Applied Psychology

How do I improve my concentration and manage distractions?

Jul 07, 2020 | By Saranne Durham
How do I improve My Concentration and Manage Distractions?

Being able to concentrate is an essential part of your ability to look after and improve yourself. Actively managing your distractions improves your concentration.

This article looks at:

  • Understanding what concentration is
  • Why concentration is so important
  • 3 Reasons why you could battle to concentrate
  • 5 Practical ways to improve your concentration
  • 3 Ways to minimise your distractions

What is concentration?

Concentration is the act of focusing one’s full attention on a specific activity or subject. Your ability to concentrate impacts how well you can do something. The part of your brain which is responsible for your being able to concentrate is called the cerebral cortex. It is also responsible for higher brain functions such as thinking, planning, reasoning and memory.

“Concentration is the act of focusing ones full attention”

Why being able to concentrate is important

Think of your brain as a computer – you receive information, analyse and process it into thoughts. Then once done you either verbalise and share your thoughts or carry out a task according to the information you have analysed. If there’s a break down in the way the information is gathered, analysed and processed, then often our response is slower than expected which frustrates us or prevents us from being able to successfully complete a task.

The ability to concentrate impacts our daily lives. Without being able to focus on something we would not be able to think about how to, or even, accomplish a task successfully. We would not be able to draw on memories that would assist us in what to do nor would we be able to learn or teach ourselves anything. Concentration is essential to our ability to look after ourselves as well as improve upon and maintain ourselves.

“Concentration is essential to our ability to look after & improve ourselves.”

Your ability to concentrate impacts how easy it is to memorise things and then recall them later. The better your concentration the better your memory works.

3 Reasons why concentrating can be difficult

  1. Too much sugar: While your brain needs glucose as a primary fuel source to function properly, too much sugar impairs your cognitive capability. Opting for healthier snacks, with less refined sugar, will keep your blood sugar levels constant and prevent negative sugar related energy spikes and crashes.
  2. Medication: Some over the counter medications have been shown to impact your ability to focus.  If you are battling to concentrate and you suspect it could be linked to medication, then ahead of making changes, check the side effects of what you taking with your pharmacist and/or consult your doctor.
  3. Context: Work out why you doing something. It sounds simple but actively contextualising a task helps remind you why you need to do it. If at the back of your mind you don’t see the point of a task, it’s going to be more difficult to concentrate on it. Try to relate whatever you undertaking to a bigger goal you trying to achieve.

“Concentration can be negatively impacted by sugar & medication. It can be assisted by contextualising tasks.”

How to improve your concentration

5 basic starting points to improve your focus

Don’t start off on the back foot. What happens before you need to concentrate and remember something often impacts how well and long you can focus your attention for. Make things easier for yourself by ticking off these five basics as a starting point towards better concentration and memory.

  1. Get enough good sleep: Studies show that not getting enough good quality sleep has a negative impact on your mental health. A lack of sleep interferes with your ability to concentrate and remember things. A lack of sleep can also cause you to be uncoordinated, thereby increasing risk to your physical safety in the shorter run.  Long term sleep deprivation has, amongst other things, been linked to weakened immunity, diabetes, high blood pressure and weight gain. Insomnia, is a sleep disorder which is defined by the NHS as “difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning”. If you regularly battle to fall or stay asleep, wake up to early or feeling unrefreshed, you may need to investigate why. Many things can impact our sleeping patterns. Some of which require medical intervention, although many simply require a habit or lifestyle tweak.
  2. Make sure you’re not hungry or thirsty: Being hungry or thirsty when you trying to focus on something is a sure way not to be able to concentrate. Not only will you be distracted, but physiologically your brain won’t have the fuel it needs to be able to perform. Your brain is approximately 75% water. It relies on water to help transport nutrients and hormones necessary for concentration, critical thinking and memory. Effectively, if you skip out on healthy eating and drinking water your concentration and memory will suffer. This is one of the main reasons advocates highlight the importance of feeding schemes at educational institutes.
  3. Aeroplane mode: Usually when you fly it’s an easy opportunity to focus on and work through your to-do list. So why not put yourself into aeroplane mode? Turn off your Wi-Fi to pause the replies on emails you just finished and put your phone onto flight mode to stop pinging and blinks of light signalling to get your attention.
  4. Have a schedule: According to the Dallas Centre for Brain Health, “The myth of multitasking is actually hurting your productivity, interfering with brain systems and adding to your stress levels”. Science shows that switching back-and-forth between tasks decreases brain efficiency which negatively impacts cognitive and overall wellbeing. The solution is simple – to increase your focus on a specific task, plan what you are going to concentrate on, when and for how long. Schedule in social media breaks and time to come off flight mode to send off batches of emails or catch up on WhatsApp.
  5. Have a dedicated workspace: There’s no reason not to be comfortable while you work. However, for many people working where ever you find a spot for the day does not assist with concentrating on a task. Physically separating work from down time space, means you actively detach hobby and personal life from work or study time. Having a dedicated work space therefore signals to yourself (and others) when it’s time to focus and when it’s time to relax.

Managing distractions

A distraction is anything that diverts or catches your attention away from what you are trying to do. A distraction diminishes your ability to receive and process information. Distractions can be internal or external. While it isn’t always possible to eliminate distractions, it is possible to manage and reduce them.

“Distractions are manageable. They can be internal or external. Identify a distraction, then fix it or ignore it.”

3 ways to manage distractions

  1. Keep a note pad within reach: This way when you remember something you can pop it onto your to-do list, then go back to focusing on your task without fretting if you going to remember to fetch the cat from the vet later on.
  2. Internal distractions: If you battling to settle down, ask yourself why? What is the source of your anxiety or flightiness? Once you’ve worked this out, think it through. You may need to give yourself a pep talk to reassure and encourage yourself or alternatively put whatever’s bugging you onto your to-do list.
  3. External distractions: Pin point what’s causing it – is your chair uncomfortable? Is your colleague talking too loudly or is your phone alerting you every time a message or update comes through? Once you’ve pin pointed the cause – fix it or decide to ignore it.

It is possible to improve your concentration. Understanding what will decrease your ability to focus as well as how to manage your distractions will assist you to implement the five basic starting points to improving your concentration.

SACAP offers the option to study online with many of its courses. When the time comes to advance your education, you may wish to pursue such opportunities provided by distance learning, such as engaging in SACAP online courses that can help pave the way for careers in counselling and psychology. For more information, enquire now.

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