How many times has it happened that as you begin to study, within half an hour or so your concentration gets unsteady and you are no longer able to “focus” on that particular subject? Or when you start to chant a prayer, you just can not keep your eyes closed for more than a few minutes and again your focus tends to wiggle and tell yourself “I can’t focus.”
Almost every other individual has faced these kinds of troubles in concentrating, focusing single-mindedly and having a better attention span on particular tasks. In today’s society, with the advent of technological equipment and the digital revolution, stressful situations, the cannonade of other rising mental and physical ailments, it has become all the more difficult for people to sustain cognitive resilience.
It is important to know what we understand by the term focus and attention, which are often used together or at times, interchangeably. Focus refers to “a form of energy manifested as a response to a stimulus present in the environment and our energy or reaction is directly proportional to the nature of the stimuli, in other words, we put our energy onto something we consciously prefer/select.” Attention is a broader concept which means “taking possession by the mind in the clear and vivid form of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought.” It is a process through which certain stimuli are selected from a group of others. Attention encapsulates other properties like alertness, arousal, concentration and focus.
Focus and attention are two separate entities of the same basic nature, so they often go parallel to each other. Attention has a focus as well as a fringe. When the field of awareness is centred on a particular object or event, it is called a focal point of attention or focus. On the contrary, when the objects or events are away from the centre of awareness and one is vaguely aware of them, they are said to be at the fringe of attention.
In short, focus refers to effort allocation. The constantly changing array of new information has contributed to our way of life. Our attention and retention capacities are declining with an instantaneous rate. This can be a possible cause or effect of higher impulsivity, restlessness, immediate gratification/comfort, anxiety, ambiguity in making effective decisions, discontentment, inappropriate arousal states, increased vulnerability and lower psychological immunity, difficulties having sustained attention, reduced capacity to retain and recall information (memory) and poor performance outcomes eventually.
With this, we can understand the importance of focus for our psychological wellness. By improving focus, we ensure cognitive economy and durability of our brain. Now that we have a realistic awareness of this subject matter, we can move further to try different techniques to enhance our optimal focus. Since the nature of complexities has risen, it becomes a challenge to optimize the ability to focus and maximize performance efficacy in our functional areas, elevating psychological functional fitness and cognitive effort. Focus is like a driver of the vehicle, so until and unless the driver will not execute the action of driving, the vehicle will stay static or motionless.
This is similar to how humans function, we need to pay attention to everything we do, our central point is focus and we are the vehicle. Although there are several factors which influence our focal of attention such as nature or kind of work/ activity we perform, motivation levels, clarity of stimuli, temporal uncertainty, spatial uncertainty, unfavorable exposure of the circumstances, personality styles and attitude system, extreme distress or any kind of brain injury/abnormality – all these impacts our attention system in varying magnitude. Nevertheless, there are a variety of ways we can employ for stimulating our focus.
TECHNIQUES TO IMPROVE FOCUS AND ATTENTION SPAN
The search method –
This is a very popular and exciting activity. Do you remember as a child you were asked to search for a particular letter in a paragraph from a newspaper within the set time limits? We all have done this activity at least once in our childhood. This method is an outstanding way of increasing selective attention. All we have to do is pick any paragraph from any source, set a time limit for example within 60 seconds, you have to search for letter A and circle it. This attention booster will instantly put the doer in an aroused zone and it helps in paying selective attention to the task. It helps to sharpen our focal attention and if we practice this activity on a regular basis, it has remarkable effects on improving our concentration, vigilance skills and visual attention. We are more alert while engaging in the task and less distracted by extraneous factors that gradually increase our capacity to focus and for a longer duration so it ultimately results in satisfactory performance on a task.
Perks of playing sports –
Playing is a natural stimulant for our brain and body. It is crucial for cognitive development for people of all ages. Playing video games, indoor games such as dart games, carrom board, chess or completing puzzles or even outdoor games and competitive games – they all are brainstorming fun activities that improve mental processes from learning, problem-solving, attention to memory. This activity helps to increase imagination, visualisation, creativity and metacognition. Studies have shown that playing games demonstrate improved visual selective attention and stronger neural connections which in turn help individuals to narrow their focus and block out distractions by using their brains more efficiently. Even half an hour of playing the game every day upsurges attentional skills. Ability to focus on relevant information while screening out irrelevant information is a skill that helps individuals with good attention span, focalization and memory power.
