09 Nov 2017

Smart Ways to Improve Concentration and Focus

Via Be Brain Fit: Smart Ways to Improve Concentration and Focus

It’s been said that the greatest power of the human mind is its ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.

If you’ve ever held a magnifying glass in the sun, you know how scattered sunlight can be focused to start a fire.

Imagine if you could concentrate your brain power into one bright beam and focus it like a laser on whatever you wish to accomplish.

But most of us struggle to concentrate.

And when you can’t concentrate, everything you do is harder and takes longer than you’d like.

You may be looking to improve your concentration to perform better at work, to ace your exams, to increase reading comprehension, or simply to make everyday life easier.

If you can’t focus, you may think that’s just the way your brain works and that there’s not much you can do about it.

But anyone can develop their ability to concentrate.

There are skills you can learn and things you can do to allow your brain to focus better.

In this article, we’ll show you how to improve concentration and focus by removing distractions, properly nourishing your brain, and using some simple concentration techniques.

Overcome Distractions

Being easily distracted isn’t all bad. In fact, in the right circumstances, it can help you survive.

Being hyper aware kept our ancestors from becoming a sabertooth tiger’s dinner.

But they didn’t have Facebook, mobile phones, emails, text messages, or the 5,000 ads we see every day all vying for our attention.

Stop Multitasking

One of the worst things you can do for your concentration and focus is to multitask.

Multitasking is a myth.

You don’t actually do several things at once, your brain quickly toggles back and forth between tasks.

You can do unconscious tasks such as walk and talk at the same time, but once it gets more complicated than that, you are sacrificing the efficiency of one task for another.

As unrelated as it may seem, lack of mindfulness in the present has been found to promote brain aging by shortening protective end caps on your chromosomes called telomeres. (2)

Get Rid of Clutter

Brain MRIs show conclusively that clutter affects your ability to concentrate and process information.

Having an organized environment can make you more focused and productive.

You’ll remember information better.

It can even improve your mood.

Find Your Perfect Sound Environment

Not everyone responds the same to sound.

Some people need complete silence while others concentrate better in the buzz of their favorite coffee shop.

Classical music, especially Mozart and Baroque music, is often cited as the top brain-boosting music.

The music streaming service Spotify has classical and environmental music, along with white, pink, or brown noise that you can listen to for free.

They also have an entire category of playlists called “Focus” compiled specifically for concentration, studying, or productivity.

Once you find music that works for you it’s easy to create your own playlists as well.

If you concentrate best in total silence, consider getting a pair of noise cancelling headphones.

Feed Your Brain

If you can’t concentrate, it’s possible that your brain isn’t getting the nutrition it needs.

Unfortunately, most diet and nutrition information is focused on shrinking bellies, not feeding brains!

Eat Right for Your Brain

To eat the right food for your brain, keep these simple principles in mind.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

They are high in vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients your brain needs.

Avoid white sugar and refined carbs which send your blood sugar level on a roller coaster ride.

Your brain needs a steady supply of blood glucose since brain cells don’t store energy.

Avoid MSG, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.

These chemical additives are known neurotoxins.

Use a wide variety of herbs and spices to make your meals delicious and brain-healthy.

Rosemary and turmeric are particularly good for the brain.

Buy wild salmon and grass-fed meat for their brain-boosting omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Regular supermarket fish and meat can’t compare.

Your brain is largely made up of fat, so eat plenty of healthy high-fat foods like nuts and avocados.

Low-fat diets haven’t made us thin and they have been a disaster for our brains!

They may even contribute to Alzheimer’s.

Avoid vegetable oils like canola and soy oil which are highly inflammatory.

Use coconut oil instead.

It contains medium chain triglycerides that bypass glucose metabolism, getting energy directly to the brain cells that need it.

Treat yourself to dark chocolate.

Flavonoids, caffeine and theobromine work together to improve memory and concentration.

Address Nutritional Deficiencies

You might think that nutritional deficiencies are a thing of the past, but this is not the case.

The three most common deficiencies that can wreak havoc with brain function are omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that is a major building block of the brain.

A DHA deficiency has been linked to many brain problems and psychiatric disorders.

Memory loss, depression, mood swings, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have all been found to improve with DHA supplementation.

Vitamin B12 is the most common vitamin deficiency in the US, particularly among seniors who often have poor absorption.

People who eat little or no meat are particularly at risk, since animal foods are the only dependable sources of B12.

Vitamin D can lift your mood, improve memory, and increase problem-solving ability.

