Concentration

I haven’t talked to very many people lately who haven’t made some sort of comment about their focus being off, or not being able to concentrate, or some remark about how bad their focus just sucks these days.

It seems like its getting worse, too.

Have you noticed that your concentration isn’t what it used to be?

Is this an epidemic, or do we just think it’s a worse problem than it is?

I have a theory.

We’re not using it — so we’re losing it.

We’re being asked to multi task so much, both at work and in our personal lives, that we’re not getting enough opportunities to actually focus on any one thing.

From my experience and research on meditation, I know that one of the benefits of the practice is that by concentrating in meditation, you also are strengthening the areas of your brain that you use to concentrate. It’s like a muscle.

So — is the reverse true of not concentrating — ie., multitasking?

Recent studies have indicated that multi-tasking is actually bad for your brain, and it can drop your IQ significantly.

So, if this is the case, and my theory is true — what can we do about it?

I recently wrote a little bit on mindfulness in business, and I think mindfulness in general is a good place to start. You can even learn mindfulness meditation if you want.

But don’t forget to also solve the problem. It’s not like exercising to make up for eating a big meal. You’ve got to stop running around like a chicken with your head cut off and stop and focus on one thing at a time.

It’ll likely be hard at first, but you will get the hang of it.

Some ideas:

When you’re talking to someone, just listen, instead of thinking of what you’re going to do next — those thoughts aren’t even going to help you when you finally get to doing that thing.

When you’re doing the dishes, don’t rehash the day, or plan out tomorrow, or think the same thoughts again that you’ve been thinking all day. Just do the dishes.

Arrange your schedule so that you actually have time to pay attention to the things on your schedule, and pad it with a little down time as well.

Learn to say no to things that might pack your schedule. You don’t have to say yes to everything, and to everyone.

At work, even if you’re expected to do 100 seemingly unrelated things — so your thought is “How in the hell can I focus on anything?!” — just pick one. Pick an important one, and focus on it. You’ll do a better job and when you’re done, you can move on to the next thing. Keep a list, and try the Pomodoro technique.

Even if your life is a chaotic swirl of unrelated tasks, you can stop and focus on one of them. If you don’t think it’s worth it, or practical — you have to ask yourself — why is that thing on your list anyway?

Over time, your concentration will increase, and you will notice that focus you once had returning.