Concentration means control of attention. It is the ability to focus the mind on one subject, object, or thought, and at the same time exclude from the mind every other unrelated thought, idea, feelings, and sensation.
Concentration refers to the mental effort you direct toward whatever you’re working on or learning at the moment. It’s sometimes confused with attention span, but attention span refers to the length of time you can concentrate on something.
Factors and conditions that affect concentration
Concentration is affected by both internal and external or environmental factors and conditions that include:
Researchers have found that our brains are so primed for this distraction that just seeing our smartphone impairs our ability to concentrate. We constantly assess whether the information is useful, sufficient, or meaningless.
Scientists have found that lack of sleep can lead to lower alertness, slower thought processes, and reduced concentration. You will have more difficulty focusing your attention and may become confused. As a result, your ability to perform tasks, especially relating to reasoning or logic can be seriously affected.
What we eat contributes to how we feel, including our mental sharpness and clarity, throughout the day. If we don’t fuel our brains with the proper nutrients, we start to experience symptoms like memory loss, fatigue, and lack of concentration.
Your concentration may decrease if you find yourself forgetting things easily. Your memory sometimes fails you, you misplace articles, and have difficulty remembering things that occurred a short time ago.
Untreated mental health concerns
For example, depression or anxiety primarily involves changes in mood and other emotional symptoms. But they can also make it hard to focus, concentrate, or learn and remember new information. You might also find it harder to concentrate on work or school when under a lot of stress.
Concussions and other head injuries can affect concentration and memory. This is usually temporary, but difficulties with concentration can linger while a concussion heals.
Farsightedness and other vision problems can cause problems with attention and concentration. If you (or your child) find it harder than usual to concentrate and also have headaches or find yourself squinting, you may want to get your eyes checked.
Medications and other drugs can sometimes lead to brain fog, including some drugs for treating high blood pressure. Check the information that comes with any drugs to see if they may cause drowsiness or affect your brain in other ways.
Fatigue, hunger, and dehydration can derail concentration. Lifestyles that involve too many missed meals, rich foods, or excessive alcohol consumption can challenge our memory and ability to concentrate and focus.
Poor working conditions, shared spaces, and intense or negative work dynamics may also contribute to a lack of concentration. When we are experiencing burnout or stress from work or personal life, we will find it difficult to concentrate due to emotional exhaustion.
Ways to improve concentration
1. Train your brain
Playing certain types of games can help you get better at concentrating. Try:
- crossword puzzles
- jigsaw puzzles
- word searches or scrambles
- memory games
Brain training games can also help develop your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills.
2. Improve sleep
Sleep deprivation can easily disrupt concentration, not to mention other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention.
Occasional sleep deprivation may not cause too many problems for you. But regularly failing to get a good night’s sleep can affect your mood and performance at work.
A demanding schedule, health issues, and other factors sometimes make it difficult to get enough sleep. But it’s important to try and get as close to the recommended amount as possible on most nights.
3. Make time for exercise
Increased concentration is among the many benefits of regular exercise. Exercise benefits everyone. So, start your day with simple exercise and get your body moving. According to the May 2013 issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, regular exercise releases chemicals key to memory, concentration, and mental sharpness.
Experts recommend aerobic exercise, but doing what you can is better than doing nothing at all. Depending on your fitness and weight goals, you may want to exercise more or less.
4. Spend time in nature
If you want to boost your concentration naturally, try to get outside every day, even for a short while. You might take a short walk through a park. Sitting in your garden or backyard can also help. Any natural environment has benefits.
Research has found that even having plants in office spaces can help increase concentration and productivity, as well as work satisfaction and better air quality.
5. Practice meditation
Meditating or practicing mindfulness activities can strengthen well-being and mental fitness and improve focus. During the meditation process, our brain becomes calmer and our whole body becomes more relaxed.
A 2011 review of 23 studies found evidence to suggest mindfulness training that emphasizes attention focus could help increase attention and focus. Mindfulness can also improve memory and other cognitive abilities.
6. Take a break
When you focus on something for a long time, your focus may begin to die down. You may feel more and more difficulty devoting your attention to the task.
So, when you first feel your concentration drop, take a short mental break. Refresh yourself with a cool drink or nutritious snack, take a quick walk, or go outside and get some sun.
7. Listen to music
Turning on music while working or studying may help increase concentration, but this will depend on the individual.
Experts generally agree that classical music and nature sounds, such as water flowing, are good choices for concentration while music with lyrics and human voices may be distracting.
8. Care about your diet
The foods you eat can affect cognitive functions like concentration and memory. Your brain needs lots of good fat to function properly. Nuts, berries, avocados, and coconut oil are all great ways to get healthy fats into your diet and help your brain run more smoothly.
To boost concentration, avoid processed foods, too much sugar, and very greasy or fatty foods.
instead, try eating more of the following:
- fatty fish (think salmon and trout)
- eggs (white and yolk both)
Staying hydrated can also have a positive impact on concentration. Even mild dehydration can make it harder to focus or remember information.
Eating breakfast can help, too. It helps by boosting your focus first thing in the morning.
9. Avoid multitasking
Multitasking has become part of daily life. You may not even realize you are doing it, but if you’re picking up children from school while talking on the phone and trying to work out when to schedule an appointment, that is multitasking.
Attempting to perform multiple activities at the same time makes us feel productive. It’s also a recipe for lower focus, poor concentration, and lower productivity. And lower productivity can lead to burnout.
It seems a good way to get a lot done, but some scientists have questioned this. Studies have suggested that we are not as good at multitasking as we like to think we are. For one thing, the brain is not designed to cope with doing two or more things at once. What we are doing is switching from one task to another. As a result, we can’t give our full attention to any of those tasks.
10. Break your smartphone addictions
- Delete almost all the non-essential apps (e.g., Instagram, FB, LinkedIn) from your phone. Instead, check them on your laptop. The only exception may be WhatsApp, which doesn’t work unless installed on your phone.
- Remove all notifications from your phone and your laptop.
- Get rid of social media as much as possible.
- Find an alternative activity to replace checking your phone. E.g., keep a book you love reading — every time you crave to check your phone, just read half a page from the book instead.
11. Create space for work
Create a calm, dedicated space for work, if possible. Not everyone can have a well-appointed office, but desk organizers, noise-canceling headphones, an adjustable monitor, and adjustable lighting can help.
To conclude, by improving your concentration, you will find that you can accomplish more of what you value and feel better doing it. What’s more, these tips are unlikely to decrease concentration or cause other harm, so giving them a try shouldn’t have any negative effects.
Just make sure to talk to your doctor if focusing is very hard. There may be an underlying reason, and it’s important to rule out brain injuries or other serious issues.