Dec 8 2009

How Can I Improve My Concentration?

Whenever I’m driving and I’m not quite sure where I am, I always, mindlessly, turn down the radio and try to rid myself of any outside distractions.  I never realized that I did this until my teenage son pointed it out to me. He’s an adept multitasker, just like everyone born after 1990 or so. So – why do people tend to do that? It’s not like having a radio blaring in the background stops you from reading street signs. Talking to your copilot in the passenger seat doesn’t stop you from taking a turn, or stopping at a light.

For me, as well as many adults, it is much easier to focus your attention on one problem than to attempt to multitask and pay attention to several areas at once. As it turns out, it takes up a lot of brainpower to tune out a radio, or carry on a conversation while you’re driving, or even if you’re just eating dinner. To make things even worse, there’s a whole symphony of chemical reactions happening in your brain that may cut down on your ability to divide your attention.

One factor is aging.  As we get older, our attention capacity declines, and it takes a greater effort to initiate your processing requirements, and ignore any outside distractions. In other words, old people don’t forget things because they’re old, they forget because it becomes difficult to carry on daily activities, and try to remember past activities at the same time.

It’s not just about being old, though. Fatigue and depression are two major factors that contribute to an inability to concentrate on more than one task at a time.  If you are tired or stressed, it’s just not as easy for your brain to concentrate on a whole list of things at once.  The harder your brain has to work just to keep you awake, the less energy it can devote to other things, like watching TV.

There are a few corrective measures you can do to improvements your multitasking skills:

For starters, get really good at one thing at a time. The less you have to think about something as you do it, the more brainpower you can put toward something else.

Don’t just work with one part of your brain. You need to stimulate all areas. That means speech, thought, logic, emotion – all of it. There are a lot of things you can do to wake up your whole brain, but basic social interaction is one of the best.

Keep it simple. If you’re having trouble concentrating, then remove all unnecessary stimuli. By focusing intently on one thing at a time, you’re much more likely to do well at it. Wear earplugs if it’s noisy where you are. Close your eyes if you need to think clearly. Be alone. These things will help you focus on the task at hand.

Work on your memory. There are a lot of memory training exercises that you can do to keep your memory strong. Memory takes up a lot of concentration, so the better you are at observing and recalling things, the less your brain works to do the rest.

So make it easy, turn off any outside distractions, and you will be amazed at your ability to focus on one, or on several tasks. It just takes a little practice.