by Michael W. Taft
Are you having trouble staying focused on your tax return? Is texting so fascinating that you can’t keep your eyes on the road? Concentration can be difficult for all of us, but it doesn’t actually have to be so hard. With just a few simple tricks and hacks, you can drastically improve your concentration. Here are five I have found that make a huge difference:
1. Remove Distractions – One of the easiest ways to get concentrated is simply to remove distractions. Turn off the phone, the television, all alerts, email, and—if possible—disconnect from the Internet. If you can’t remove all of the distractions around you, remove as many as possible. Sometimes a tiny bit of background noise is actually helpful, so music with no lyrics or a recording of nature sounds is fine. Here are some ways to undo distraction that many people have found helpful.
2. Pay Attention to Attention – You build concentration not so much by rigidly fixing the mind on an object of focus, but rather by noticing when your attention has wandered from the object and bringing it back. If you can, allocate a tiny amount of your attention to noticing where the rest of your attention is pointing. It’s like having a mental German Shepherd herding your thoughts. You want to notice when your attention leaves the area of focus in which you want it to stay. Then, calmly and gently, you can bring it back. So try to become aware of awareness, at least a little bit, and notice as quickly as possible when your attention has wandered.
3. Make Coming Back Pleasant – Each time your mind wanders and you bring it back into focus, feel pleased with yourself. You haven’t just had a moment of annoying and frustrating distraction, you’ve had a moment of pleasant and enjoyable return to concentration. Notice the big difference between these two experiences. One is anger at how you’ve failed. The other is pleasure at what you’ve done right. Concentration, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is an iterative process, which means that you repeat it over and over many times. So, do you want the experience of concentration to become an angry, frustrating experience? It’s like that for many people, and they don’t tend to get much better over time, only angrier and eventually despondent about their concentration. Instead, make sure that each iteration of your concentration practice really helps to build better concentration by making each loop a pleasant, happy experience. This will naturally lead you, perhaps subconsciously, to desire more of the same experience. This will really help you to become much more concentrated over time.
4. Be Around Other Concentrated People – This one is fun and easy. If you can, find a place where other people are quiet and concentrated, such as a library. I love to go to a cafe full of people working on their laptops with great attention; I find that it’s much easier for me to stay focused on my work there. We are influenced by others around us, and if the people in our environment are very focused, then we will tend to be, too. Meditating in a group, for example, is much easier for most people than meditating alone.
5. When You Get Tired, Go Do Something Else – It’s important to push the limits of your concentration as much as possible, so that it continues to grow daily. That said, when you can feel your brain actually getting tired, then give it a rest. Forcing yourself to concentrate far beyond your capacity will only train you to dislike concentrating. So take a break when you need one. Go for a walk.
Try these out, and enjoy your newfound powers of concentration.
photo by Nic McPhee