If you had excellent concentration you would presumably achieve almost anything. This may sound somewhat exaggerated, but it’s true. Ordinarily, success frequently comes down to who is willing to work the hardest and the longest, and if you put more energy into anything, then you’ll be more inclined to succeed.
Picture for a second that you are a photographer who makes $1.00 for every photo you sell. This may seem like a little, but now picture if you were able to take 1000 unique photos a day. You’d be earning a lot more money, correct?
In your present job, your salary is probably not based on your output, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t accomplish more by working smarter and harder. Ask yourself a question: how many hours do you spend at your job delivering your optimal amount of production?
For many people, they only actually work their best and hardest for a couple of hours a day. The rest of the time, they either waste on social media or playing with their phones. Visualize if you had unlimited concentration.
Visualize if you could work non-stop, at a peak level for an entire eight hours. You’d achieve more than everyone else at work. In no time, your salary would increase accordingly.
You’d get so good at your job that you would probably get home early and not be burned out. It’s not only in a job where concentration would affect you. Throughout the day, every day of your life, having better concentration would do wonders for every part of your life, including your personal life.
Being able to concentrate on your surroundings will make you more focused and more attentive and aware. This would make you react quicker and better if an emergency was to happen.
In the military, this is known as ‘”situational awareness.” Simply put, having the ability to concentrate on what is essential and the ability to maintain your focus continually is the secret to getting more things done quicker and better.
What Exactly Is Concentration?
Let’s break down what concentration is with some neuroscience (the study of the nervous system). Do not get discouraged if some of this does not make sense – It will be explained in thorough detail. However, the tips that follow will be easily understood.
What Happens In Our Brains When We Concentrate?
Many different reactions take place. Firstly, specific neurotransmitters see an upswing in their production, like acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters resemble hormones, which are made by our brains and are responsible for altering our memory, our mood, and have many other effects.
The neurotransmitters commonly associated with concentration and attention are known as catecholamine neurotransmitters. They resemble the hormones that are produced during ‘flight or fight’ responses.
Once your brain has released these chemicals, it makes you remain more engaged and helps you remember better and stay more switched on and alert.
Executive Control Network
These neurotransmitters are produced on a per-need basis. As with most tasks that involve your concentration abilities, they tend to congregate near your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for the cognitive functions of a ‘higher-order.’ These tasks include deep thinking, memorizing, and planning.
This region houses several important brain cells that are collectively termed the ‘executive control network’ or ‘attention network.’ The neuron cells in this specific region are responsible for a whole new range of functions as a result of increased neurotransmitter activity in the area.
These are ‘excitatory’ neurotransmitters, meaning that these neurotransmitters raise the level of neuroelectric activity in the cells. Additionally, this region also has ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitters that include adenosine and GABA.
As neurons alter their activity rates, brainwaves emanating from that region get changed. When you concentrate hard on something, your prefrontal cortex starts emitting beta waves.
Beta waves are known to be affected positively by the consumption of caffeine. However, how can the brain determine what is important & requires our attention, and what doesn’t?
Although we are yet to understand this process fully, what we know is that this process requires another brain network, known as its ‘salience network,’ located in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).
The ACC and salience network enable humans to identify essential things consciously and then allows us to apply our executive control network for working on these crucial things.
As a result, the brain experiences a surge of norepinephrine and dopamine, which encourages the hippocampus and limbic system to store this experience among your long-term memories. It is also crucial to realize that the brain’s salience network plays a huge role in determining motivation levels.
Mice that have had their brain’s salience networks eliminated experience lower motivation to keep searching for food when stuck inside a maze. It is theorized that this part provides humans with the courage it needs to fight ahead.
Our attention may be directed either by external or internal factors. For example, if you believe something to be essential and pay close attention to it, it results in a ‘top-down’ situation, which activates the brain’s dorsal attention network.
It’s also possible for your attention to get triggered by distractions or loud noises prevailing in your immediate environment, causing you to amp up your focus. When this happens, your information flow follows a ‘bottom-up’ approach via the body’s ventral attention network. Seem confusing much?
No need to worry. Just remember this information on a rough basis, and we will soon be going through several techniques and strategies you can utilize for increasing your attention and focus.
Tips For Better Concentration
It doesn’t matter how cool your job may be – There will come times when you won’t have any interest in doing it or when you’ll be too tired to do anything.
Here’s a tip then – Think about why you decided to go for it in the first place and recollect its least motivating or exciting parts. If your current job appears dull to you, remind yourself of the reasons that made you choose this line of work. Remember how and why it will eventually be worth it.