Yet it’s estimated that only 25% of Americans get enough.

In the US, if you live north of Atlanta, it’s almost impossible to get all the sun exposure you need year-round.

Improve Concentration with Dopamine

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other.

One of the most important is dopamine.

Dopamine provides your “get up and go.”

If you have trouble concentrating, you may have a dopamine deficiency.

Low energy, motivation, and libido are all signs of low dopamine.

So is needing pick-me-ups like caffeine, sugar, chocolate, or other stimulants to get through the day.

A protein-rich diet is an excellent source of the amino acids needed to create dopamine.

Besides all animal products, foods that promote dopamine formation include avocados, apples, bananas, beets, sea vegetables, green leafy vegetables, oatmeal, chocolate, green tea, and coffee.

The top supplements to improve concentration by boosting dopamine levels are tyrosine, phosphatidylserine (PS), and Ginkgo biloba.

Tyrosine is an amino acid which converts into dopamine.

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid that’s found in particularly high concentrations in the brain.

It acts as your brain’s gatekeeper, regulating which nutrients get in and how waste gets out of your brain.

Studies have found it can improve memory, concentration, learning, and ADHD.

Ginkgo biloba is one of the most widely used herbals remedies in the world.

It’s widely touted as a “brain herb” and is traditionally used for a variety of brain-related problems — poor concentration, forgetfulness, headaches, fatigue, mental confusion, depression, and anxiety.

Physical exercise also boosts dopamine production.

You don’t need strenuous exercise to get brain-boosting benefits.

Taking walks, or doing gentle, no-impact exercises like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong all provide powerful mind-body benefits.

Blast Stress, Increase Concentration with Meditation

If you’ve ever been under the gun to get an assignment done on time, you may have found that stress can improve concentration and focus for short periods of time due to a burst of adrenaline.

But relying on this rush to get work done is damaging to your brain in the long haul.

Chronic stress can lead to depression, anxiety, poor decision making, sleeplessness, and impaired memory.

When facing chronic stress, your brain undergoes biochemical and structural changes that cause your brain to prematurely age and literally to shrink.

The best technique to reduce stress and improve concentration is meditation.

Over 1,000 studies have been published demonstrating the health benefits of meditation.

Meditation can make you happier, smarter, and more resilient to life’s ups and downs.

Regular meditators experience improved concentration and focus, memory, greater creativity, stress reduction, and better sleep.

Research shows it can actually decrease your biological age by 12 years!

Over 20 million Americans meditate regularly.

The US Marines use meditation to help troops deal with stressful situations they face on the job.

Corporate executives at General Mills, Target, Google, Apple, Nike, HBO, Procter & Gamble, and Aetna Insurance use it to maximize their brain power.

However, the traditional practice of meditation can take a long time before you feel like you’re getting real benefits.

Using brainwave entrainment technology makes the practice of meditation faster and easier for many.

Boredom: When You’re Just Not That Into It

Let’s face it — some topics are just boring and so are some people!

When you’re bored, your brain is disengaged and your motivation to concentrate flies out the window.

If you’ve ever sat through a class or meeting that was deathly boring, or had to read a truly mind-numbing report, you know how hard it can be to concentrate.

Here are some tips to help improve your concentration when you’re just not that into whatever you have to do.

Chew Gum

When I was a kid, we weren’t allowed to chew gum in school. I hope that’s changed because students who chew gum have better test scores.

Chewing gum boosts accuracy rates and reaction times while increasing ability to concentrate and focus.

It’s believed that gum increases the flow of oxygen to regions of the brain responsible for attention.

Eat Mints

Eating mints has a similar effect to chewing gum.

Especially if they are peppermint.

Just a whiff of peppermint improves concentration, memory, and attention span.

Doodle

Doodling has been shown to not only exercise your brain, but helps you concentrate, grasp new concepts, and retain information.

Make Memories Sticky

Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate because you’re being exposed to new ideas that have nothing to “stick” to.

Memorize a few basics about a topic.

This foundation will make new information on this topic more interesting and likely to stick.

Work with Your Biorhythm

If you have to do a task that’s not very inspiring, don’t make matters worse by going against your natural biorhythm.

Do them when you are most alert.

Scientists have found there is a best time to do everything and that includes concentrating.

While everyone is different, most adults do their best thinking in the late morning as their working memory, alertness and concentration reach their peak.

Then from noon to about 4 p.m. most people become more easily distracted once again.

