Being able to concentrate is not something you are born with, you have to learn to develop it. And yet, it is key to our development in our personal and professional lives, and will help you achieve your goals. Therefore, it will bring you personal satisfaction and pride of accomplishment. Nevertheless, it is not easy to cut off all the surrounding or internal distractors to focus only on our goal. Here are some tips on how to improve your concentration.
- What is concentration?
- How do I prepare for concentration?
- What causes lack of concentration?
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of physical activity
- Poor food hygiene
- The choice of an inappropriate environment
- Lack of interest
- Consumption of cigarettes or other psychoactive substances
- Stress and anxiety
- Other pathological disorders
- What tips can I use to become more focused?
- How to improve concentration in the long term?
- What are the consequences of not being able to concentrate?
- I have tried everything to concentrate but nothing works
1. What is concentration?
Concentration is the ability to direct one’s attention to a particular task for a given period of time, in order to achieve a defined objective. Therefore, to be concentrated is to be able to take full control of one’s attention by mobilising one’s physical and mental faculties.
When we are in full concentration, the aim is to prevent external elements (noise, telephone, television) or internal elements (thoughts, daydreams…) from disturbing us and distracting us from our task.
2. How do I prepare for concentration?
When we see people around us focusing on the task at hand, we sometimes get the impression that they have a natural gift for concentration. In reality, this is not something you are born with or not. Concentration can be worked on.
Concentration is not an automatic process. In order to concentrate, we have to decide to pay special attention to a task or to something. If we are not willing to consciously pay attention to it and keep it for a while, it will not be possible to concentrate.
In order to encourage the desire to concentrate, one must first be able to prepare oneself as well as possible. This requires an environment that is conducive to concentration. If we often say “a healthy mind in a healthy body”, we could also say “a healthy mind in a healthy environment”. Indeed, it is important to feel comfortable in your workplace. First of all, find a quiet place. This can be at home, in a small corner of your living room, in a specific room… However, do not work on your bed, for example, or in places that are intended for another use. In fact, the bed is made for sleeping, or for enjoying yourself. If you work in it, your brain will eventually assimilate it as a working environment and you will sleep less well. And conversely, when you work there, your brain thinks it is time to rest and your concentration will be more difficult in that place. If you can’t find a suitable place at home for this, you can rely on the public library or dedicated coworking spaces.
When you prepare your workplace, do a thorough clean-up. Keep your desk clean and tidy. Have everything you need at hand: paper, pencils, documents, etc., organised in an orderly fashion.
Finally, create a work ritual for yourself. Before you sit down at your desk. You can, for example, prepare a small tea, a gourd of fruit juice, a small bag of almonds, put on suitable music (quiet and without words), turn off your phone, remove the notifications from your computer, light a candle that smells pleasant etc. This will allow you to create a mental process that prepares your brain for concentration. Little by little, it gets into the right frame of mind for the attention it will need to give to its work. We create the environment for concentration.
3. What causes lack of concentration?
There is no single cause of lack of concentration on a task or more generally. If you lack concentration, try to understand the cause, so that you can act on it directly or in the longer term.
The first cause of lack of concentration is external and internal distractors.
External distractors are all the things that are outside of us, but which hold our attention for a short or long time. We are constantly caught up in everything that is going on around us, especially these days when phones, computers, tablets etc. send us constant notifications and sometimes expect urgent responses. We live in an instantaneous world, which is not conducive to intense concentration. Your attention is drawn to that pop-up that appears in the corner of your computer. Your gaze drifts to the phone screen as it lights up to display an SMS. Colleagues calling out to you with questions. All of this prevents you from fully immersing yourself in the task at hand.
Internal distractors are all your thoughts, all the ideas, all the little daydreams that cross your mind while you are desperately trying to concentrate on the task you are doing. These thoughts can be intrusive, distressing. So you will try to deal with what your thoughts are asking of you, and this takes you away from your original goal.
Lack of sleep
Not getting enough sleep greatly affects our lack of concentration and alertness. This is because sleep allows our brain to regenerate the cells that allow us to store the important information of the day and to eliminate the less important ones. This allows you to sort out the elements that do not overload your mind unnecessarily. It is therefore our selective attention that will be impacted. It is this attention that allows our brain to ignore the distractors around us and allows us to concentrate fully on a task.
