Getting down to business can be a challenging task when you are continuously stimulated by your surroundings. These days things move so fast it can hard to center your mind and focus on the task at hand. You may feel bombarded by the constant onslaught of new media, visuals and sounds that we are increasingly surrounded by. However, concentration and focus are important components in achieving our goals and life ambitions.
Modern society has made the average citizens attention span, now, no longer than more than a few minutes or even seconds. As we struggle to keep our heads down as constant distractions go on around us. It can be hard to concentrate when there are so many updates and posts. It's thought that the average person's brain wanders up to 20 to 40 percent of the time, so no wonder we find it hard to focus.
There are two brain level functions at play when it comes to concentration.
System 1- automatic brain functions, known as fast thinking. These are effortless tasks, that are associative and subconscious reactions. They rely on the rule of the thumb and social biases, quick automatic decision making and are often associated with familiarity, like knee-jerk reactions, for example; reactions to phobias or turning your head when you hear your name.
System 2- these are more controlled thinking processes, that are influenced by system 1. They make you weigh up the pros and cons of system 1, in order to help you make up your mind up. It takes into account, rule following and takes a certain amount of self-awareness, effort, consideration and rationality. It’s the system that takes up the most of our concentration energy.
Although we may think we are functioning using system 2 the majority of the time in conscious decision making, we are in fact most of the time only using system 1- our automatic responses. Even though system 2 has the ability to control our concentration and attention, the effort and energy it takes to stay focused can somethings be exhausting, especially when we constantly have continuously incoming distractions.
Here are some of the best ways to gain focus, get your head in the game and boost your brain power and productivity naturally.
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When you have a long day ahead of you it's important to start the day off right by eating brain-boosting foods; fresh fruits and vegetables can boost your concentration right from the very beginning of the day. Instead of running straight for that cup of joe in the morning or cereals high in sugar, try replacing coffee with green tea as its known to help stimulate memory, reduce anxiety, increase attention and even aid chronic fatigue.
When you hit that slump during the day, snack on brain foods like almonds, walnuts or dark chocolate. Almonds have the ability to boost the acetylcholine levels in your neurotransmitter that increase memory and learning
Take the power from nature and add dark green leafy, beets, sweet potatoes and a wide range of herbs and spices to your diet. Food is where we get our energy from, so chopping down on more fresh produce to bound to keep our minds fresh too.
Here's a list of a few brain-boosting foods to try:
Organic salmon- omega-3 fatty acids help with brain fog
Turmeric - improves brain oxygen
Green leafy vegetables- protects the brain from ageing
Coconut oil- helps with memory
Beetroot- helps boost energy and performance levels
Avocados- helps improve cognitive function, memory and concentration.
2 Meditation and Mindfulness
Mindfulness and mindfulness are the hot topics of the moment, with more and more people claiming it to help with anxiety and stress. When you’ve got a lot on your plate it can be hard not to let anxiety and stress get the better of you, disrupting your concentration and making you feel less present and focused as you potentially could be. Research suggests that 20 minutes per day of meditation, helps lower anxiety, fatigue, low mood and lack of attention. It is also suggested that meditation boosts dopamine levels, and the act of focusing purely on breathing helps to increase your attention span over time.
If you aren't sure what mindfulness is or the difference between mindfulness and meditation we have a guide to mindfulness vs meditation and an introduction Nidra yoga which is a form of mediation that helps with focus.
Modern trends see people with extreme workloads turning to more extreme measures to gain laser focus. Gone are the days of relying on 10 cups of coffee to get the job done. Now pharmaceutical drugs like amphetamines are used as a quick fix to concentration woes. The use of ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin has increased in industries and institutions where speed and focus are imperative.
The hormone dopamine is known as the ‘motivation molecule’. Low dopamine levels can also contribute to a lack of focus and drive, symptoms of low dopamine are often fatigue, lack of focus, insomnia, moodiness and forgetfulness. When you hit a slump and need a pick me up most of the time caffeine, nicotine and sugary treats, hit the switch for the short term, but in the longer term these stimulants end up making your dopamine levels worse.
Nutritional deficiencies are known to make our concentration and focus less, so instead of popping an ‘Addy’ try taking supplements that will give your a brain boost over time and restore nutritional balance.
Vitamin E- A powerful antioxidant that protects the nerves and neural linings, helps with memory
Acetyl L – Carnitine- This amino acid helps to reduce age-related memory loss in older adults, and increases oxygen to the brain.
Ginkgo Biloba- improves overall memory recall and brain reaction, and increases oxygen to the brain
In general, physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. It increases the production of new brain cells, slows down brain cell ageing, and can increase your levels of dopamine, it stimulates the catecholamines neurotransmitter in the brain to helps increase focus and concentration levels.
Taking time in the morning to exercise can boost your happy hormones levels, willpower and mood to face the day ahead. Exercise in the evening can also aid with better quality of sleep at night, and a better nights sleep may even mean better days. I mean, who's not a bit sharper and on the ball after a good night's sleep?
But wait you might be forgetting something…. don't forget your mind too! the brain is also a muscle and needs to be stimulated by more than just low-level brain functions. Get your system 2 working too, and do some brain exercises that will help your focus, increase concentration and in turn boost productivity. Try memory games that push you to remember things. I find learning a new language (in my case Spanish) is ideal for this, a few words every day and can increase your recall and focus and you get a new skill in the process.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to focus long enough to try some of these brain-boosting activities and keep in mind that it takes time to train your mind to work at a greater capacity, over time you’ll find that taking care of your brain and concentration will take care of you!