15 Ways Anyone Can Improve Their Focus
If you have a hard time staying focused, you're not alone. Recent research says that the average focused attention span today is a mere 8 seconds. Goldfish have an attention span of about 9 seconds.
That's right. Most of us have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.
Why is this? Technology is partially to blame — we're constantly distracted by beeps and buzzes, email and Facebook. Even the least tech-savvy of us can have a problem, though. Many factors contribute to our inability to focus, from poor nutrition to lack of sleep.
We are more than the sum of our parts, and being a whole and healthy person means addressing all the different parts of ourselves — body, mind, and spirit. If you need a boost when it comes to memory and concentration, here are 15 simple things you can do not just for your mind, but for your body and spirit too.
1. Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep doesn't just leave you tired the next day, it impairs your ability to think straight. It affects decision making, memory, and your ability to focus. Even mild sleep deprivation can have a big effect on both your body and your mind, and when you're chronically sleep-deprived, as many of us are, you may not even realize it. For laser-like focus, make sure you get a good night's sleep.
Stress wreaks havoc on nearly every system in the body. While short-term situational stress can sometimes sharpen your focus as the fight-or-flight response kicks in, chronic stress dulls your responses. Your concentration suffers, along with your memory and the ability to learn new things.
3. Avoid rollercoaster blood sugar
Both high and low blood sugar can hurt your concentration. Cut back on the sweets and high-carb foods to avoid spikes and crashes in blood sugar.
4. Drink water
The old adage about drinking 8 glasses of water may have fallen by the wayside, but many of us still don't get the optimal amount. This is particularly true as we age. Once we hit middle age, our ability to feel thirst starts to decrease, and the older we get, the more likely we are to be under-hydrated. Being just a little under-hydrated can affect your ability to focus.
5. Get some exercise
Research shows that exercise has a positive effect not just on your body, but on your mind too. It doesn't just improve your focus, it actually helps your brain grow new neurons and make connections between them.
6. Stop multitasking
When you cook dinner while on the phone and watching the news, your dinner won't be as good. You'll miss part of your phone conversation. And you'll only remember half the headlines. Multitasking shortens your attention span in the long run, and you don't get any more work done.
7. Minimize distractions
Modern life is full of things clamoring for our attention, from our cell phones to our Facebook feeds. If you really need to focus, cut out distractions. Turn off the tv. Turn the radio down. Put your phone on silent or take it off the hook. You might be amazed at what a difference it makes.
8. Focus on…focusing
It's easy to go through the day doing things out of habit and routine rather than really thinking about them. If you want to improve your focus, make a resolution to do just that — focus on what you're doing at any given moment. Practice makes perfect, and the more you consciously focus the better your focus becomes.
9. Read, don't skim
Your brain is a creature of habit. Skimming rather than reading trains it to be impatient when you spend too much time on one task. When you're constantly in a hurry, your mind tends to wander if you ask it to stop and focus. To combat this, take time every day to slow down. Don't skim that article, read the whole text. Pick up a book and read a whole chapter, slowly and thoughtfully.
10. Memorize things
Rote memorization is a great way to train your brain. Memorize some song lyrics, even if you can't sing. Or commit your favorite poems to memory. Your brain may not be a muscle, but it certainly benefits from regular exercise and learning things "by heart" is a powerful but simple way to build your focus.
11. Learn how to say "no"
Overextending yourself leads to too much stress and too little time to rest and recharge, and when you're constantly running on empty, your focus is one of the first things to suffer. Learning how to say "no" when you're already overloaded gives you time to breathe and regroup. It improves not just your focus and memory but your overall health.
12. Prioritize and delegate
You don't have to take the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you're having a hard time focusing on any given task, stop and ask yourself two questions.
1) Do I really need to do this right now? And
2) Can someone else do it?
If it's not really necessary and you're feeling stressed, don't do it. If it really must be done, delegate to someone else.
Just a few minutes of prayer or meditation each day can improve your concentration and reduce your stress levels. Take a 5 to 10 minute break each day and spend it in meditation or contemplative prayer. The effects can be profound.
External clutter leads to stress, and stress hurts your concentration. Organizing your surroundings decreases stress and makes it easier to stay focused.
15. Know your devils
We all have triggers, things which distract us, annoy us, and interrupt our focus. Television is my own personal trigger — I don't really enjoy television, but I can't keep from paying attention to it if one is turned on. Know your own focus-sapping triggers and avoid them.
We live in a chaotic world, and even the calmest of modern lives is full of stress and distractions. The key to sharp focus is simply slowing down, and these simple tips can help you do that.
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