Say No to Task Switching –
A large number of people do this in order to kill monotony and entertain themselves somehow. However, this is not the right way as we assume that we are able to effectively perform more than one task simultaneously. In reality, we cannot do it as our brain is not capable of doing task shifting. We keep switching back and forth between the tasks and hence we underperform on every task. There is a negative relationship between task switching and sustained focus. In addition to this, there is not a single published paper that shows a significant positive relationship between multitasking and memory capacity. People who switch tasks more often have a higher probability of experiencing lapses of attention.
Simply put, multitasking or task switching is bad for the brain and its related functions and one such function that is attention and memory are heavily degraded by the same. Task switching results in split focus which is detrimental to quality, memory, performance and accuracy. It also results in continuous partial attention which takes place when two cognitive tasks are done at the same time and focus is continuously split between two or more tasks. For example, while working on an assignment, your email pops up and you end up looking at all the email messages for another half an hour. You think of replying to one of the messages which takes another 10 minutes. After some time, you realize you were working on the assignment and you oscillate back to it. Multitasking never leads to fantastic performance and precision. For better results, one should learn to say no to task switching.
Power of Meditation –
This technique is ever constant and most effective by far. One can not miss out on this method. The world now knows the impact of meditation on mental health. Meditation is an ancient process that finds its origins from Buddhist psychology. It literally means “moment by moment awareness” or a “state of psychological freedom that occurs when attention remains quiet and lingers without attachment to any particular point of view.” Meditation comes from the family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calmness, clarity and concentration. The cognitive function that meditation may affect the most is attention since it’s a form of attention training. What better way to improve your focus than through meditation! As physical training strengthens the body muscles, mental training involved in meditation reinforces brain areas involved in learning.
Meditation practices improve sustained attention, selective attention, decreased need for voluntary attentional effort to attain concentration, executive attention or conflict monitoring which is the monitoring and resolution of conflicts among thoughts, feelings, and mental plan. Meditation improves perceptual attention capacity as well and selective visual attention focused on an object may be involuntarily influenced by the surrounding objects. For example, distracting visual stimuli of high contrast have been shown to automatically redirect this type of attention. Focused attention training and the higher degree of awareness of the body and sensations induced by meditation might be responsible for increased sensory cortex sensibility. Meditation enhances a high level of focus and attention for monitoring mind wandering, the practice of either focused attention or open-monitoring meditation requires one to keep track of mind-wandering episodes and helps people to stay focused on the moment-to-moment experience.
Benefits of Flow State of Mind –
These experiences have been observed throughout time, across cultures, and in countless and creative competitive undertakings. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave the concept of flow. Flow is a subjective state of experience in which intense and focused concentration is put on what one is doing in the present moment, merging of action and awareness, loss of reflective self-consciousness. It is a sense that one can control one’s actions; that is, a sense that one can in principle deal with the situation because one knows how to respond to whatever happens next, a sense that time has passed faster than normal, experience if the activity as intrinsically rewarding such as when one is painting, writing , singing, working out, or even doing a job or work they love, cooking, praying, dancing, playing an instrument, playing any sports or athletic activity, studying or reading, etc. any activity that is so engaging and keeps one away from distractions.
Increasing flow states can enrich the focus ability. It improves the quality state of focus and attention system. People who are in flow state enjoy the here and now activity they indulge in without worrying about the consequence of the activity they are drawn towards. Flow states amplify cognitive processes and people who are in their search for the same can try finding and shaping activities and environments that are more conducive to flow experiences.
These are one of the few ways we can utilize to sharpen our focus and strengthen other mental activities that are an integral part of our development.
BUDDY to share all your problems with (even anonymously, if you want) on the FeelJoy Mobile App available for all Android users.