I have always hated studying. And I know that if you are here, you can probably relate. Even during exams, when I had to force myself to sit and learn, I would find myself lost in a couple of minutes. Often I would find myself going back and re-reading a sentence I had read just a few minutes ago.
I have learned from my experience that our hatred for studying stems from a deeper problem: our disability to focus and concentrate. And I always wondered how I could change this, how to improve concentration and how to focus more on my studies.
And we are not alone in this problem. Every once in a while, I give guest lectures at the university. And once, halfway through my talk on Data science applications in Health Care (Agreeably, not the most exciting topic), I found that all my students were lost. So, I did what any wise person would do; I started quoting Yoda (from Star Wars) amid the lecture.
Do or do not. There is no try.Yoda, Star Wars
And though that brought some of my students back. There’s only so much with which Yoda can help.
What is concentration and can we use tips to increase concentration?
I am not talking about the definition you would find in a thesaurus. To understand what Concentration is, you first need to understand what it’s not.
The first thing that comes to our mind when we hear “concentration” is a guy sitting cross-legged in a yoga pose with his eyes closed. But doing this does not guarantee you the razor-sharp focus that you desire.
No one can hit their target, with their eyes closedPaulo Coelho
Neither does playing music guarantee that. A lot of students plug in their earphones when studying. While music can be stimulating for the brain, and though creating music requires a lot of focus, playing music does not always guarantee attention while studying or working. Instead, for some, it might be quite distracting.
Concentration is not a trick you use just when studying or working. Building focus requires practice and dedication. You can practice Concentration with straightforward tasks like gardening or household chores as well.
Also, Concentration is not a magical power that guarantees you will remember anything in front of you for a lifetime.
What Concentration is, is the ability to tune out everything else and just work on a single task for a long duration. Concentration means to be involved entirely with only one job.
What causes a lack of Concentration?
To beat the devil, you must first know the devil. If everyone could concentrate like an expert, humans would have realized their true potential by now. To learn how to concentrate, you need to understand why we can’t focus in the first place.
- We never learn to concentrate. In our schools, we teach students a lot of things, but we don’t usually show them how to focus. Learning to focus on a single task for hours is a crucial ability that should be part of the curriculum.
- We love distractions. Whether it’s watching TV or surfing the internet, we love mindless entertainment.
- We have a short attention span. Blame it on social media. All we want these days is micro-videos and quick fixes to our problems. Instead of reading books, people now watch short video summaries.
- We live a very stressful lifestyle. We live in a highly competitive world. Competition causes stress and anxiety, both of which are not ideal for clear thinking. Lack of sleep can be responsible, as well.
- We don’t practice concentration exercises. Very much like our muscles, we need to train our minds and practice Concentration and focus.
Apart from this, sometimes disorders like ADHD and Insomnia can also be the reason why you can’t concentrate. It’s essential to understand what are the causes that affect you.
Once you have figured the Why, then it’s time to move on to How?
How to improve focus?
How to increase focus and attention span?
How to improve concentration power?
How to increase memory power?
Focusing is not as simple as it seems. You need to identify your problems and work constructively to build mental concentration strategies.
It brings us to the next section –
Tips on How to Improve Concentration and Increase Memory Power
You can use the below tips to increase concentration and boost your memory.
Tip 1: Train to Focus
Practice concentration exercises that can help you train your mind to develop pinpoint focus. One of the activities that I practice is called the heart of the rose. It is something I learned from Robin Sharma’s best selling book – The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari.
All you need for this technique is a rose (or any other flower or leaf) and a quiet place. Sit down with the rose and stare at it. Observe it in great detail, admire its beauty, notice the shape, texture, color of its petal, and savor its fragrance. At first, your mind will wander away. But do not worry, just bring back your focus to the flower and think only about your object of attention.
Practice this for 15 minutes or longer every morning, when your mind is void of any tensions and worries.
Tip 2: Get Proper Sleep
Proper sleep is key to your path to improving concentration power. Your mental health depends a lot on how well you sleep. Good sleep isn’t just about the number of hours, but the wholesome quality of your sleep. Your body and brain repair itself when you are in Deep Sleep. To ensure quality sleep, follow these key steps
- Sleep on regular time
- Do not use a mobile or laptop for at least half-hour before you sleep
- Keep your room airy
- Exercise every day
- Turn off all lights and keep the room dark
Good sleep keeps stress and anxiety at bay and makes it easier for you to focus.
Tip 3: Track and Limit Your Social Media Activity
Unfortunately, spending hours on social media has become an addiction that kills your focus. Social Media aims to keep you hooked on for hours, putting your brain on the autopilot mode. This autopilot mode weakens your will power and strength to focus when required.
While it’s difficult to curb social media entirely, it’s vital that you track how many hours you spend on social media and slowly cut down.