Get Enough Sleep

If you didn’t get enough sleep last night or suffer with low-level chronic lack of sleep, you’ll have a hard time concentrating (or even staying awake!)

Insomnia has become a modern life epidemic.

Our circadian rhythms gets confused by too little natural light and too much exposure to unnatural light in the evening.

The worst kind of light is the blue light emitted by TVs, computers, iPads, and smartphones.

Blue light mimics natural daylight, signaling your brain that it’s time to be alert and awake.

Here are some tips for minimizing blue light exposure before going to bed.

Download f.lux software to your computer.

This free program automatically changes the quality and quantity of light of your computer screen to sync with the time of day.

Or grab a pair of Uvex Skyper orange tint glasses which have been proven to improve sleep and mood by blocking the blue light coming from all your electronics.

Since the blue light emitted by your electronics reduces your natural melatonin production, you might want to supplement this natural sleep hormone.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking water may be the easiest way to improve memory and concentration.

Water makes up 75% of the brain but most of us are chronically dehydrated.

Even mild dehydration results in shrinkage of brain tissue and temporary loss of cognitive function, including concentration and memory.

Get the Right Amount of Caffeine

A little caffeine can help you get through a boring morning meeting.

It boosts blood flow to the brain to improve concentration, mood and alertness.

Experiment with various sources of caffeine — coffee, tea, green tea, and yerba mate — to determine the best brew for you.

And keep in mind that the half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours, so you may have to stop drinking caffeine by early afternoon so it won’t keep you up at night.

Do Yoga

Doing yoga can boost your brain power even more than doing conventional aerobic exercise.

Even one session of yoga significantly improves working memory and concentration.

The top yoga poses for better concentration include the plow, the camel, the cobra, the tree, and the corpse pose.

Knocking on the Door of Life

“Knocking on the Door of Life” is a qi gong exercise that takes only three minutes.

Unlike yoga, it’s done standing up.

It moves qi (energy) up to your head to promote clear thinking, balance emotions, and calm a racing mind.

Lee Holden, a popular qi gong expert, teaches this simple exercise in his free video series Qi 101.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Your brain needs oxygen. Brain cells can live only a few minutes without it.

Yet, counterproductively, many people hold their breath while concentrating!

There’s even a term known as “email apnea” since 80% of us forget to breathe when reading our emails or using our electronics.

While there’s no app to remind you to breathe (at least that I know of), you can increase your oxygen intake by improving your posture and learning to breathe properly.

Most people breathe shallowly.

Practice breathing deeply from your diaphragm.

Our Favorite Concentration Hack

Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato.”

It’s also the name of a favorite concentration and productivity hack.

The “pomodoro technique” was developed by an Italian graduate student as a study aid.

It works like this.

Pick a task you want to concentrate on, one that needs your undivided attention.

Remove obvious distractions (like turning off your phone).

Get comfortable.

Tell those around you not to disturb you unless the building is on fire!

Set a timer for 25 minutes then give the task at hand your all.

If your mind starts wandering snap yourself back and remind yourself you only need to keep up this level of concentration for a few more minutes.

When the 25 minutes is done, take a 5-minute break.

Walk around. Grab a cuppa. Do some stretches.

When you’re ready, you can do another “pomodoro,” a block of 25 minutes of intense concentration.

You’ll be surprised at how effectively this improves concentration and how much you’ll get done.

You can use a real kitchen timer or a virtual one. Tomato shape is optional. 😉

TomatoTimer.com has a desktop version that’s easy to use and can be set for 5, 10, or 25 minutes.

With each pomodoro, you are doing more than just spending 25 minutes in a state of highly productive focus.

You are actually training your brain to block out distractions and learning how to increase concentration and focus for extended periods of time.

Improving Concentration and Focus: The Next Step

We’ve given you a lot of ways to improve your concentration and focus.

Let’s do a quick recap.

Make sure you’re giving your brain the basics it needs to function its best.

This includes brain-healthy foods, sleep, and mind-body exercises like yoga or qi gong.

Reduce stress and halt brain aging by meditating and giving up multitasking.

Boost your dopamine levels and address nutritional deficiencies with the right supplements.

Use concentration tips and techniques.

And don’t forget to breathe!

If you feel like you’ve tried everything but still can’t concentrate, you may have an underlying health condition.

Hearing problems and vision problems can affect concentration, especially in older folks.

Sometimes the answer can be as simple as getting a pair of reading glasses.

If you haven’t already done so, rule out issues that can affect brain function such as ADHD, fibromyalgia, and thyroid disorders.