Lack of physical activity
Regular exercise helps everyone to concentrate, because it constantly stimulates the brain and creates new blood vessels. The body’s physical exertion prevents a lack of concentration. Concentration remains longer after practising a sporting activity. Indeed, sport promotes the stimulation of the nervous system, which improves our cognitive functions.
Poor food hygiene
Food is the fuel of our brain. We must therefore consume what is good for our brain and provide it with everything it needs to progress. It is therefore important to stay well hydrated and eat everything to meet our body’s nutrient needs.
The choice of an inappropriate environment
If you are in a noisy environment, with poor lighting (too much light or not enough), where there is a lack of sunlight, where there is a lot of movement around, an environment that is not well ventilated (or not at all), too hot or even dirty, it will be very difficult to concentrate. Indeed, it is important to be in an environment that will meet your needs for well-being and calm to promote work and efficiency.
Lack of interest
If you do not find an interesting goal in the task, if you do not perceive any pleasure in it, it will be more difficult to give it special and sustained attention. Finding pleasure in work (whatever it is, the pleasure of achievement, the pleasure of learning, the pleasure of understanding, the pleasure of creating…) is the key to successful concentration. Our brain needs to be stimulated by elements that motivate and enliven it. That is why it is important to find something that can give us joy in our work.
Consumption of cigarettes or other psychoactive substances
While smoking a cigarette may seem beneficial because it seems to reduce your anxiety, and therefore refocus you on your task, this effect only lasts a short time, and the stimulating effect is immediate, but rarely lasts more than a few seconds, and decreases our concentration an hour after smoking your cigarette. Beyond that, our body will demand nicotine again, and cause our attention and alertness to decrease again, since its only purpose is to remind us that we want nicotine. For heavy users, the concentration time is less.
Other psychoactive substances, such as alcohol or drugs, cause a decrease in alertness, reflexes and attention. Our perception will also often be altered. Moreover, they modify the senses by attenuating them: visual acuity, hearing, taste and smell, which we need to pay attention.
Stress and anxiety
When you are in a situation of stress, our selective attention is affected. You are no longer able to differentiate between what is important, necessary, and what is of no particular interest. Your brain is lost and retains random or anxiety-provoking information. This stress leads to difficulties in attention, problem solving, planning and concentration. Your brain now only focuses on what it perceives as a threat (e.g. a deadline, an argument, family or financial worries…) and no longer focuses on the task in question.
Therefore, if concentration difficulties persist over time, the issue of certain anxieties should be brought to the fore.
– School phobia
A child who has difficulty concentrating at school may be experiencing or have experienced bullying, which has led him to a post-traumatic stress disorder . They may also have a school phobia that limits their ability to concentrate in school. It is important to take the time to understand whether your child has a school phobia.
– Generalized Anxiety Disorder
You feel stressed on a daily basis. Everything around you seems to be a danger. It is therefore normal that your attention is focused on the potential dangers rather than on the task at hand. Except that in addition to being tired and anxious, you feel like you can’t make progress on your projects. Generalized anxiety is a disorder that can interfere with our concentration and should not be taken lightly.
You feel that at work you have difficulty concentrating, whereas elsewhere it seems less insurmountable. Ergophobia, or fear of work, can make it more difficult to concentrate, as you are anxious about being at work, or about carrying out the tasks you have to do.
You are physically or emotionally exhausted because of your job, causing great anxiety or stress. It is therefore normal, when suffering from burn out, to have less attention and more difficulty concentrating.
Other pathological disorders
When you are under stress, our selective attention is affected. You are no longer able to differentiate between what is important, necessary, and what is of no particular interest. Your brain is lost and retains random or anxiety-provoking information. This stress leads to difficulties in attention, problem solving, planning and concentration. Your brain now only focuses on what it perceives as a threat (e.g. a deadline, an argument, family or financial worries…) and no longer focuses on the task in question.
– Cognitive disorders
Some cognitive disorders can impair attention and concentration. Indeed, a child may have learning difficulties and will find it more difficult to concentrate because of the continuous obstacles encountered.
Some neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s) will also have an impact on the ability to focus attention on a specific task.