Tip 4: Develop a habit of reading at least half an hour every day
You can read a blog, a novel, a newspaper, or whatever interests you. Anything not related to your study or work that will keep you from boredom. Reading improves your attention span.
Reading for a longer duration is also a concentration exercise in itself. I read a lot of fantasy and thriller novels. If you fancy thrillers and you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend you to read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. That’s one book that will keep you glued and focused for hours.
Tip 5: Play games that require thinking
Strategy games like Chess, Go, Backgammon, Crossword Puzzle, Jigsaw, Sudoku, etc. need you to think and make decisions
In a 2015 study, over 4000 participants took part in over 49 exercises targeting their cognitive and decision-making abilities. Almost all of the participants showed significant improvement in their ability to focus.
Practicing and playing such games are a fun way to help you increase your Concentration.
Tip 6: Study or Work in a distraction-free Environment
Distraction is the enemy of Concentration.
To conquer the fort of Concentration, you need to fight two battles – inside and outside. By killing all the distractions out, you improve your chances of winning in your mind.
To improve your focus, you need to create a clutter-free and isolated environment. Ensuring zero disturbance will make it easier for you to be immersed in your task and focus on your study or work.
Tip 7: Split your Goals into Subgoals
Big goals take time, and there’s more chance for you to get distracted and lose attention. To avoid this, divide your task into smaller subtasks and focus on completing each task.
Not only does it make your task more feasible to complete, but you can also afford to take breaks in between each task. It makes concentrating less exhaustive.
Tip 8: Do Physical Exercise
Our ability to focus depends on our physical well being. It’s challenging to pay attention when we are tired, fatigued, or suffering through an ailment.
Exercising daily also helps us get a good sleep, which in return improves our concentration power.
Tip 9: Develop and follow a daily routine
Following a routine helps you with time management and plays a significant role in developing discipline and programming your mind. It need not be a strict regiment.
You can keep your schedule flexible, but having a routine, in general, allows you to free up time you can use to practice your concentration exercises. Here is an article on time management for students – Tips to Improve Time Management for Students
Tip 10: Meditate
Meditation is the go-to exercise to develop your concentration ability. There are thousands of meditation techniques. You can explore many of the methods taught on Youtube.
To start with, you can simply sit in a distraction-free environment and focus on your breath. Slow down your inhalation and exhalation and try to feel the air as it passes through your nostrils. Within a few minutes, you will feel deeply relaxed.
Meditation helps you improve your concentration and memory retention.
Tip 11: Stop Multi-Tasking
Multitasking requires you to shift your focus from one task to another rapidly. Though this works very well for computers, it keeps you from developing Concentration.
Also, since it affects your ability to focus, your quality of work goes down. Multitasking can often lead to frustration, which in turn can cause Stress and Anxiety, both of which are bad for your mental health.
It’s better to plan your tasks in advance and then finish up one job at a time.
Tip 12: Explore and understand the context
Stop memorizing and doing work mindlessly. When you know the background of your work or study, you realize its importance and get better at it.
Explore your task thoroughly, find out why you should do it, and what it will impact. While studying, try to create an analogy to understand a concept if necessary. It will arouse your interest in the task at hand and make it easier for you to focus.
Tip 13: Eat foods that improve memory
Diet plays a significant role in your physical and mental health. There are foods that we know can help improve our memory as well as our mental and cognitive abilities. Food also affects our mood.
Eating junk food, in general, should be avoided. It causes uneasiness and makes you sleepy. Eating a balanced diet helps you prevent ailments and focus better.
You can read more about foods that are good for brain and memory here – 11 Best Foods to Boost Your Brain and Memory
Tip 14: Hangout with friends
Stress and depression are significant obstructions to your ability to focus. Friends offer social contact and emotional support, both of which help you fight anxiety and depression.
Hanging out with friends often puts your mind at ease. Company of good friend relaxes your brain. It helps you improve your mental fitness.
Tip 15: Focus on a single sense at a time
It is another exercise that will help you increase your Concentration.
Sit down in a quiet, distraction-free environment and focus on a single sense at a time. For a few minutes, just focus on a single point in front of you. Then shift your focus to hearing a distant sound; it can be a bird chirping or leaves rumbling. Keep your focus there for a few minutes and then turn your attention to smell. Smell your surroundings, try to notice the scent of things surrounding you, and keep your focus there for some time.
This technique has a meditative effect and helps you improve your focus considerably.
The best tip I can give you is to take action. I hope that the above tips will help you improve your Concentration and in turn, improve the quality of your life.
Start with the above exercises, maybe one at a time, and it will gradually reveal its benefits. Your mind needs training, just like your body. Train it every single day and keep your body healthy to realize its true potential.
Pass on what you have learned.Yoda, Star Wars
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