5 steps to enhance your concentration (and keep it)
15 Dec

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concentration focus mindfulness

Do you find it difficult to learn meditation? Most people do. Although the idea of meditation is really simple: Focus and stay focussed, it is easier said (written) than done. The ability to focus on a single point for any period of time seems to be a luxury in a running society. Who has time for that? It is very likely that you will not even finish this article. It’s too much information to process and too many words to read. Twitter might be better. TL;DR; You are right, let’s just skip the fluff and get to the point: Click here to go right to those tips promised in the title (and prove the author right).

(Seriously tough, the article below is quite long! If you struggle to focus, you might not even be able to read through it (the author’s self-justification, for being boring, probably). The best to do is to bookmark it right now, so that you may come back to it. You may even want to try something that is written and come back later. Make sure you save the page now. Believe me, you will not regret it!)

You want to learn meditation, after all it is good for you: your mind and spirit, your stress levels, even your body. You try as hard as you can, but your mind keeps slipping away. Practising any method of meditation does not seem to help. Instead it seems to make things worse: You feel you cannot succeed, get frustrated and eventually drop out, quit practising and decide it does not work for you. You throw your freshly purchased copy of The Essence of Meditation to the darkest corner of your house and swear a solemn oath, never to pick it up, or even waste your money on such piece of useless garbage again… But should you?

Is it your fault that you cannot pay attention?

By no means. Society is spiked for a running lifestyle. You are trained, since your early childhood, not to pay attention to others, or what you are doing. Even in primary school your teacher might have shown you, how to skim through study material instead of reading it attentively. Your senses are constantly bombarded with colourful images, millions of words, sounds and all sorts of input. Advertisements flash away to burn into your retina (your eye, not the display of your I-Gadget), brand names and celebrity gossip sneak in to your grey matter and take up their permanent residence. You will recall these images, your favourite brands, products, celebrities, tech-toys or any fads you are interested in at the moment without a problem. These are all short-lived focal points though. You may think your new smart-phone is all the rage, but next month, or next quarter you may find yourself wishing for a new digital camera, travel, or seeing that band with that hot singer in a live show.

The point is: You can and do focus day-by-day. the object of your focus might be the problem. You focus on many things, making your attention scattered, not letting you direct it into one point. But this is a number-one requirement of being a good consumer…

Is it hopeless?

No, it is not. You can reclaim your natural ability to pay attention, or, if you are of a younger generation and grew up in a particularly impulse rich environment, you can learn how to focus. Your best bet is, of course, learning meditation, but if you are reading this, you have probably tried that already with little success. (Although if you managed to read this far, you might not even belong to those who cannot focus at all. Anyway, don’t give up now, keep on reading you are almost there).

Below you’ll find some unconventional tips to help you change your perceived ADHD back into the natural state of your brain: being able to focus, at least a little bit. The advice below will not turn you into a meditation master in an instant. Nothing happens in an instant. Even instant coffee doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes a lot a preprocessing, to grant you the illusion of it being instant. But that is not the point… What you can expect is to be able to reclaim some of your attention span, just enough to start living more consciously, and probably even have some positive experiences when trying meditation. If you then learn and practise meditation, that would further enhance your ability to focus, which in turn would help your meditation practice, reversing the downward spiral of shortening attention span into a self strengthening process.

The promised tips:

I hear you say: “O finally, I was getting tired of all that reading”. Well, here you are:

  1. Get right off Twitter

    Unfortunately you’ve read that quite right. Get right off it. No, it does not mean deleting your account, just stop checking it religiously. It surely is convenient to communicate in so few words, might even sound “Zen” to make these Haiku-like short messages describe your life and read about others’ in a similar fashion, but life does not happen in 140 characters!

    Twitter, facebook and nearly all social media are the number one culprit when it comes to finding who (what) is responsible for the attention span of the average young adult being measurable only in seconds. It’s conveniently fast. You will know all you need to know in three seconds, then move on, read the next short stub of info and slowly get accustomed to communicating that way. You will not be able to pay attention to a long conversation, simply because you don’t need to.

    The solution: If you want to enhance your focus, the best you can do right now, is to stop checking your news feeds. Yes, just close that browser tab. or quit the application. Wait what? You say you got here via a link in your twitter/facebook/WhateverIsYourFavouriteSocialSite feed? Good! For once it did something good for you. Now cherish that moment, it does not happen often and close the thing. It will help you focus on more important stuff.

  2. Turn off the TV

    That’s right. TV is one of the biggest reasons people forgot how to listen, how to focus, or even pay attention to anything. Do you keep the TV on? Always? Even if you don’t watch it? Do you watch it just for TV’s sake even if you are not really interested in it? While social media is increasingly taking over the role of television in dumbing down the population, the “chewing-gum for the eyes”, as Henri Peyre famously penned it, still keeps a very important role in not allowing you to concentrate.