It is also possible that the use of certain substances (drugs or alcohol) leads to a delirium situation that causes memory loss and attention difficulties. In addition, certain psychiatric pathologies also accentuate these attention problems.
– Psychological disorders
The importance of well-being and psychology in memory is not to be neglected. Indeed, if we are not feeling well, if we are going through difficulties or anxious situations, it is very likely that you will find it more difficult to concentrate. You have probably already noticed that when you are feeling a little blue, you feel less efficient when you are in front of your desk because your thoughts multiply and overwhelm you. It is important not to neglect any symptoms and to take care of yourself. You can consult a psychologist who will help you understand what you are going through.
Some of these psychological disorders can be traced back to difficulties in attention and concentration:
- Depression: Emotions, thoughts, behaviour, sleep etc. so many elements of your daily life can be affected in depression. When you have low self-esteem, are tired, feel vulnerable to life, it is difficult to concentrate on a task. Depression therefore has a negative impact on sustained attention, memory and the speed with which information is analysed. If you feel that your concentration problems may be due to depression, consult a health professional as soon as possible.
- Dysthymia or mood disorder: Like depression, emotional regulation is difficult. This affects our mood and, consequently, our ability to concentrate.
- Anxiety: As mentioned earlier, anxiety prevents you from acting normally in your activities and environment. You are constantly on the lookout for a cue that suggests danger. It is then impossible for our brain to be on all fronts. It cannot pay attention to everything at the same time. Your selective attention is already engaged, making it difficult for you to concentrate on one task.
- Trauma: Following a traumatic event involving death or physical or emotional abuse, you may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Like anxiety, you may be hypervigilant, and your attention is focused on all the potential dangers in that environment rather than the work you need to do.
– Drug-related disorders
Many medicines will have side effects that can be harmful to health in the short or long term. Taking too much medicine can make it harder to concentrate and remember things because they act directly in our body and on our brain. In addition, many medicines will make you tired. Fatigue reduces our ability to concentrate on a task.
– Biological disorders
Your concentration difficulties may be due to other biological disorders. In this case, only your doctor will be able to refer you to the appropriate health professional or to prescribe medication.
- ADD/ADHD or Attention Deficit Disorder with or without hyperactivity makes the person restless with some form of impulsivity, which makes it very difficult to concentrate on a task for long. The slightest stimuli in the environment will become a nuisance for the person. For example, a child loses concentration when he sees a sheet of paper on his teacher’s desk. At work, seeing a pen or colleagues touching a pencil will also distract.
- Brain damage due to a head injury can lead to certain difficulties such as loss of memory (partial or total) and increased difficulties in concentration.
Nearly 90% of people who have had a stroke develop concentration problems afterwards. Indeed, it is not uncommon for them to find it difficult to follow a conversation, a television series or to stay on a specific task for a certain amount of time. They are particularly quick to become distracted.
4. What tips can I use to become more focused?
You have an assignment or a file to hand in, but it’s impossible to concentrate. But you have no choice, and a deadline is looming. Try these techniques that can help you focus on what you need to do to make the most effective progress.
Give yourself a concrete goal
Before you set out on your task, it is important that you give yourself a concrete goal of what you need to achieve. If it is a file or a long job, be clear about the different steps you need to take and know where you want to go. Sometimes it is good to take your time to think and write down, like a (one-on-one) brainstorm, all the ideas that come to mind. This will make it easier to sort them out, and you will see more easily in which direction you are heading. When our brain doesn’t know where it’s going, it’s more likely to get distracted because it hasn’t been given a clear goal.
Be realistic in your goal
Once you have written down your big ideas, try to estimate how long it will take you to complete the task. Once you have estimated this, set yourself a specific target based on the time you give yourself. For example, it’s 10am and you’re giving yourself until lunchtime to work on your project. You have a 5-part plan, and you think it will take you about 2 hours to complete one part. You give yourself until the lunch break at 12:30 to try to finish the first part.
Plan your tasks
Organising yourself in time does not mean restricting yourself to freedoms and becoming more anxious about it. Planning your tasks frees up your time and allows you to see how your work is progressing. This planning is not set in stone. If changes are necessary because they are not realistic or because you have misjudged the time needed, you can start again. On the other hand, this allows you to keep the deadline in mind while spreading out the work as best you can to avoid it being done in one go. You will do it more serenely and the stress will not prevent you from concentrating.
Let’s take the example of the same 5-part file, but you have to hand it in in 10 days. Make a schedule starting from the date of submission. Leave yourself the day before or 2 days before the end free, so that you have some leeway. So you know that you have 8 days left. So you can try to do one part on the first day, one on the second, take a day off, one part on the fourth, one on the fifth, another day off and another on the sixth. So you’ll still have time to rest, and to do a re-reading. And you will still have time for any changes.
Consider your ability to concentrate in the moment
It is important to listen to yourself sometimes. You can’t force your body to focus every day in the same way. You may be a bit tired, unmotivated, sad, stressed today and not in the best condition to give your full attention to a task. Accept it, and deal with it, but do it anyway. So adapt your demand for concentration to your current state. Give yourself more breaks, distribute your work more evenly throughout the day, do a task that is necessary but that energises you more… Don’t feel guilty about taking a 10-minute break every half hour of work. It is better to be fully concentrated for 30 minutes with a 10-minute break each time, than to stay in front of your screen for two hours and not make any progress. Give yourself these breaks, but be fully focused on the time you have to complete your task.
Get to know yourself
If possible, try to work at times when you are most effective. Look at when you work best, and analyse that. If you feel most effective in the morning, after lunch, or in the evening, put your tasks that require the most concentration at that time.
Breaks are necessary
To concentrate completely for several hours without stopping is almost impossible. So take breaks. You can set up time slots for yourself (every hour, a quarter-hour break for example), or take them when you feel your concentration waning. Set a fixed time for yourself. After 20 minutes, it will be more difficult for you to refocus on the main task.
Be careful, when you take a break, don’t put yourself on the screens. Avoid being on your phone or computer. Take a real break. Go for a drink, read, talk to other people, get some fresh air… Putting yourself back in a screen situation will never really make you stop working, and your brain will not feel like it has stopped. The break is not effective in these cases.
Make the activity as fun as possible
The brain concentrates better if the activity it is doing is a pleasure. So, even if sometimes you do things that are not compulsory, and at first sight you don’t find pleasure in them, try to create some. You can imagine it as games or goals with rewards. You can also see the outcome of your task. Imagine what you will do when you are finished (e.g. you have a party planned when it is over, you already imagine you only have 5 pages to write at the end of the day…) or imagine how you will feel when you are finished. Anticipate how happy or relieved you will be.
Réduisez vos contraintes extérieures
In order for you to be able to concentrate as much as possible, it is important not to be distracted by all the external demands. In today’s world, we move from one subject to another, and our attention is more easily dispersed. Between the emails that pop up on your screen, your phone ringing because you’ve received a message or a call, the ads that pop up all over your page… It’s therefore important to set up a place that will completely limit these distractions. So put your phone on silent or move it away from you. Turn off email notifications, and tell the people around you that you don’t want to be disturbed.
Doing one thing at a time is the key to increased focus. If you spread yourself over several tasks, you no longer give your full attention to what you are doing. You think about the next task while you are working on it, you remember that something needs to be added to the previous project, and so you are not efficient. So in your planning, be prepared to do only one task in the given time.
5. How to improve concentration in the long term?
Like all learning, it is necessary to be able to train regularly in order to acquire a quality and easy concentration. Just like a sportsman, to reach a high level, he must train regularly and be accompanied by a coach, who will be, for you, the health professional.
You can therefore set up some regular exercises that will help you to concentrate when you need to. Try to create a routine with some of these exercises.
Take an object in your hand, a small object, not too heavy that can easily fit in the palm of your hand. It can be a small stone, a shell, a piece of jewellery or any other small object you like. Sit comfortably in a chair and close your eyes. Concentrate fully on the object in your hand. Turn it over, feel the material, the changes in texture, the warmth it may give off. Bring your full and conscious attention to the object you are imagining with your touch.
Take care of your sleep, as it is essential for your concentration. So make sure you get a minimum amount of sleep. Make sure you get enough sleep. Try to understand your sleep cycle. Avoid screens 3/4 hours before going to sleep and make sure you get quality sleep. The room should not be too hot or too cold, it should be ventilated during the day, and be quiet.
