“3 Steps to Improve Your Concentration – Skillful Concentration” is part 7 of our series on the traditional Eightfold Path for the cessation of suffering offered by the Buddha 2500 years ago. Missed the other posts in the series? Read them all here.
“I can’t concentrate.”
This is one of the most frequent concerns I hear from students who come into the counseling center at Duke.
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.
The Buddha knew this, which is why he made the development of Skillful Concentration one of the 8 steps on the path to happiness. You’ll see that skillful concentration is vital to making progress with all the steps on the path.
Getting in the Zone
An element of Skillful Concentration is very powerful, one-pointed focus. Great athletes like Kobe Bryant achieve this deep, one-pointed focus when they are in the zone. These athletes tell us that when they are in the zone, they reach their optimum level of performance.
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 awesome book The Mindful Athlete, says:
The more you practice mindfulness, the more readily you set yourself up to experience conscious flow.
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?
Here are 3 steps to help you up your concentration next time you have a task to complete:
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.
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.
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. 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. Did you find yourself to be more productive? Was it hard? We want to know! .
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