The Brain And Focus
Thanks to the delights of neuroplasticity, our brains are able to adapt and make new connections no matter what our age. And this is the case when it comes to training the brain’s ability to focus too. In fact, you can train your brain to improve different areas including the ability to focus your attention.
We’ve found 3 doable and accessible ways to help you improve your focus and attention.
Now it’s time to focus.
Stop The Mind Wandering
Researcher David Jones says that “human attention selectively focuses on aspects of experience that are threatening, pleasant, or novel. The physical threats of the ancient times have largely been replaced by chronic psychological worries and hurts.
The mind gets drawn to these worries and hurts, mostly in the domain of the past and future, leading to mind wandering.” Mind wandering is the opposite of the brain’s ability to focus its attention on a task.
Mind wandering can be a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to creating ideas and having nostalgic thoughts, however it has its downfalls too, including thinking negatively whilst trying to focus on something important. For example, you need to meet a deadline but your head is distracted with personal concerns and worries preventing you from focusing – you miss the deadline.
Jones’ 2013 study found that “in the brain, a network of neurons called the default mode network has been associated with mind wandering. Abnormal activity in the default mode network may predispose to depression, anxiety, attention deficit, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Question: How can you stop or suppress abnormal activity in the default mode network?
Jones highlights that “several studies show that meditation can reverse some of these abnormalities, producing salutary functional and structural changes in the brain.”
Turn That Technology Off (Just For A While)
Technology makes the world go round and we’re all guilty of indulging in it a little too much, too often. With 5.1 billion mobile phone users in 2019, we’re certainly in this together.
Emarketer.com reports that “the average US adult spent 2 hours, 55 minutes each day on a smartphone in 2019, a 9-minute increase from 2018.”
And it’s no wonder with the numerous apps which can send us push notifications at any time, day or night. Many of these apps enable us to stay connected with friends and family, they can boost our brains and some are there to just waste away time.
We’re also watching TV more than ever. Finder.com reports that “the average Brit watched 19 hours and 17 minutes of TV in the week July 15th 2019.” That’s nearly an entire day. And those hours do not include time spent on streaming services. Yikes.
It’s not surprising that our minds and brains are more than a little distracted on a day-to-day basis. Italian theorist and activist Tiziana Terranova highlights in her study, Attention, Economy And The Brain, how it’s almost impossible to switch off and focus with the attention phones and media have produced:
“The economic/informational plastic brain is thus caught in a double bind: on the one hand, in order to participate in the attention economy, it must enter a technological assemblage of attention; on the other hand, becoming part of this assemblage implies a dramatic cognitive loss that is translated into a subjectivity more adept at carrying out routine tasks but less capable of reasoning, reflecting and intimacy.
The ‘brain scientists’ quoted by Carr, in fact, describe the attentional assemblage of brain and Internet as a costly one for the efficiency of thinking:
The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it. … The penalty is amplified by what brain scientists call switching costs. Every time we shift our attention, the brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources.
Many studies have shown that switching between just two tasks can add substantially to our cognitive load, impeding our thinking and increasing the likelihood that we’ll overlook or misinterpret important information. On the Internet, where we generally juggle several tasks, the switching costs pile ever higher. (Carr, 2010a: 1)”
Question: How can you stop being distracted by technology and stop taxing your mental resources?
Answer: Train yourself to do one task at a time.
If you’re writing an essay on your laptop for university or creating a marketing brief for work, try the following steps:
- Choose one mode of technology to use for 3 hours, for example your laptop.
- This means no peeking at your phone, Apple watch or anything else during those 3 hours. Put other items out of sight and on Airplane mode if needs be.
- Your laptop may have emails and work messenger on it, (this is the hardest bit) close them so you don’t get notifications distracting you. And if you need to, add a status saying “if it’s an emergency please come and grab or call me.”
- Now focus on your task for 3 hours. During this time walk around and maybe stretch every 30 minutes.
- Not sure 3 hours is possible? Try 2 hours, or even 1 to begin with.
You’ll notice a stark improvement in the quality of your work, after repeating this technique a few times. And your brain will thank you for it, because you may start to see focus-related improvements in other areas of your life too. You may even notice big improvements in how well you play Peak’s focus games Object Find, Tunnel Trance and Unique.
Try Warren Buffett’s 5/25 strategy
This technique uses 3 simple steps to help you decide exactly what to focus on. It can be hard deciding what’s important and what deserves your attention, so figuring that out before anything else can help minimise potential distraction.
Warren Buffett is a billionaire investor who helped his pilot, Mike Flint, push himself further and realise his potential by identifying his priorities and goals. He used 3 steps in the process and here they are:
Step 1: Jot down your top 25 lifetime goals. These could be personal or career goals.
Step 2: Grab a pencil and circle the top 5 goals out of those 25. Ask yourself whether these are the top priority goals. If yes, proceed to step 3. If not, try hard to choose your 5 again.
Step 3: Make these 5 goals your priority and hone in on them. Park the other 20 goals to one side and ignore them until you’ve accomplished your top 5 goals.
Sound crazy? Try it yourself. These 3 steps show that it’s okay to ‘give up’ on a goal if it’s hindering you moving forward in other areas of your life. Concentrating on just 5 goals with your full attention will allow you to accomplish each faster without distraction.
This technique can also be used on a smaller scale. If you have a whole list of tasks to complete at work, choose your top 3 and finish them without looking at the other tasks and losing your thought trail. Your productivity and stress levels should improve two-fold.
Investing time into training your brain to focus its attention on one thing is without a doubt, worth the effort. And these 3 tips to improve your concentration are the perfect starting point.
So whether you want to be the master of focus at work, at home or your goal is to smash your Peak Brain Score, then the moral of this story is to focus on focusing before your focus goes out of focus.
Brought to you by Peak, makers of the Peak – Brain Training app. Start brain training today: