If you can’t stand your current lack of concentration, don’t worry. There are concrete steps you can take. They will reduce, and potentially eliminate, your problems with focusing.
What you’re about to read is unlike anything else you’ll find on the Internet.
You see, I once completed a PhD during a time when I swallowed concentration-destroying antidepressants with beer.
Yet… I had powerful strategies. Instead of experiencing difficulty concentrating, I was able to laser-focus on large amounts of information I needed to remember for my exams.
Then, when I sat for those exams, I was able to recall that information with ease – even though I did not feel very well.
In sum, pay close attention to the tactics I’m about to share. I learned them from real world experience.
Lack of Concentration? Here’s the Solution
The first step is to commit.
Yes, you need to commit to becoming a dedicated student of focus and concentration.
When I first realized that I was having concentration issues, that’s exactly what I did. In my case, I was used to committing to large learning projects. I’d completed a BA and an MA in English literature. Despite all the odds as a student with mental illness, I’d also managed to get into a PhD program.
Here’s a quick exercise:
Get out a piece of paper and list 2-3 times you’ve accomplished a goal before.
It could be completing high school, learning a language, getting a job after submitting multiple applications, or anything that has meaning for you.
What you’re looking for is proof that you’re capable of completing learning goals. If you can do it once, you can do it again.
Proven Remedies For a Lack of Concentration
The second step is to find resources that will help you develop focus and remove your inability to focus.
These resources are bound to be different for different people.
One of the most likely sources for most people is going to be meditation.
However, you need to understand that there is more than one kind of meditation. Plus, your gender might play a role in which kind might be the right kind for you.
That said, you should avoid thinking about meditation as a singular thing. In truth, you want to create a “meditation habit stack.” Literally erase the idea of mediation as a singular thing and start to think about meditations.
For example, my meditation habit stack looks like this almost every morning (sometimes I do it in the afternoon or evening depending on my schedule):
- Reciting mantras
- Silent sitting
- Journaling (general autobiographical journaling plus gratitude journaling)
- Walking meditation
- Cold showers (often silently running through meditations as I focus the cold water stream at a spot just below my lower lip)
You absolutely do not have to master your meditation habit stack overnight. I’ve been practicing for years and keep discovering new things. You can read more about my exploratory journey in The Victorious Mind: How to Master Memory, Meditation and Mental Well-Being.
There are many other sources you can pursue. I would suggest books by:
- Gary Weber (Happiness Beyond Thought)
- Shinzen Young (The Science of Enlightenment)
- Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now)
- Greg Goode (Standing as Awareness)
- Richard Wiseman (59 Seconds)
Finally, here are 12 concentration meditations that will put you in the zone. Practice these for the next 90 days and you’ll be amazed by how much your focus has improved.
As part of your commitment to removing your concentration problems, you’ll want to do a thorough analysis of your diet.
There’s no magic bullet when it comes to optimizing your eating habits for focus. However, it’s common knowledge that the foods we eat create our states of mind. Going back to the ancient world, people have known that there are at least three kinds of foods:
- Foods that make us feel lazy or tired
- Foods that make us feel energetic or agitated
- Foods that make us feel peaceful
Everyone is going to be different. To find out how you respond to different foods, keep a food diary for the next 90 days.
It’s not about right or wrong. You just want to look for patterns. For example, I find that I cannot concentrate well after eating rice.
Does this mean that I don’t eat rice? No. It just means that if I need to read or write after a meal, I eat something else instead, like salmon with carrots and celery. For me, those foods keep my mind clear and focused.
I only know these things because I’ve completed:
- Food elimination diets
- Rotation diets
- Low FODMAP diets
- LEAP assessments
- Food tolerance tests
These are well worth exploring, even if there is a lot of conflicting information about the ins-and-outs of these different styles of eating.
Basically, the more you experiment and document, the more observations you’ll have that will help you sort out the foods that help you focus and the foods that leads to a lack of focus.
Also on the level of common sense, it’s well-known that you need to keep your body well-oiled with movement if you want your brain to function well.
Personally, I make sure to get in at least one walk a day, but usually three, one after each meal. Yes, this is a pain sometimes, but it helps with digestion and circulation.
The Science Behind Concentration Problems
But there’s something else:
Learning How to Learn has one of the best explanations on how walking to allow your thoughts to percolate works. Another great resource is a book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.
Basically, when you do something as simple as walking and remove your focus from what you’re trying to focus on, your brain will automatically start to make connections in the background. Give exercise a try.
Exercise also helps get rid of stress, which is another major source of poor concentration. It can come from poor diet, lack of exercise, bad sleep habits or constantly exposing yourself to negative people or situations.
Look back at the meditation habit stack I shared above. Each and every one of those activities has been scientifically demonstrated to help reduce stress.
You can also add lighting a candle, using some aromatherapy, laughing, singing (here’s how to memorize a song) and spending more time with family and friends.
Obviously, these changes aren’t going to take place overnight, but it’s the extended journey towards improvement that will matter in the end. Take it one step at a time.
For book recommendations I’ve found useful, please try:
3 More Common Causes Behind Your Difficulty Focusing
1. Not having a vision statement for your life.
Do you have a plan for where you’re going to live and what you want to be doing when you’re 95? How about when you’re 150?
I’m not kidding. As Dan Sullivan has pointed out, when people are asked when they think they’ll die, they usually list a number between the range that matches the widely published life expectancy statistics.