    Yet there is no sorrier sight to watch then the vacant faces of those former high school and college students when, at thirty-five or fifty, all their mental alertness having vanished, the spark gone from their eyes, they dutifully chew their gum to keep from yawning, while absorbing the chewing gum for the eyes of the movies or the chewing gum for the ears of the radio.

    Of course the above quote is outdated, TV shows and advertisements having taken the role of “category B” movies, but with few modifications it could still be applied today…

    The solution: TV is a very good antidote against concentration, as effective in fact, as chewing stones is against your teeth. It has taught your parents’ generation not to focus, so you could never have learned it. Even if you do not watch TV, you will still feel its negative effects. If you do watch it, well, just learn to turn it off. There is so much more to life.

  3. Read, don’t just skim through text. Look, don’t just glance. Listen actively, don’t just hear

    Having thus prepared yourself to really start enhancing your focus, it is time to get serious. Communication today suffers vastly from the inability to concentrate. We just do not pay enough attention to anything, not even each other.Let’s break the problem down into three distinct channels of communication:

    Reading: You’ve learned in school and/or college, how to effectively skim through textbooks and other study materials. The claim is, this way you can pre-assess information and only absorb what is really important, saving you time. Saving time, of course fits in really well with the marketing rhetoric so popular today: Everything is fast, and instant (more on that later). What it really does to you is simply teaching you how not to read. Skimming through text effectively is what you are looking not to do: Not really paying attention to what is written. If you want to (re)learn how to focus, you should (re)learn how to read.

    The solution: The next time you read something, try to absorb it fully. It does not have to be a book. Choose informative, genuine sources of information, authoritative articles from good sources. Whatever your interest, search for a good author and stick to reading what is written thoroughly.

    You can even test yourself, how much you’ve managed to absorb: when you are training yourself to read attentively, you can do a little exercise to write down a short summary of what you remember of it. You could start with this article. Write a list of what you’ve read, then come back and compare. Score your results: score one for each major point you’ve missed. It is important that you should set your goals, what you think these major points are, matters most. You do not have to follow the numbered list here. It should be more like this: When you compare your list to the article you’ll find stuff missing and say “Aaaaah, I should have written that down”. That is the score of 1. In the end, add up your score. The lower the better. When you do this regularly with good or informative articles, you should eventually see your average scores getting better.

    Looking: Have you been taught not to really look, just glance? Probably by your driving instructor? If you live in the UK, or got a driving license there, you probably have… now, while there are situations, where it really is more effective, in the long-term, your already overworked senses will crave a break… The result is, you keep on”glancing over” things, rarely ever noticing what you see.

    The solution: The best solution to this problem is two-fold. First of all, you should really give yourself a break. Learn some simple relaxation techniques, unplug yourself from the rush and just rest. Your senses are overworked. You cannot expect from yourself to really be able to focus, when your mind is tired. You get so much visual stimuli day by day, that processing the amount of information entering your brain through the eyes alone would make you feel shattered, not leaving a chance of properly focusing on anything. You could just go and take a walk in the nature (more on that in the next point, #4.)

    Once you have given yourself adequate rest and distance from the myriad of distraction pulling you away from being able to look at things attentively, you could start practising how to really see things. Just try to observe your surroundings first. Nothing fancy, just contemplate closely everything, every object and visual clue in your immediate environment. See and absorb the colours, the shapes, the light. Take your time. Do this any time, anywhere you remember this exercise. It will teach you to be in the present moment,and really appreciate the situation you are in (or loath it, that is up to the situation, really). For advanced practise, you want to try mandala meditation, but if you really struggle to even pay attention, that is too far-fetched for now.

    Listening: We have arrived to social interactions. Think about it: What was the last time you’ve listened actively to anyone? When was your last deep and meaningful conversation about any subject? With whom? How was it? How is it different from what you usually have? Your answer may be: You’ve been listening with a stronger focus of what was being said. Listening seems to be really unpopular today. Everybody has something to say, and they even blog about it! (you are reading one of those right now!), yet most people talk just to say something. With so much to hear, who can listen any more. Especially if there’s not much worth listening to…

    The solution: It’s as simple as all the others: Decidedly and actively listen! You can do it, just try. What to listen to, might be a more difficult question. You’ll certainly need to be interested in the topic for instance. You can try a similar exercise you did with reading. Find informative podcasts, or radio shows in topics that interest you the most. Listen to these attentively and score yourself in the end, then watch your scores drop with practice.

    What did you just say? It takes time? Of course it does! What, you don’t have such time? Why, of course you do, even if you don’t think or believe now otherwise, that you really do. Just be patient, you will soon read more about that too.

