Proper focus and concentration are crucial for work and school. It’s also important to be able to maintain your attention while driving.
Some degree of focus is even required for other everyday tasks, such as grocery shopping, cooking, keeping track of the family’s schedules, and getting through the day’s to-do list.
Here are four simple techniques to help improve focus.
How to improve focus and concentration
Focus is related to the breadth, range, and coverage of attention. On the other hand, concentration is the depth of attention.
As you focus more and more, your attention is brought to a smaller and more confined area. As you concentrate more and more, your attention becomes deeper. There are different degrees of concentration.
There are several different ways of improving focus and concentration. Certain methods can work wonderfully for one person, and not work at all for another. It’s important to try and find which techniques work best for you.
Each person is an individual with unique needs. One of the principles of naturopathic medicine is that of individuality, meaning each patient is a unique individual and should be treated as such.
I always tell my patients that they will be treated as an individual. Two patients can walk in with a chief concern of inability to focus. Their treatment plans could be very different from each other, depending on each person’s individual makeup.
1. Identify your best time of the day to focus
A study was performed where subjects were asked to perform tests of logical reasoning at each of six different times of day. In terms of speed, performance on tests improved drastically from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and then fell off rapidly after 2:00. Accuracy decreased steadily throughout the day. (1)
Researchers have stated that there are four different types of function: (2)
- Continuous rise through the day
- Continuous fall through the day
- A morning rise followed by an afternoon fall
- Morning fall followed by an afternoon rise
Researchers have said that the reason there are four different types of function is because of individual differences between patients.
They have also found there to be differences between introverts and extraverts. There are even “morning” people and “evening” people. It’s all about finding out what works for you. (3)
2. Define a clear goal to focus on
If you want to truly focus on a task, it’s important that you set a clear goal for yourself. Effective goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-sensitive).
Whatever you do, avoid multitasking. Studies have shown that multitasking leads to poorer memory, increased impulsivity, and can even lead to shrinkage of certain parts of the brain. (4)
If it’s school work you’re trying to focus on, you should know that research indicates that multitasking with media while learning can negatively affect academic outcomes. (5)
One scientific study even found that multitasking results in substantial performance costs across all experimental conditions (age, gender, etc.). (6)
Some researchers say that multitasking isn’t even actually possible, unless a behavior is completely automatic. (7)
This means that when you think you’re multitasking, what you’re actually doing is task switching. Task switching causes a disruption in your primary task and may contribute to errors. (8)
3. Breathing can help you stay focused
We may breathe in and out 12 to 16 times per minute, but intentional breathing exercises can be highly beneficial in enhancing focus.
Breathing exercises help to elicit what’s called the relaxation response, in which less oxygen is consumed, more nitric oxide is exhaled, and psychological stress is reduced. (16)
Those who practice breathing exercises long-term can see even more benefits, including: lower blood pressure, reduced heart and respiration rates, and changes in the cortical and subcortical regions of the brain. (17)
So which breathing exercises are we talking about, exactly? One study found the following types to be useful: (18)
- Repetitive prayer
- Tai chi
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Guided imagery
- Qi gong
These practices tend to work because they involve repeating a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or focus on the breath. All with a disregard of intrusive everyday thoughts. (19)
This offsets the physiological effects caused by stress. Breathing exercises like these that initiate the relaxation response are therapeutically useful in several different conditions that are caused or worsened by stress. (20)
4. Improve focus with music
Music can help to improve focus. It does this by encouraging the formation and development of neurons, or nerve cells. (9)
Best music types for improving focus
Let’s first talk about the kind of music that won’t help your focus.
Any music that interferes or distracts from the task at hand won’t be helpful for you. (10) If melody, complexity of harmony, or density of musical arrangement take your attention away, then music won’t be a productive tool for you. (11)
In order to improve your focus, you’ll want to listen to music in the range of 50 to 70 beats per minute. This is because a relaxed heart rate is also in this range. Anything slower than this will put you to sleep. Anything faster will be too stimulating. (12)
Baroque music is a good choice, as it induces a relaxed body and alert mind. This is the perfect state for concentration. (13)
When you are trying to work, higher-frequency sounds charge the nervous system. In these cases, you’ll want to listen to instruments like violins, woodwinds, and high-pitched voices. (14)
Another good option is Gregorian chanting. This type of music has high tenor and soprano voices, which are stimulating. It also contains long, slow vocal phrases which slow the breath. This is the perfect mix of body-relaxing and mind-alerting. (15)
Practice to master these focus techniques
In order to make these focus techniques part of your routine, it’s important to repeat and practice them.
Research has shown that the amount of time it takes for people to reach at least 95% automaticity of a habit ranges from 18 to 254 days. This shows us a couple of things. First of all, it shows us just how long it can take for a habit to truly form. Secondly, it shows us the wide range of time between individuals. Once again, each person is unique and you will have to see what works best for you. (21)