Maybe you’re working this job to earn more money and start your dream company? Or perhaps this job helps you support and feed your family. Start focusing on these facts, which will help remind you of the reasons why this job is worth it and motivate you to keep going.
Developing long-term goals can help you remain in this mindset for a more extended period. Even when your current lifestyle/career isn’t exciting you, remember what your big-picture goals are and use this to make yourself passionate and excited about your job again.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
People who’ve studied psychology may remember this. It falls under cognitive restructuring, which is a useful technique from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.
CBT is an effective psychotherapeutic technique that’s used for treating several different conditions, from OCD and phobias to social anxiety.
CBT consists of 2 phases or stages:
- Identifying your negative thoughts, which are causing maladaptive behavior and stress (thought reporting, mindfulness)
- Modifying these thought processes by utilizing some different techniques and strategies (cognitive restructuring)
In this way, if you’re scared of something like public speaking, you can use thought reporting (which involves writing down everything you think right before speaking) and mindfulness meditation (which consists of listening to all your thoughts). You should then evaluate whether these negative thoughts are causing your anxiety.
You may discover yourself to be worrying about various things like whether you’re going to stutter or whether people are going to laugh at you, which could then lead you to start freezing up and perform adversely.
Here, you should use two tools, named ‘hypothesis testing’ and ‘thought challenging.’ The latter means that you’ve got to challenge these beliefs and evaluate them to see whether they are accurate at all.
Do people laugh at the things that you say? Are they likelier to sympathize with your condition and be polite in their behavior? Similarly, is it essential if you start stuttering? You’re never going to see all these people in your life again.
You’ve never proclaimed yourself to be an outstanding public speaker, either? Don’t care about them.
This means that you’ll need to speak before a large crowd and stutter purposefully. While it can be terrifying, you’ll realize that people are kind and won’t pay much attention to your shortcomings. Therefore, it doesn’t matter either.
However, you can also contrarily use CBT. It can be used for telling yourself that a particular thing is significant and can help you focus on various reasons why it matters. Keep repeating a motivational mantra like – “I have to keep going no matter what. Once I am done with this, I can rest as much as I like.“
Focus on your core emotions and set aside your negative thoughts, like the ones tempting you to open WhatsApp for 5 minutes.
We know that it never really stops at 5 minutes. Once you start utilizing these techniques, it is possible to control your brain and start focusing on the various things which matter the most to you.
When you’re able to keep powering through such situations, you can make yourself believe that the task at hand is critical, causing your brain to secrete various neurotransmitters that will keep you alert and engaged.
When that happens, your distractions won’t seem so important anymore and will lose their power over your mind.
It’s Your Interpretation of a Situation That Matters
CBT teaches us that our brain is most influenced by how we perceive a specific situation to be. It does not matter how important that activity may be or what you’re doing. What matters is your perception of its importance.
To put it differently: What if you are on a plane and it’s about to crash? It would send you into panic mode and cause your brain to react by secreting a ton of epinephrine (Adrenaline) and norepinephrine.
This would then trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response, causing heart rate levels to increase, attention levels to get constrained, and cause you to feel scared and stressed. Was the plane behind this? Nope, it was your feeling that you’d be smashed that caused you to behave this way.
What if you had been in a similar position again – However, this time, you believe yourself to be invincible. In such a case, you wouldn’t go through a flight or fight response.
You would be free to relax and chill as the plane crashed to the ground. While you would die, of course, your brain’s neurochemical levels would remain completely unaffected.
If you’re able to change the way you perceive events, you’ll be capable of controlling the secretion of various neurotransmitters, thus helping you manage the way your brain activates. This will ensure that you have the mind to overcome whatever challenges you have to face next.
You can become more engrossed in the moment and active when you are out with friends, pay more attention when you are working, relax better when you are thinking creatively & engaging all your brain areas. Once you start perceiving something to be necessary, your body and brain will start reacting in that manner.
More Tips For Better Concentration
Thanks to these brain discipline exercises, you now understand that concentration is all you require for improving your performance. You can start working on various things, love and admire, and consider to be a valuable and engaging task. You can use cognitive restructuring strategies to ensure that your mind is aware of its importance always.
Although your brain activity levels and chemistry should be in a state of absolute focus and attention, there are other things that can help you retain your focus.
Listen to Some Music
Do you remember when we talked about attention working in a bottom-up and top-down manner? To put it differently, once you focused on an important project, it is still possible to be affected by distractions, especially if there are any loud noises nearby or when you start picking up on conversations that seem interesting.