    When you have trained yourself to be able to listen attentively, you can use this ability in your personal interactions with those closest to you. Your family, your friends, anyone worth listening to. You will see the benefits of this in no time. As for talking? You can probably do with less of that, unless it is really important to say something…

  4. Learn walking meditation

    After having exhausted yourself with so much reading, it is time to step away from the piece of electronic equipment you were reading this on. (Seriously though, if you’ve made it this far in one sitting, you must be really determined and might never needed this advice at all). Turn off whatever you were reading on, and get outside. If it’s bad weather, or the environment is really not nice and you cannot afford just now to go far out, just have a little walk around your room, house or anywhere you like. Just don’t forget to come back, there is still some more to read.

    The most basic walking meditation is very simple and consists of being in your surroundings and paying close attention to it. Observe everything around you. This will be very similar to the looking exercises above, but now with the intention of turning into a real meditation experience eventually. (You can read more about walking emditation in a later article 8hopefuly), and in the aforementioned book as well.)

  5. You were not born a consumer…

    …but probably have been trained to be one. A good consumer too. Do you do everything that is expected of you to stay afloat in society? Then you must be a good consumer, otherwise your peers may not accept you! There are many problems with this, but what concerns us most for the moment is consumerism’s bad influence on your ability to pay attention.

    Advertisements offer you fast solutions. They offer you immediate solutions. They offer you to have it now. To have everything you can afford and much that you can not. And you will never be satisfied: as soon as you have what you’ve been craving for, you are made to crave for something else. As soon as you buy that, there will be something new and so on, it never ends. of course, not being able to focus is absolutely vital in the process. If you could focus on something, you might even be able to think it over! And to think is dangerous, as it has the potential of making people realise the foolishness of their blind acceptance of consumerism, and the meaning of it all: Making the extremely few, who profit from such mass hysteria even richer and more powerful, embedding their influence into the common mindset of society even deeper. If you can focus, you might realise all this and if you realise all this, you might cease to be a good consumer. If that happens, those who profited from your habits will see less money and if that happens, that would really be catastrophic, now wouldn’t it? For them it would be for certain.

    Your attention span needs to be shorter than ever and modern tools, methods and strategies of marketing and advertising (the author fearfully writes the words: social engineering) basically make sure that you will not ever be allowed to focus. You are lead to believe that you can have it all and have it now. And then you will want it all and want it now! And you will always want more.

    The solution: You must realise, you cannot have it all, and you cannot have it now. This will be the most difficult of all the advice given in this overly long article. You’ve probably  learned all your life to be impatient, that you can buy it, that you can have it because you want it. You have been lied to. Sorry, but this is the sad reality. It was a plain, bold lie. There are no short-cuts. You need to work for it. You need to put in the effort and a lot of it. It will be difficult, it will be tiring, it will be hard, but…it will be worth it!

    There is really no universal solution, no one stop recipe for how to achieve this, how to unplug yourself from this network of deception. If you actively practise all the above advice, that might be a great first step. The next thing you want to try is to think. To sit down and just think is a long forgotten art, yet probably the most effective method of arriving to any realisations, apart from sitting in deep meditation. As the whole point of this article is to help you focus better, the latter is out of the question: Deep meditation requires strong and undivided focus. But, if you have that as a goal before you, it may as well help you stay on track and eventually reach it. Practising contemplation and mindfulness meditation practises will be an enormous help and the greatest resource in your quest towards seeing your true reality.

+1 Change your diet!

And change it now! This is probably he worst of it all… You are probably unaware of the amounts of processed sugar you consume day-by-day and its effect on your brain (and all your body). this topic is worth a whole book, so I’ll try to keep it short: This excess sugar intake, will keep your nervous system on the edge, until you drop right off into a sort of limbo, where everything is hazy… then you’ll need more sugar to get back to the top again. it’s a vicious cycle and never ends, until you learn how to come off the sugar addiction. Unfortunately sugar might just be worse than cocaine, when it comes to try and come clean of it… Don’t get me wrong: sugar is absolutely essential in you diet, but the likes of what you find in soft drinks and sodas, and chocolate bars and sweets and packaged processed food where never meant to be eaten by any living being. Sweeteners are not the solution either. Just try and keep it natural. It will benefit your concentration probably more than all the five above points combined.

The conclusion

If you cannot focus, it is neither your fault, nor are you alone with such a problem. A shortening attention span is a global epidemic, brought to you by social media , marketing and advertisement agencies and the desire to be a good consumer. What you do about it is up to you, but the five (plus one) simple (or probably nor so simple) steps above will definitely help. Of course your quest does not need to end there: Do not give up on learning mediation, it will deepen all you’ve learned so far and take your journey a step (or several steps) further. And what better resource would there be to learn meditation? 😉 I know that you know what is coming: another unashamed sales catch (oh, come now, I’ve managed to put only three of these into this long piece of writing (so far)): [The Essence of Meditation]](/ "Home")

What next?

Excellent question, thought you’d never ask! Here’s a to-do list:

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About the author

Attila has been practising traditional meditation, QiGong and breathing techniques since early childhood. Not pretending to be a guru, or an enlightened being of any sort, his aim is to transmit what he has learned through these years, for everyone's benefit.

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