with yogurt.
- Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate is great for improving blood flow to the heart and also to your brain. The key here is to skip the milk and white chocolates and go for a darkest chocolate you can find (with at least 70% cocoa). Dark chocolate is also an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties.
4. Have a meditation session.
The key to focusing effectively is to train your mind to shut out distractions in order to selectively concentrate on one piece of information. The best way to train your mind to do this is through meditation.
Many people hear meditation and instantly think of hippies or connect it to religion. In today’s day and age, meditation serves a much bigger role. Everyone from athletes to entrepreneurs are using meditation to disassociate themselves from the barrage of distractions, allowing their mind a quite moment in the day to recharge.
If you’re still unsure about the benefits of meditation, watch the video below. It explains how a school in Baltimore replaced detention with meditation and saw a dramatic decrease in suspensions.
Meditation is schools has also been linked to a reduction in ADHD symptoms such as being unable to focus, reduction in psychological distress, and an improvement in test scores.
If you’re struggling to stay focused throughout the day, you should try meditation for yourself. While it may seem intimidating, it’s actually quite simple to start. You’ll likely notice yourself feeling refreshed and more peaceful when you do it regularly.
Here are the steps to start meditating today for greater focus…
- Find a quiet space where you can be alone. You can either sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes and just focus on your breath. Breathe deeply in and out.
- You may experience thoughts crossing your mind while you’re meditating. It is okay to acknowledge them but let them come in and out easily. Don’t feel like you immediately failed because you began to think of something else. Just quietly return to your breath.
Start by doing this for five to ten minutes and you’ll notice an increase in focus immediately.
If you find that you have trouble meditating on your own (perhaps you struggle to focus just on your breath), you can always do a guided meditation. You can find plenty of resources online such as meditation videos or audio tracks that will lead you through a full meditation session. There’s also an app we like here at Brain Wiz headquarters called Headspace. It’s dedicated to teaching you how to meditate correctly in a fun way.
The key thing to remember is that the more you practice meditation, the better you will get, and the more focused you’ll feel after each session. You’ll notice better results when you practice it on a daily basis, so we recommend incorporating meditation into your daily routine for optimal results.
5. Do some decluttering.
Take a look around your workspace. Is it neat and tidy or is it cluttered, disorganized chaos? Even if you claim to know where everything is located, having a cluttered workspace isn’t doing you any favors. And you may not realize it, but it could be impacting your concentration in a negative way.
A group of researchers at Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that too much clutter in your environment can inhibit your brain’s ability to focus and process information. The study found that instead of focusing on the work you need to get done, your brain gets distracted by all the clutter that’s surrounding you.
Clutter not only affects our focus, it also leads to more stress. If you look around your work station and see other things that need to be put away or thrown out, it puts more pressure on you.
We recommend getting in the habit of decluttering your workspace at the end of every day. Before you walk out of the office or leave your desk, take a few extra minutes to put things away, straighten up anything around your desk, and toss anything you don’t actually need to keep. That way, when you walk into your office the next morning, you won’t have the stress of having a cluttered desk bearing down on you.
6. Try taking supplements.
If you’re in a pinch and you need focus fast, a supplement might be able to help.
There are tons of supplements on the market that claim to help with increasing focus and mental accuity (dubbed “nootropics“). Our testers have run through the gamut of cognetive enhancing supplements. Through our tests, we’ve been able to filter the good from the not-so-good from the great.
If you’re looking to add a nootropic to your regimen to increase your focus at work, school, or even in your day-to-day activities, we recommend taking our quiz to help match you to the right nootropic.
Or, if you’re in a rush and want the “best of the best” when it comes to supplements that help with focus, we recommend Lumonol (click for price). The reason Lumonol is so powerful for brain-boosting is because it contains CDP Choline and noopept, plus guarana for an increase in energy.
7. Take a break.
The reality is, we sometimes have trouble focusing because we just need to take a break. This is the same reason we recommend meditation and exercise, such as long walks. In order to recharge, your mind needs to take a break. Your mind is like a muscle, if you push it too hard, it is going to need time to effectively recover.
If you’ve been working on the same task for hours and you’re having trouble concentrating, that’s a good sign to give your brain a rest. Take this opportunity to walk away from your computer and do something that doesn’t have anything to do with the task you were previously working on.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate frequent, but small, breaks into your schedule. Don’t wait until you’re feeling totally fried to take a break. By taking breaks throughout the day, you can (hopefully) avoid any kind of major meltdown. If you find yourself getting too wrapped up in your work and forgetting about taking breaks, try scheduling them into your day or using the Pomodoro technique. It’s designed to have you work for 25 focused minutes, followed by a five-minute break. This technique has been shown to increase your concentration levels and even improve attention span.