Increasing concentration: paying attention to what matters

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Increasing concentration: paying attention to what matters

How to increase concentration?

The more we are aware of our thinking process the more we can control our attention, which in turn enables us to persevere with our efforts when working on a challenging task. 

We can get distracted easily whenever we feel stuck or confused. To refocus again, bring your attention back onto the page, without self-judgment. Notice the thoughts that interrupt your attention, and practice letting them go.

Mindfulness, a technique that encourages the practice of focusing in the present moment, can help to reduce tension, increase concentration and restore balance. 

Having the expectation that things should be done quickly, in the first attempt, and without errors can cause frustration, tension and worry. The tension may manifest in stress symptoms.

To manage our emotions it is helpful to adopt a kind and understanding view towards ourselves as how we regard our best friends. 

In addition, by reframing the situation and viewing setbacks as part of the learning process can enable us to get back to our task and resume working productively, even if only for a short period of time. With repeated practice we can increase the time we can spend concentrating on the task. 

By developing self-awareness we can enhance our emotional regulation as well as strengthen our cognitive capacities. It can also help to strengthen our commitment to what is important to us. As we become more aware of how we are learning the better able we are to make plans to manage the tasks we need to complete.

How to improve and do better work?

To produce good work we need to invest our time and energy. This seems self evident, however, to do our work well requires repeated attempts, where we make corrections with each new attempt to improve on the previous version. This is called ‘deliberate practice’ (Erickson, A. & Pool, R., 2016).

When things don’t work out the way we would like them to it is important that we can give ourselves time to acknowledge how we are feeling. It is easy to feel frustrated, disappointed, and even have doubt about whether we will complete the task well. 

A key factor that influences our ability to learn is our attitude. Having an optimistic attitude, and maintaining hope our efforts to improve our work will allow us to achieve our goals. Monitoring progress is an effective way to maintain our motivation to keep going, and nurture the hope that we can achieve our goal.

Another strategy that we can rely on when feeling that we are not making progress, is to focus on our values – what is important and meaningful to us. For example, honesty, sense of responsibility, and commitment to making progress in studies. 

As we review the work we are doing, notice the negative thoughts that hinder progress and instead ask yourself: “Is this thought helpful?” Not really. Then ask: “What one thing can I do now?” to start problem-solving.  

One of the significant pressures in academic and work life is that we need good results to be able to move up onto the next level. At times we may imagine possible negative scenarios and if we are not careful these can undermine our confidence. To understand these thoughts we can keep in mind that we are wired to anticipate possible negative consequences as a way to prepare and overcome the challenges. Therefore, the thoughts are not predicting the future, instead, they help us to prepare and take preventative action.

So, by using our brain’s incredible capacity to imagine the future we can view it as functioning like a simulator. That is, it enables us to rehearse future scenarios so that we can plan and prepare for them. This means that it is also possible to imagine best possible future scenarios that can inspire and provide alternative options. From these imagined scenarios we can identify what steps to take to make progress with our work.  As we focus on each step, and notice how we are making progress will enable to persevere with the task.

Perseverance and energy management are a couple of essential skills to increase productivity. By introducing short breaks on a regular basis we can restore and maintain our level of energy to manage tasks effectively.

Breathing exercises enable to restore balance and energy levels, and mindfulness exercises can help to manage worry thoughts. This, in turn, will help to clear working memory space so that we can focus on the task.

Feedback: as information to improve our work

An essential element in the learning process is the effective use of feedback. Perhaps, due to past experiences of negative feedback may trigger the anticipation of criticism. Generally, we do not like to receive negative comments on our work; however, if we practice viewing the comments as information we can use it to improve our work.

Viewing feedback as information that is neutral can help to focus our attention on what is relevant. In fact, the information can nudge us forwards and open up new possibilities for improvement. It can also help to identify actionable steps that can help us to make progress with the task.Moving forward and upAs we learn the brain switches between a highly focused state and a diffuse mode – a more relaxed resting state. Both modes are very important for learning (Oakley, 2014). The difused mode seems to work quietly in the background, when we are not actively focusing on it. It allows us to gain new insights on problems that we are finding hard to resolve. When our attention is relaxed were are more likely to identify solutions, or develop insights.Learning nurtures our curious minds. By building our confidence in our ability to persevere with our efforts, and learning to manage mistakes and failure, we can move forward. We increase our knowledge and experience as we make the most of every learning opportunity available.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”(Albert Einstein).

“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Some fails. Some works. You do more of what works.” (Leonardo da Vinci)

If I have ever made any valuable discoveries,, it has been owing more to patient attention than to any other talent.” (Isaac Newton)

“Today’s accomplishments were yesterday’s impossibilities.” (Robert H. Schuller)

“Being distracted, in short, means otherwise attracted. What we call distraction may be a deliberate attending to something other than what we think important.”
(Ellen Langer)

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