9 Ways to Focus a Wandering Mind
With the current state of things, many people are having a tough time adjusting to working at home - especially when other family members are around, and also trying to adjust. The following suggestions are from the "9 Ways to Focus a Wandering Mind" infographic; originally from On Stride Financial and now published on Headway Capital.
Nine ways to Focus a Wandering Mind
Most of us have had difficulty concentrating at one time or another. There's nothing quite as frustrating as knowing you need to focus, yet being unable to stop your mind from wandering off-topic. We examine the reasons behind this phenomenon and offer some helpful tips to improve your focus.
The Science Behind Why Your Mind Wanders
Research suggests that mind-wandering may begin at a physical level, and the neurogenetics theory attempts to explain what triggers it. The brain's neurons need a consistent source of energy to continue working (focusing). The neurons look at two sources to provide this energy: glial cells and glycogen stores. If they can't find the energy, they start functioning at reduced capacity and other parts of the brain call for attention.
With enough energy, our ability to focus can be called on throughout the day as needed. But without sufficient energy other excitable parts of your brain will get your attention - and that's when the mind begins to wander. So ultimately it's a lack of energy in the brain that causes us to experience a deficit in our attention. But there are numerous techniques we can employ to train our brain and help manage the mind-wandering.
Research on concentration has unearthed a number of interesting ways that we can prevent our minds from daydreaming when it's time to focus.
1. Add a deliberate distraction
According to research from University College London, adding distractions reduces distractability. Attention is a limited resource, so filling all the “slots” in your mind leaves no room for other distractions. Pro tip: play music without lyrics which adds background noise and has been shown to boost concentration.
2. Allow your mind a moment to daydream
Harvard psychologist Paul Seli suggests that pausing occasionally to think about something unrelated can invigorate focus when you return to your task. Protip: make your short breaks count with Peak; A fun brain training app that challenges your cognitive skills.
3. Identify and eliminate your stressors
According to clinical psychologist and professor Joan Klagsbrun, stressors draw your attention away from productivity. She recommends “clearing a space” so that you can focus on the task at hand. Try it: visualize putting each concern or problem at a distance, such as in a drawer in another room or on a boat while you imagine sitting on a beach.
4. Grab a cup of coffee
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found a link between caffeine and cognition. Researchers noted that it increases physiological arousal, resulting in less tendency to be distracted. Pro tip: if you're not a fan of coffee grab a square of dark chocolate for a small caffeine boost and a good dose of antioxidants.
5. Take one minute to doodle
Although often associated with the lack of concentration, a University of Plymouth study found that doodling actually improves cognitive performance. It can improve focus and allow thoughts to come together. Try it: don't draw anything too complex that will snatch your focus up. Simple geometric shapes, patterns and designs tend to be most effective.
6. Count slowly as you breathe
Buddhist meditators laud the benefits of breath-counting meditation, which is an exercise for the mind that cleanses distracting thoughts and builds concentration power. How to: take a slow deep inhale and pause. Exhale slowly and count one. Repeat to the count of 10. As you get better increase the number of breaths.
7. Try a Naam yoga hand trick to reduce stress
Author Sharon Melnick suggests applying pressure to the space between your second and third knuckle (index and middle fingers). This activates a nerve near the heart and creates a sense of instant calm allowing your brain to better control mind wandering. Try it: up the ante by incorporating deep breathing, a critical part of an effective yoga practice.
8. Monitor your mind-wandering and bring it back on task
Author Daniel Goleman suggests that noticing when your mind starts to wander gives you a chance to think “my mind has wandered off again” which activates brain circuits that help you get back on track. Pro tip: pay attention to what triggers your mind wandering and you'll find that you can start catching it sooner.
9. Try chewing gum
A study from Cardiff University found that chewing gum increases alertness and improves attention span, which can help distraction when you're trying to focus on a task. Try it: opt for spearmint gum as the menthol in spearmint has been shown to help relieve stress that could cause mind wandering.
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Published on April 27, 2020.