secrets of concentration

Learn to Improve Focus and Concentration with Meditation

If you’re stuck a job you don’t like or if you attended public schools, you probably think of concentration as a boring necessity of life—something you’re forced into, but not something you particularly enjoy. It doesn’t have to be that way. Concentration is fun, powerful, and even transformative. It’s a method for improving literally any and all parts of life, something that can be taken into any situation whatsoever to improve your results. Staying focused enough can even make you feel better.

Warning: More than you ever wanted to know about the meaning of concentration and focus.

In the simplest way of thinking about it, being concentrated means paying attention to what you want, for as long as you want. It sounds so easy! And yet we all know that the mind doesn’t readily submit when being told to pay attention to something. You’re trying to study, and all you can think about is your girlfriend. You need to get your work done, but your mind is lost in a fantasy about an awkward situation from the day before.

This kind of distractedness is just the normal condition of the mind. And yet it turns out that your brain can be trained to focus. No matter how challenged you may feel with your attention, if you work on it, it will get better. The secrets of concentration articles will help you to do just that.

Want to know more about why you should bother to try to focus better? Read this.

Concentration can take many forms, and on this page we’ll cover the basics. When you’re finished, you will have a good overview of the common methods, and how to achieve powerful and lasting results.

One-pointed Attention

secrets of concentration

The first type of concentration we’ll talk about is one-pointed focus. This style of concentration is all about honing in on a single object of attention, to the exclusion of all else. One-pointed focus is usually what comes to mind when you think of concentration – the hunter aiming the rifle, the programmer typing away at the keyboard, the reader bent over an engrossing book.

The method here is to eliminate all sources of distraction and to reduce an object of attention to a single point, towards which you direct all your attention. By cutting out distractions and placing one point in focus, you can bring far more of your attentional resources to bear on this one point. Read more about how to get to this state of concentration in practical terms.

To enter a state of one-pointed concentration, you need to zoom in on a small point of focus. Usually people have their attention spread out among several different things. But even when they are focused on one thing, they are still, so to speak, seeing too much of that thing. It turns out that you can make a big improvement in your concentration ability very quickly by reducing the surface area you cover with your attention. Techniques such as “The Hammer” (breaking things down into smaller pieces) help you to do this.

Besides narrowing the area of attention, another practical tip is to realize that your attention will wander from the point you’ve decided to focus on. This wandering is not some kind of failure or mistake, it’s just the way that the brain works. You’re attempting to train your brain to do that less, and also to learn to bring your attention back when it wanders. For a cool explanation of what it feels like to concentrate this way, check out this article.

Concentration has natural allies and adversaries. In some circumstances concentration is trivial and effortless to attain, and in other circumstances it’s almost impossible.

On the adversarial side, anything that splits your attention into pieces is bad. When we try to multitask, we lose the ability to really focus. Likewise, distractions can make it more difficult to focus all the attentional resources on one problem. As we mentioned, just getting rid of distractions can really boost your concentration. Here are five easy ways to kill common distractions. And don’t forget the worse source of distraction: your technology. Lastly, remember that multitasking actually doesn’t work, and just causes you to do a substandard job on things you might actually care about.

In terms of allies, anything that allows you to focus more of your attention on one point is a real benefactor. For example, love is a great ally of concentration—as you may already know. It’s easy to focus on things that your mind is attracted to. In other words, finding ways to enjoy what you’re doing is a big help for concentration – even if the things you enjoy are very small parts of an otherwise tedious process, it makes a big difference.

If you use the one-pointed style of concentration, you will be bringing many more of your attentional resources to bear on a problem. Not only problems, but also recreational activities can only benefit from having more of your attention directed at them. It’s easier to have fun when your head isn’t off thinking about your next meal, your tax returns or some thing you’re supposed to remember for later.

Lastly, in a world full of advertising out to make a buck by… well… distracting you, the ability to focus (and the habit of shutting out distractions) is extremely helpful – it’s like a vaccine for your mind.

secrets of concentrationImproving Your Attention

Focusing on one point isn’t the only way to concentrate. Paying close attention doesn’t always mean shutting out everything else. Instead of focusing on just one thing, we can focus on breadth and depth of attention. This means that rather than holding one particular point, the goal is to free your attention—to liberate it from obsessions, annoyances, and other things that distract from the activity you’re engaged in.

When approaching concentration like this, you are still trying to focus – but there is a breadth and depth to your attention, where the previous technique is characterized by intensity and narrowing of focus. If you’ve done sports or other activities with a lot of moving parts, you’ll know the feeling of tunnel vision, where you lose track of the game because you’re too focused on the ball, another player or something else that happens to stand out strongly. This form of concentration is about paying attention without developing tunnel vision.

Once you start concentrating well, it can have a feeling of effortlessness. The feeling of lightness and freedom that comes with effortless attention is not a whimsical, dreamy sort of thing, but rather the result of intense concentration. Rather than lacking focus, you are so absorbed in what you’re doing that you let go of thoughts and emotions and feel as light as a feather.

Silence is a great ally of concentration, particularly effortless attention. Silence lets you calm down enough to focus on what’s really going on in the moment, whereas noise triggers your body’s stress response, leaving you twitchy and restless. When you are fully immersed, light, open, and in a conducive environment, you may begin to experience flow states—periods of greatly heightened attention and internal silence, where the chattering of the mind dies down and you are totally soaked in the present moment. Present moment awareness is what mindfulness meditation is all about.

To enter a state of effortless attention, it’s good to anchor your attention on something calm and neutral, such as the body sensations of the breathing process. By having a stable anchor for your attention, you begin to feel calmer and more attentive. Learning to take in things openly, to be fully engrossed in what you are doing, is the next step. This means, for example, to engage in active listening—taking in everything people a person says to you. If you’re not in the middle of a conversation, listen carefully to all the sounds in your environment. When it works, it’s almost as if you’re listening to a symphony of the world around you.

Learn to Make a Habit of Being Focused

Once you understand the core concepts, it’s useful to upgrade your toolbox. You want to have more than a few ways to help yourself attain a state of focus with minimal effort, so that you’re able to enter a state of deepened or narrow concentration whenever you feel like it.

Staying motivated to work on your concentration is one of the biggest challenges. While the benefits of concentration are many, the actual act of trying to focus when you are used to being distracted and overstimulated can be quite agitating. This is why it’s useful to find small ways to reward yourself, as a means of strengthening your focus.

To wrap it all up, we’ve compiled the most helpful tips and tricks in five simple-to-follow (but difficult to master) instructions.

Living a Concentrated Life

Concentration can be used both as a tool to reduce a big problem into something easier to handle, and to stay in a state of heightened attention where you are extra sensitive to changes in your experience. It’s a great way to bring more of your intelligence to bear on a problem, and to remove enough of your emotional stress to really stay in the moment—and hopefully enjoy yourself.

These techniques can take time to master, and it’s important not to be too harsh on yourself at the start. With time, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to focus.

However, you will start to see results from these techniques almost right away. You’ll notice subtle improvements in your concentration almost as soon as you begin, and with time and practice these results will multiply and spread into different areas of your life, so that you will eventually find yourself in a state of deep concentration when you least expect it.



Image Credits:
main photo and focus lenses by Nic McPhee
concentric circles by Michael Taft

black & white face by Ulisse Albiati
dragonfly by Suzanne Schroeter