Focus Better This Fall

F

“I can’t concentrate.”

This is one of the most frequent concerns I hear from the college and graduate students I work with.

Often it’s about mid-semester, when the work starts piling up, that students start to feel the pain of poor concentration. With fall break right around the corner, it seemed like this could be a good time to focus on some tips for focusing.

Getting in the Zone

It’s a big problem when you can’t concentrate. To accomplish any task you have to be able to focus your mind on the right thing at the right time.

A particularly potent form of focused concentration can be found in the “zone”. Great athletes like Kobe Bryant achieve deep, one-pointed focus when they are in the zone.

In a beautiful demonstration of the power of the zone, Chris Berka of Advanced Brain Monitoring showed that she could get novice archers to hit targets like a pro, by teaching them to focus in a particular way. By using brain monitoring, she could guide her participants into the same relaxed, meditative and focused state that a professional archer entered right before he released his arrows. When the novices got into the same mind state, they were able to hit their targets with impressive accuracy.

This example shows us that with some training, we can develop the capacity to enter states of intense focus.

Mindfulness is the Gateway to Flow

This mind state of pure concentration is also known as “conscious flow.” You can’t force yourself into conscious flow, but you can train yourself to enter flow more readily. Given that mindfulness meditation is essentially brain training to increase the control you have over how you direct your attention, it is not surprising that mindfulness helps with flow.

George Mumford, author of  The Mindful Athlete, says:

The more you practice mindfulness, the more readily you set yourself up to experience conscious flow.

– George Mumford, The Mindful Athlete

Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal have all worked with Mumford and attribute training in mindfulness as key to their ability to enter conscious flow.

Ready to give these 3 steps a try?

Of course, you don’t have to enter a flow state to simply improve your concentration. Whether you have the attention span of a gnat, or are an olympic-level focuser, you can enhance your capacity to focus by making a few adjustments.

Here are 3 steps to help you up your concentration next time you have a task to complete:

No Distractions

Create a distraction free environment.

That means shutting off all bings and whistles from all messaging and social media sources. Also, no snacking or sipping. Just focus on your task.

Skillful Concentration - Take 10 breaths

Spend a few minutes relaxing your mind and developing a concentrated state.

For example, you could sit with your eyes closed and count 10, slow, deep, fully conscious breaths, letting your muscles relax as your mind engages fully with the sensation of breathing. If you need to be moving to focus, try a couple minutes of dynamic breathing.

Skillful Concentration - Work for 15 minutes

Give yourself a time limit for your work.

When you are ready to dig into your task, give yourself a time limit. Start with something small, like 15 or 20 minutes. After a work period, take a break for 5 minutes or so, and then get back to it. Pause to count 10 breaths before starting each work periods. As you build your capacity to stay focused, you’ll be able to expand your periods of work.

Building your capacity to focus will be helpful in all areas of your life. You’ll be able to listen more attentively to your friends and family; you’ll make fewer errors in your work; and you’ll find it easier to stay on the path to happiness.

Pick a task and give our 3 steps a try. Let us know if these tips worked for you, or if you have other suggestions for strengthening concentration.  We want to know! .

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The Mindful Twenty Something by Holly Rogers
“Wise, but not obscure. Practical, but lighthearted and inspiring.”

— MIRABAI BUSH, co-founder and Senior Fellow of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Learn more about the book