Beat procrastination once and for all with these easy tips and tricks
The average human has an eightsecond attention span, according to a 2015 study – that’s less than a goldfish. This figure has decreased rapidly over recent years due to the rise of the digitals – we no longer have to concentrate for long periods of time to find out the information we need as we can get it instantly at the touch of a button. While this can be convenient, there are situations when you do need to focus for a long period of time but find yourself unable to do so. We’ve pulled together the easiest ways to retrain your brain and get back on track so you can wave goodbye to distractions and tick everything off your to-do list.
A plant won’t just brighten up your office or living room, it will also help your concentration levels. A study by the University of Melbourne found that looking at a flower for just a few seconds will boost your focus by up to 15 percent, helping you to complete even the most boring of tasks. In fact, even just having plants in a workplace will improve your ability to pay attention and get things done. The benefits of bringing nature indoors doesn’t stop there – they can also increase your happiness and improve your health. Not greenfingered? Start with a cactus or a succulent, as they’re very easy to care for.
Who says that your education has to end when you leave school? Learning a new tongue is a great way to train your brain to focus – a recent study by the University of Montreal suggests that people who are able to speak more than one language are better at saving brainpower and less prone to being distracted. “Bilinguals become experts at selecting relevant information and ignoring information that can distract from a task,” explains researcher Dr. Ana Inés Ansaldo. Not only will this help you get around when abroad, it will also keep your brain young, improving cognitive function and staving off mental decline. Want to give it a go? Try language learning app Babbel (babbel.com) – you could see your concentration levels improve in as little as a week.
Known as the herb of grace, Brahmi has been used since ancient times in ayurvedic medicine and as a meditative tool thanks to its ability to improve concentration and memory. It does this by revitalising brain cells and removing toxins and blockages within the nervous system to clarify the mind, and can also be used to alleviate anxiety and stress. If that isn’t enough, Brahmi could also anti-age your body – it’s packed with youth-boosting nutrients, including beta-carotene, amino acids and fatty acids, all of which help new cells generate, and increase both blood circulation and skin elasticity. There are various ways to take this herb, including in tea, as a powder and as a fresh juice, and it’s available in health stores across the UK.
Yoga isn’t just a great way to stay fit, it can also improve your focus. “As you practise, become aware of the flow of your breath and any sensations you experience within your body,” advises Sue Fuller, yogi and creator of Yoga 2 Hear (yoga2hear.co.uk). “If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath and body.” Her top move for increasing concentration is the vrksasana (tree pose). “This requires focus and attention to remain on one leg without losing your balance,” explains Sue. “To do this, stand with your weight evenly distributed, then place the sole of your right food against your left inner thigh, making sure that your knee is out to the side and your toes are facing down. Join your hands in a prayer position in front of your chest, breathe slowly for five breaths and then repeat on the other side. Practise this posture regularly and work to lengthen the amount of breaths you take while in it.”
Improving your concentration levels could be as easy as counting sheep, as a study by the American space agency NASA found that sleeping for between 20 to 30 minutes was enough to boost focus, performance and alertness by 54 percent. There’s yet more advantages to taking a catnap, as research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that those who napped for around an hour after their midday meal had better overall cognition compared to those who didn’t snooze. And if you’re worried that some shut-eye in the middle of the day will stop you sleeping properly later, never fear – the research also found that those who napped the longest after lunch slept for more hours at night.
“You can help your brain to focus by stilling your thoughts, which will take practise, but it’s worthwhile,” says Ann McCracken, scientist, psychotherapist, and author of How To Get Your Mojo Back (Filament Publishing, September 2017). Ann suggests learning deep abdominal breathing – to do this, breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose for the count of 10 so that your stomach expands, then slowly exhale completely for a similar count. “Start by doing this for 10 to 15 seconds. Concentrate on your task or desired outcome and you’ll become absorbed in your activity and able to refocus. This is the basis of many meditative approaches but it needs regular practise to strengthen your mental focus muscle,” she explains.
Standing up and moving away from the task at hand may seem counter-intuitive, but taking a break could be key to improving your concentration levels. A study by the University of Illinois found that brief and rare mental rests keep you focused – this is because after a long time of concentrating on a particular task, our cognitive abilities start to decline. By switching our attention to something else, we’re able to refocus on the original project when we come back to it. Try experimenting with different lengths of time between breaks to see what works for you, and when you are taking a rest, it’s a good idea to stand up and get your blood pumping to clear your mind.
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