Concentration is not an instinctive ability, rather it is a skill that can be learned and, with practice, improved on.
Improving and maintaining a healthy concentration level is dependent on a combination of four inter-related elements – if any of these four elements is missing or ignored, concentration will be effected:
- mental challenges
- emotional involvement
- physical exercise
- healthy eating
Below are two exercises you can practice to help improve your concentration:
1. Sustained concentration on a simple task
- Start with a simple relaxation exercise – breathe in for a count of four and exhale for a count of four, whilst doing this relax your body starting with your feet and slowly working your way up to your jaw muscles and eyes.
- With your eyes closed, picture a flower (or any simple object you can concentrate on) – examine the flower in detail, look at it up close and then from far away – continue this focused concentration on your chosen object for 2 – 3 minutes. When the time is up, open your eyes and reflect on how you concentrated: what did it feel like? Was it easy or did you struggle to stay focused on your object? Why?
- The aim is for you to include a sustained concentration exercise in your daily schedule. Just 5 minutes of practice a day will make a difference in your ability to concentrate at will and sustain your focus over increasingly longer periods of time.
For more sustained concentration exercises, visit the Mindfulness Exercises post available on this blog.
2. Challenging your current intellectual level
- If you get bored when studying it is possible that the material you are studying is too easy and you need to start incorporating challenges by learning and reading beyond what has been prescribed to you for a particular subject. Go to the library or surf the web for books, articles and sites on the subject that will provide you with broader, more challenging information.
- If you get stressed when studying it is possible that the material may be too difficult, and this makes you shut down. Draw up a set of specific study goals for your study sessions, they could include: reading one chapter of a prescribed textbook, or answering a set number of questions, or brainstorming ideas for an upcoming assignment.
You cannot concentrate on your studies unless you have personal commitment or interest in the subject. External motivators, such as the money you hope to make in the future or graduating with distinction, are not viable forms of commitment and motivation. Rather focus on learning about and enjoying the subject. Find out how a particular topic is personally relevant to you and what it is that you aim to do with your studies once you are done.
Negative emotions, especially stress, detract from concentration. Stress management strategies will help with this and may include things such as: mental relaxation exercises, physical exercise and hobbies.
The environment you study in greatly effects your ability to concentrate. You need to find a study time and place that allows you to fully concentrate on the topic at hand, rather than the distraction of what is going on around you.
A fundamental way of enhancing concentration is to get enough exercise every day. Find physical activities that fit with your lifestyle: walking instead of driving to the shops, jogging with a friend, taking the dog for a walk. Exercise brings variety into your life and enhances your mind’s ability to sustain focus.
Active learning is also a great concentration enhancer. Rather than just sitting passively at a desk, walk around the room whilst testing yourself, talk out loud about a section you’ve just covered, write something about the topic you’ve just read, place a cushion or stuffed toy in the corner of the room and teach it what you’ve just covered in a particular chapter.
A healthy diet is linked to improved concentration, academic ability, better sleep and general health and well-being.
- artificial colourants
- artificial flavourants
- antioxidant preservatives
These are all found in processed foods, such as: pies, fish fingers, packet soup, 2 minute noodle flavour packets, processed meats (e.g. polony), potato crisps and fizzy drinks.
A single protein (e.g. a boiled egg or a slice of cheese the size of your index finger) and complex carbohydrates (e.g. an apple, a pear, a serving of oats, a serving of low fat yoghurt) breakfast will boost your concentration for up to three hours.
Regular, healthy snacks every two to three hours e.g. sugar free peanut butter, a tuna sandwich, home made unsalted popcorn, plain biltong, cheese or unsalted nuts help to maintain concentration.
Supplements can be taken to raise Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) levels, which are linked to concentration and brain function:
- Omega 3 and 6 – fatty fish oil found in unflavoured cod liver oil, cold pressed salmon oil capsules and flaxseed oil, contain Omega 3 and 6.
- Multivitamin and mineral supplements – assist with the metabolism of the fatty acids but must be free of synthetic colourants and flavourants. Some multivitamins include EFAs but usually not enough and so must be supplemented. Supplements and vitamins can be expensive, however an increasing number of supermarkets and pharmacy chains are producing and selling their own brand of quality supplements and multivitamins at affordable prices.
Improve Your Concentration. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_78.htm. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].
Patterson, B. (n.d.). How Tutors Can Help Tutees Improve their Concentration. Retrieved from: https://hawaii.hawaii.edu/node/487. [Accessed on: 20 March 2017].