The Strategist

How to improve your focus in just a few minutes a day

02/16/2018 - 13:36

It is easy to work when we are concentrated and attentive: we quickly cope with everything, communicate effectively, remember the important and weed out unnecessary. But the digital era has a negative impact on the mindfulness ability. There is so much information around so that we cannot concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes.

Authors of the Altered Traits book Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson believe that attention can be significantly improved through meditation. And the effect is achieved quickly enough, in just a few minutes of practice a day. How? Let’s see


Attention passes through a tiny channel in the brain, and we carefully distribute this narrow space. What we decide to focus on at the moment takes the lion's share. However, the concentration inevitably weakens, and the mind begins to wander in other thoughts.

Meditation challenges this mental inertia. The goal of meditation of any kind is to keep attention on the chosen subject, for example, breathing. This helps to make attention more sustainable when solving work tasks.

Here is one of the proofs. Scientists have examined volunteers who have undergone a three-month meditative retreat with the practice of focusing on breathing. A significant improvement in vigilance was noticeable already in the first month of the retreat and survived even five months after its termination. According to the testimony of the subjects, improvement was achieved after an hour of daily practice.

Fighting multitasking

We all suffer from the digital era: incoming emails, urgent documents, voice messages and other things storm the brain all at once. We are proud of our ability to multitask, continuing to do important work while controlling all incoming channels.

But a detailed study by Stanford University showed that the idea itself is a myth: the brain is not capable of multitasking, but switches from one job (work) to another (funny videos, news of friends, urgent documents, etc.).

Multitasking harms cognitive control, that is, our ability to focus on a specific goal and keep it in mind, resisting distractions. Close attention is always important, even when compiling a standard list of everyday tasks.

How to strengthen cognitive control

It is not possible to get rid of distractions. But we can strengthen cognitive control. Students practiced ten-minute sessions of concentration on counting the cycles of breathing. Only three ten-minute sessions were enough to significantly improve the skills of attention in the performance of a number of tasks. The biggest increase was registered among avid multi-taskers, who initially coped worse with the task.

Multitasking entails a weakening of attention. Concentration training, for example counting the cycles of breathing, helps to tone it up.

Even beginners in meditation can improve their attention skills with some amazing effects. For example, researchers from the University of California in Santa Barbara conducted an eight-minute training session of mindfulness to breathing. They found that, compared to reading a newspaper or simply resting, this small session, connected with concentration, later reduces the wandering of the mind.

Moreover, mindfulness also improves working memory - the ability to keep information in mind so that the brain then remembers it for a long time.

5-10 minutes a day

Studies show that even a few minutes of practice a day help to become more focused, more attentive, more productive. Perhaps it's worth to find a few minutes for mediation in your schedule.

Try for several minutes to concentrate on breathing, counting the number of cycles (inhale + exhale).

When the mind begins to wander, gently bring it back. Do this exercise for several days in a row and watch the results. It is possible that they will exceed your expectations.

Based on “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson


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