Therefore, to improve concentration levels, it is essential to block these distractions. You can do that by putting on some pleasing music while using some noise-canceling headphones as well.
It is also crucial that you listen to the right style of music. Some recent evidence suggests that music can help you train your brain in a specific manner, meaning that it displays increased activity levels when you listen to music.
Go for something that has a steady, rapid beat. You can start working faster this way. Select a relaxing tune if you’re looking to unleash your creative juices and uncover unique and exciting ideas.
You may also try playing music in a loop. While it doesn’t sound so exciting, that’s the point – By listening to the very same sounds, again and again, your brain starts getting desensitized. That’s why ticking alarm clocks don’t bother us after a certain period.
Try listening to up-tempo, non-vocal albums in a continuous loop, which will help it fade into your background eventually.
Even wonder why many people begin their day with coffee? Coffee is beneficial if you’re looking to increase your concentration and energy levels. It contains caffeine, which works by suppressing specific brain receptors, known as A1 receptors.
Such responses prevent ‘adenosine,’ an inhibitory neurotransmitter from blocking brainwaves. This means that people no longer get very tired or sleepy under its effects.
Lacking adenosine may cause a spike in general brain activity levels, prompting a surge in the levels of other essential catecholamine neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine.
These neurotransmitters can sustain concentration and focus levels for a more extended period. If you’re struggling to focus and concentrate during the morning, you should try downing some coffee!
You don’t hear this very often these days: If you’re no longer able to focus and have concentration problems, you should eat something. Do remember that avoiding distractions and keeping your salience network engaged requires a great deal of mental ability.
This energy will run out eventually, leading to a fall in inspiration levels and cause your brain to slow down — fuel up by consuming some carbs that will help you resume your work without any problems.
You should also consider this: Certain supplements and foods are incredibly useful for regaining your mental energy levels. Coconut oil is a great example. It promotes ketone production in your liver, which is preferred by the brain as an alternative to sugar or glucose for specific tasks.
Also, coconut oil contains MCT, which is a special kind of fat that is absorbed by the body immediately, supplying instant energy, unlike other energy sources that take an hour before they are absorbed.
Other supplements and foods can also boost your energy levels in the long run, like omega-three fatty acids, which improve your cell membrane’s permeability levels. In other words, your cell walls become more permeable, thus enhancing communication between your body cells.
In case none of this has helped you regain your attention levels yet, power naps might be able to help you out. They are among your most potent tools and can help you restore and maintain your concentration levels.
You must ensure that you’re not asleep for more than forty minutes since that will cause you to enter a state of ‘deep sleep.’ In case you fall asleep for over forty minutes, the nap must be continued until the 90-minute mark, which signifies the completion of one sleep cycle.
Due to a feature known as ‘brain plasticity,’ your brain is capable of adapting its size and shape, based on how you’re using it. For instance, if you’re a person who plays the cello regularly, your motor cortex cells, which govern finger control abilities, tend to grow and enhance your skills.
You can form new connections between neurons and the neural connections you have right now will only get thicker.
Similarly, guess what takes place when you train your mind to stay in a steady state of concentration? Your brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, which is responsible for governing your motivation and concentration levels, will see an increase in size, resulting in better abilities on both fronts.
If you’re always jumping from one task to another without sparing a few minutes to concentrate correctly on any single task, your concentration abilities will begin to shrink.
That’s among the most significant dangers we face in today’s tech-filled world – You are always surrounded by gadgets and phones that cause you to jump from one website to another, which causes your concentration abilities to fall off a cliff.
You don’t have to be worried if you haven’t mastered concentration yet. The only important thing is to keep going at it – which is when it’ll get better since your brain will start developing in that direction.
Keep practicing at every chance you get and take up tasks that need you to focus. Once you start doing this, you will eventually develop your brain in the right direction and master the art of concentration!
Mindfulness falls under CBT, where it is used for identifying the flow of all your thoughts. However, it also has a broader definition. It refers to a form of meditation, which involves you becoming more mindful and understanding of your environment, mind, and body.
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can be immensely helpful if you want to focus on your immediate environment. It can also boost your long-term attention abilities. If you’re looking to develop your mental skills, go for it without a doubt! You can even try out the Headspace mobile application to help you out.
We’ve gone through some detailed neuroscience findings and discovered how your brain uses and mobilizes its concentration abilities. We were also able to derive some actionable steps and tips that you can utilize for improving yourself.
Once you follow these tips, you’ll become ready to wield proper control over your brain and master your concentration. You’ll soon discover that things get more comfortable, better, and more rewarding once you enhance your concentration abilities.