Think about yourself, take care of yourself and what is happening in your body in the present moment. To get to know yourself well and to know when you are most effective, you need to be able to listen to yourself and understand. Mindfulness meditation is about paying attention to what is happening in you, in the present moment. In the short to medium term you will experience positive effects on reducing your anxiety and stress.
Start slowly. Take 5 minutes to do mindfulness at first, and you can increase the time as you go along. Put yourself in a quiet place where you can feel calm and safe. Avoid busy places, and make sure you are not disturbed during this time. Make yourself comfortable, sit in a position you can hold comfortably, and make sure you have comfortable clothes. Close your eyes and be aware of how you feel physically and inside. Remember to educate yourself and understand what mindfulness meditation is all about.
Schultz autogenic training
Schultz relaxation is a relaxation method that is between self-hypnosis and sophrology. The idea is to feel relaxed and to let go by concentrating on body sensations. This technique is particularly effective against fatigue, to relieve muscular pain and anxiety.
By creating a priority list, you will be able to get really organised. Establishing what is important and what is a priority allows you to better visualise the different tasks you have to do, and the order in which you should do them. You will see what is important in the short, medium and long term. You will avoid overwork, and having them written down means you won’t have to think about them when you are doing a task.
Create a work space especially for this purpose, especially if you are teleworking. Don’t sit on your bed for example, the brain has equated the bed with sleep, so you risk not being able to concentrate and decreasing the quality of your sleep with difficulties in falling asleep. The same applies to the dining room, if you work on the dining table, you risk no longer equating the meal with a moment of pleasure, but with a need to work. Organise a small corner where you feel comfortable and able to work and concentrate fully.
It is important to work on your breathing, which allows you to calm down and remove any tension you may have. Cardiac coherence is a simple technique, which requires very little time, and with which you will see results in the short and long term. You can do it when you are anxious or unable to concentrate, but also as a preventive measure on a daily basis. Your heart rate will take the rhythm you give it according to your breathing, and you will learn to focus more on your feelings.
As best as possible
Think about the purpose of what you are doing and feel the pride you will have when you have finished it. In any case, try to do your best, without trying to do too much, to do more and more. One of the Toltec agreements is to “do your best“. Knowing that you have done your best allows you to feel at peace with yourself. If you can’t concentrate and you rush through the work to get it done, you may be disappointed with the task. This will give you little motivation for the next project you have to do.
6. What are the consequences of not being able to concentrate?
Knowing how to concentrate in any field, whether professional, personal or relational, allows you to develop, create and build yourself and discover yourself every day. On the other hand, having difficulties in concentrating can lead to certain difficulties. If you don’t know how to focus your attention on a particular task, you risk putting yourself in situations of failure that will put you in a vicious circle. You will lose motivation and feel incapable. As a result, your self-esteem may be lowered and this may affect your professional or personal development (limiting your sporting, theatrical or social performance for example).
You will feel in constant struggle, and this can be tiring or even exhausting. As you go along and have all these feelings and sensations, you may end up in depression.
7. I have tried everything to concentrate but nothing works
Don’t be afraid to get help by discussing it with a health professional who will listen to you without judgement. Find someone you trust (psychologist, doctor, naturopath, nutritionist, etc.) and explain to him or her how you feel and what you are experiencing. He or she will be able to advise you, guide you and give you certain tools that are adapted to your difficulties. You can say everything without fear of judgment. It is not always easy to be attentive, and this will help you to understand the principle and yourself. Everyone can encounter these difficulties one day or another, this does not make you a lazy, sick or problematic person. Many therapeutic techniques exist to help you work in this direction (relaxation techniques, Virtual Reality, cognitive training, hypnosis…)
If you really feel that you need medication, ask your doctor for advice on food supplements to help you concentrate. These supplements will provide you with certain nutrients that you may be lacking and that limit your ability to concentrate fully.
Also take time to understand how this lack of concentration is affecting your daily life. Once you understand this, try (in your head or on paper) to write down what is really important to you, your priorities. With what you know about yourself, try to understand how you can put these fundamental elements for you in your daily life with your feelings of the moment.