Monday, November 30, 2009

3 Exercises to Improve Your Focus

Often, adults don't give much attention to their mental development. People will join fitness clubs to exercise or lose weight, but far fewer even think to do anything about improving their mental performance. Too many people settle for things such as they are.

"Oh, I just can't stay focused on anything for too long!" they might say, matter-of-factly.

Unfortunately, some of that attitude is ingrained in our psyches, coming from interaction with people around us who never knew any better either. It is a sad fact that, while physical education is a required course in schools, there is no comparable required course in mental development. As a result, many of us never learn any methods of improving ourselves, except perhaps as an after-thought in some courses.

Fortunately, you know better than that, which gives you an advantage over those who would settle for mental mediocrity.

So, how to go about improving your focus?

First, let's define focus as the ability to maintain a mental hold on a given thought or idea. You might be able to keep your attention on that thought or idea for a second for for several minutes, or more. Such focus is also thought of as concentration.

Focus (and therefore concentration) is a necessity to get learn, to get work done, to finish assorted tasks throughout your day.

To improve your focus, here are three exercises you can practice. To do these exercises, you will need a pen or pencil, a notepad or paper, and a stopwatch or a clock or watch that displays seconds. A calculator may also be helpful.

Exercise 1: Consider Something You Enjoy

It's easier, of course, to focus on something you enjoy that on something you don't. You might enjoy reading a good book on your favorite hobby, and lose track of time when you read it. On the other hand, when reading a book for work or furthering your education on a topic you consider boring, you might find yourself looking at the clock every couple minutes!

The first thing you need to do is pick something that you enjoy. This might be a hobby, a favorite film, kittens, sports, or so on. For now, just pick one subject.

Write down your subject and the current time (or zero if you are using a stopwatch). Focus on the subject and write down the time when your attention on it lapses.

The objective is to focus on your chosen topic. Allowing yourself to drift off on tangents is not permitted. That's the point at which your focus is lost and you need to notate the time.

For example, let's say your topic was football. Thinking about football, you thought about the first game your dad took you to. You thought about the players coming out on the field. You thought about how you wanted to play.

At that last point, you drifted from football to cars. So, that would be that point at which you would stop the exercise and write down the time you lost your focus.

This is an exercise you'll want to repeat. Your objective is to keep increasing the duration of your attention. If you perform this exercise on a daily basis, you will be able to see how your focus improves.

Once you have reached a point where you are satisfied with your progress, it's time to move on to the next exercise.

Exercise 2: Consider Something to Which You Are Ambivalent

This next exercise is much the same as the first. The difference is that, instead of using a subject which you enjoy, you will need to pick something to which you are indifferent.

That is, you need to pick something for which you have no feelings whatsoever. Something you don't enjoy, but also something you don't dislike. Something that doesn't excite you, but also something that doesn't bore you.

Choosing such a topic may be the most difficult part of this exercise!

Once you have chosen your subject, then you repeat the same exercise as you did with a subject you enjoy. Write down your starting time and then write down the time at which you lost your focus.

Repeat this exercise as you did the first. You may find that, despite improving your focus before, you're not able to maintain your focus for as long as you did with an enjoyable subject. That is to be expected, so don't get discouraged!

Once you have achieved satisfactory results with this exercise, it's time to move on to the next.

Exercise 3: Consider Something that Bores You

The final exercise is the same as the first two, except this time you will use topics that you find unenjoyable, uncomfortable or even boring. Things that are so mind-numbingly dull you can't help but think of something-anything-else will be great here.

Note, however, that you want to avoid things you hate. Hate can be passionate, and it is easier to focus on things for which you are passionate (whether it be love or hate) than things for which you are indifferent. So, a subject you hate is not desirable for this exercise.

Of course, if you "hate" a subject because it's boring and your hate is one of boredom rather than passion, then it can be a good topic for this final exercise.

Repeat this exercise as you did the first two.

Even after you've achieved satisfactory results with these exercises, you should continue to practice them. You can do so with less frequency than when you started, but you should still continue them in order to keep your focus sharp and to continually improve.

And, having an improved focus and concentration will benefit you both at the office and at home. You can be more efficient and effective, which can leave you with just a little bit more free time to spend doing the things you enjoy.