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Focus and Concentration

When the telephone rings, the television plays at full volume, kids cry and someone knocks on the door, it can be next to impossible to give any one of these things our full attention. And it’s not just this scenario—we are frequently surrounded by stimuli that easily distract us from getting things done well or in a timely manner.

Concentration is the ability to focus specifically on a single task while ignoring all other stimuli. If we can manage these outside distractions and keep our wandering thoughts in check, we often find our work is easier to complete, is more readily remembered and takes less time. In addition, good concentration often results in fewer mistakes.

This all sounds good in theory, but many people struggle to focus and maintain concentration. The ability to focus is different for each person, so there is no standard equation of factors that can be aligned to best harness an environment for complete concentration. The good news, however, is that concentration is a skill, and because of this, it can be learned and developed with practice.

Understanding what stands in the way of concentration is the first step in learning how to improve it. Feeling tired, hungry, stressed out or lethargic can all affect concentration. If we feel bored, have too much on our minds, are purposely avoiding a task or fear we may fail at it, our concentration is also affected. Our environment also plays a part: An overabundance of sound, the temptation to do other things, poor lighting and interruptions by other people can also make it difficult to concentrate.

To evaluate our concentration on a particular task we need to ask a number of questions: How dedicated or committed are we to the present task? Are we interested in it? Do we have the skills and abilities to complete the task? What is our current emotional and physical state? Are we currently in an environment with minimal distractions? In answering these questions, we need to balance these factors so that they work in our favor, thus making it easier to focus with fewer distractions.

Next, we must consider how concentration works. There are essentially four components that define concentration: width, direction, intensity and duration. Width refers to how much information on which we are focused. A broad perspective involves processing a large amount of information while a narrow one limits that information. Within a particular task, we may need to shift back and forth between these two perspectives, which means we must maintain the demands of the activity while avoiding irrelevant thoughts during that shift. The direction of our focus can be either internal or external. Internal focus requires we disregard external events while external focus requires us to focus on stimuli around us, such as when we drive a car. The intensity of concentration determines how hard we need to focus on the task at hand. The duration refers to how long we need to sustain our concentration. Being mentally flexible allows us to shift between the different dimensions of concentration easily and quickly.

The final steps in improving our concentration are understanding the things that make focus and concentration difficult for us, managing internal factors that can deter our ability to concentrate and practicing focus-related activities, such as yoga and meditation. To learn more about focus and strategies that can help you and your loved ones improve your concentration, be sure to attend our November workshop.

References:

Concentration. Natural Remedies. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from http://www.nativeremedies.com/ailment/improve-concentration-problems.html

Performance File #02: Focusing on Concentration – Concentration Skills and Improving Techniques. Performance Prime. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from http://www.performanceprime.com/performance-focusing_on_concentration.php