Improve Your Focus and Concentration with Mindfulness

You can improve your mental focus and increase your concentrations by practicing mindfulness. Being able to pay attention to one task at a time is so important; underestimating the value of this ability is all too easy.

Think for a few moments of the kind of tasks that would be impossible to do effectively without the ability to focus: writing, reading, driving, having a conversation, taking a shower, listening to a lecture — pretty much everything that you do. And also consider the amount of time you’d save and the sense of satisfaction you’d achieve with higher levels of attention on important tasks.

List a few tasks that you did well today because you were able to focus on them: for example, getting dressed, making a phone call and so on.

Mindfulness meditation trains your brain to be better at concentrating because each time you notice that your mind wanders off from whatever you’re focusing on, you intentionally bring your attention back to the object of your attention.

Attention doesn’t mean that you need to put a massive amount of effort into achieving focus. The idea is to make a balanced effort, just like when you’re drawing with a pencil on a sheet of paper: press too lightly and the pencil makes no line; press too hard and the pencil keeps breaking.

Experiment by trying quite hard, not trying hard at all and then find the sweet spot in the middle. Sometimes, you can almost let go of effort altogether and your mind stays focused quite happily, although this may never happen to you. As always with mindfulness, no rules exist, so experiment and see what works for you.

Psychology professor Marsha Linehan offers this unique five-minute meditation for improving your focus:

  1. Sit on a park bench or any other public place, every day, for five minutes.

  2. Practice just looking ahead as people walk past for those five minutes (even if you’re tempted to look at the people, just keep looking ahead).

  3. Do this daily for a couple of weeks and see what effect it has on the rest of your life.

One client who tried doing this exercise for a few weeks found that she focused better at work and no longer dreaded doing tasks such as washing the dishes or cleaning the house.

Try out the effect of practicing mindfulness immediately before doing a daily activity or task. Assess how focused you are, practice any mindfulness exercise you like for five to ten minutes before the activity and then assess your focus again afterwards. Record how you get on.

Effect of Mindfulness on Your Ability to Focus
Activity How Focused You Are at the Moment (scale 1–5) Your Chosen Mindfulness Exercise How Focused You Are After Doing the Mindfulness Exercise (scale 1–5)

Here are some other tips for improving your focus:

  • When at work, help yourself to be focused by turning off your email and, if possible, your phone, even for short periods of time. The lack of distraction boosts your productivity, focus and sense of satisfaction immensely.

  • The next time you find yourself multi-tasking, stop. Take a deep breath. Multi-tasking reduces productivity and increases stress — avoid it when you can.

  • Every day, look out for one thing that you find beautiful, such as your child or partner, a flower, a piece of architecture or the sky, and see whether you can watch and be with that beauty for a few minutes, without distraction. Your mind wanders off as usual of course, but just gently and kindly bring your attention back.

If you’re new to meditation, you may think that your attention seems to be getting worse as you practice. This isn’t true — you’re just discovering how easily your mind can get distracted! Persevere even if you feel you aren’t focusing well at all. Trust in the process.

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