Maybe that’s why so many people are stressed.
How about this alternative? Get out a journal and write down your vision for each coming decade of your life. For example:
When I’m 80, I plan to take every opportunity to visit the gym. I will be thoroughly knowledgeable of recent medical advancements and taking advantage of every possible means of delaying the onset of disease from natural aging.
You can relieve a lot of worrisome thoughts that break your focus by repeating this exercise with your family goals, financial goals and travel desires. This is your life, so dare to dream big!
2. Not having a plan.
Having a vision is one thing, but then you need to plan.
Rest assured, no matter how much planning you perform, life will throw curveballs.
However, the act of planning accomplishes (at least) two things:
- You have documented plans. Without plans, you put stress on your memory and stumble through life blindly.
- You develop the skills of planning. When things change, you can rapidly chart out a new plan.
One useful planning skill you can learn is mind mapping. I suggest Mind Map Mastery as a great resource for learning how to do it well.
In sum, when you have plans and the skill of making plans, you’ll reduce a ton of focus-destroying stress that come in the form of unwanted thoughts.
3. Short Form Content Addiction
Let me rant a little here.
Those 5 minute videos you’re watching?
They’re killing your attention span. Especially when you’re watching them on your so-called “smartphone.” (You can learn how to combat smartphone addiction here.)
If you really want to master the skill of mental focusing, you need to go on a short content diet.
Next time you’re searching for information on a topic you want to learn, choose the longest and most in-depth content you can find.
Get out a pen and paper. (No devices with their focus-stealing tabs and apps and widgets.)
Sit with the content for the long haul. Engage with it thoroughly. And remember diffuse thinking – if you get bored, doodle on the paper instead of taking your attention away. That’s just one of 5 unconventional note taking tips I have for you.
The more you engage with long form content, the more you’ll start to heal your flighty attention span.
Rest assured: I’m as tempted as the next guy to hop around multiple pieces of short content.
But it’s not a realistic strategy if you really want to learn. If anything, you want to not only watch long videos and read long books, but you also want a rereading strategy that takes you through the content twice.
3 More Strategies for Destroying Your Lack of Concentration
1. Form study and/or discussion groups based around a single topic.
When I was in university, I always belonged to study groups. Not only was I president of the English Undergraduate Student Association, a position that allowed me to create groups and invite interesting speakers. I also sought out and belonged to poetry discussion groups, philosophy groups and film studies gatherings.
Look, there are problems with groups, such as timing them, having someone capable of leadership and the fact that not everyone will complete the agreed upon readings, etc. But that’s no reason not to go and flex your skills at being the leader and the reader. These are precisely the activities that will stretch your concentration skills.
2. Learn a language.
A lot of people start learning a language and then give up. They don’t have the attention span for it, or they come up with a whole list of excuses about it being “hard.”
The fact is that without challenge, we cannot grow. And taking up a long term learning project like picking up a foreign language has been scientifically proven to increase your “cognitive reserve.” That basically means that your memory improves, as does your ability to find the words you want to use quickly.
So many people are aimless these days. They don’t have any vision or purpose for their own lives, and they certainly don’t lend their time and energy to causes larger than themselves.
I recognized this as a problem in my own life, which is why I started teaching freely on the Internet and became part of the Pollination Project for a few years. I found that by being part of a mission with positive consequences for other people around the world, nearly all of whom I would never meet, a lot of my thoughts became very focused.
I think you’ll find this is true for you too, and there are a lot of compelling studies showing that giving, not receiving is the true path to lasting happiness.
However, you need to watch out for what is called volunteer’s folly. For example, if you’re an amateur at building shelter, your volunteer hours won’t be nearly as powerful as donating money to hire expert builders. Not only are you creating unprofessional housing that will need many costly repairs or outright replacement. You’re also failing to hire a local company that could use the revenue. (Rolf Dobelli points this problem out in The Art of Thinking Clearly and it is very easy to avoid.)
Conclusion: Concentrate On Creating Memories Worth Having
One last tip based on research by Tim Dalgleish that I discovered years after feeling the effects of it myself.
Remember when I told you about my depression and bad habits while completing my PhD?
Well, on top of becoming a student of focus techniques like meditation, I also started using an ancient device called a “Memory Palace.” (Sometimes called the Roman Room Method or the Method of Loci.)
This ancient device lets you use buildings like your home and workplace to remember information quickly.
In “Method-of-Loci as a Mnemonic Device to Facilitate Access to Self-Affirming Personal Memories for Individuals With Depression,” Dalgleish’s research has shown that memorizing positive information also boosts your mood – even if you have depression or other ailments.
Here’s what to do in order to experience the results of his research:
- Create a Memory Palace. My free memory improvement kit walks you through everything:
- Populate your Memory Palace with 5-10 happy memories. For example, in one of my Memory Palaces, I placed a scene from the party after my dissertation defense in one corner of a room. In another corner, I placed the memory of my first book arriving after it was printed, and so on.
- Use the Memory Palace to revisit your happy memories – especially during moments when you can’t focus.
I use this technique to this day. It is powerful.
You can combine it with other elements from your meditation habit stack, such as wandering your Memory Palace of happy memories mentally while you walk your neighborhood for exercise.
So what do you say?
Are you ready to become a serious student of improving your concentration?