It should come as no surprise that people today have a shorter attention span than goldfish. It’s true! As long as our dependence on technology goes up, our attention span will continue to decline.
So, how can you boost focus and concentration in today’s digital age? With the right tools, you can train your brain to become stronger. Like a muscle, it takes practice, but over time you will see positive results.
Here are eight lifestyle changes you can make today to improve cognitive function:
- Simplify your life
For many of us, our attention is usually split in ten different directions due to our lifestyle. While there are some things you can’t control, like a demanding, high-pressure job, you can learn how to consolidate and get organized. If you feel like you are being spread too thin, make sure to prioritize your time effectively.
Take a look at your to-do list. Decide what’s important and cut what doesn’t need to be done today. Keep in mind it helps to do the most challenging tasks first while you have the most energy and focus.
This can also apply to your personal relationships. Are there any personal or professional relationships in your life that are toxic? While you can’t control who you work with, you can control how you interact with them. Whenever possible, surround yourself with positive people and minimize contact with those who drain your energy.
Also, get rid of the clutter. Research shows a clear physical space leads to a clear headspace. When your external environment is messy and disorganized, it affects your mental state more than you realize.
- Change your diet
If you’re eating foods high in trans-fat, or processed food, this increases cholesterol and clogs your arteries, which blocks blood vessels and negatively impacts cognitive function.
Here are the top foods to boost focus and concentration:
Pass the guac, please! Filled with folate and vitamin K, avocados help prevent blood clots and improve the brain’s ability to function.
When it comes to improving mental performance, you can’t beat beets! This bright colored veggie is filled with nitrates that increase blood flow to the brain, boosting focus and concentration.
Not only is this fish delicious, but it contains omega-3 fatty acids to boost your brain health. In fact, it is scientifically-proven to help prevent ADHD in children!
Also, the time of day you’re eating matters. It’s common knowledge that eating breakfast is important, but do you know why? When you start your day eating healthily, this sets a positive tone and increases your focus at the beginning of the day.
The saying, “you are what you eat” is most certainly true. By filling your body with healthy nutrients, you will perform at a higher level mentally and physically.
- Take a break from technology
Unplugging isn’t always easy, but it’s essential for your mental state. Not to mention it’s disruptive – you will be much more productive by eliminating the distraction.
“Even if you live and die by email, do yourself a favor and log out for 30 minutes either in the beginning of the day or for a period in the afternoon,” says Jan Bruce, coauthor of meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier. “You won’t believe how much you can get done when you’re not always interrupting yourself to return emails.”
Not only will you be more productive, but think about who you could meet when you look up from your screen. Opportunities are all around you, but if you are too busy browsing through social media you’ll miss out. Whether it’s your next job lead or romantic partner, your scattered attention is preventing you from making connections.
- Listen to music
Numerous studies confirm the therapeutic effects of music. As it turns out, something very interesting happens in the brain when we listen to a song.
In one study, researchers examined information technology specialists and found that those who listened to music finished their tasks faster and were more innovative with brainstorming ideas. Music boosted their mood.
“When you’re stressed, you might make a decision more hastily; you have a very narrow focus of attention,” said Teresa Lesiuk, assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami. “When you’re in a positive mood, you’re able to take in more options.”
- Improve your work-life balance
In today’s fast-paced work culture, setting aside time for ourselves seems like a luxury many of us can’t afford.
According to study published by the Harvard Business Review taking time off boosts focus, job performance and overall satisfaction. Here’s why:
“Responsiveness breeds the need for more responsiveness. When people are ‘always on,’ responsiveness becomes ingrained in the way they work, expected by clients and partners, and even institutionalized in performance metrics. There is no impetus to explore whether the work actually requires 24/7 responsiveness; to the contrary, people just work harder and longer, without considering how they could work better.”
So, can the cycle be broken? Yes. “What we discovered is that the cycle of 24/7 responsiveness can be broken if people collectively challenge the mind-set. Furthermore, new ways of working can be found that benefit not just individuals but the organization, which gains in quality and efficiency—and, in the long run, experiences higher retention of more of its best people,” researchers stated.
Taking a step back and returning to a task increases quality and efficiency.
What activities recharge your batteries? Exercising, meditation, whatever it may be – make sure to create space in your schedule to do the things you enjoy. It’s important to learn how to say no. Remember, self-care isn’t selfish.
“Whether it’s a co-worker asking you to spearhead an extra project or your child’s teacher asking you to organize a class party, remember that it’s OK to respectfully say no,” the Mayo Clinic reports. “When you quit accepting tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll have more time for activities that are meaningful to you.”
Want to keep your mental ability sharp? Get moving.
In a study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, aerobic exercise was shown to improve cognitive function and concentration.
Results concluded, “There was a significant improvement in motor praxis, vasomotor organization, thinking operations, and attention and concentration among older adults. In conclusion, moderate aerobic training for 24 weeks has a positive significant effect in improving cognitive functions via modulating redox and inflammatory status of older adults.”
Additionally, according to research published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills, that a session of high-intensity training boosted cognitive function, specifically attention and short-term memory.
There’s a reason journaling is such a popular healing technique recommended by therapists and medical professionals.
Writing down your thoughts helps provide clarity. Controlling your mental focus is about becoming aware of what you’re thinking.
Journaling is also helpful when it comes to solving problems.
“Typically, we problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition,” says Maud Purcell, LCSW CEAP. “Writing unlocks these other capabilities, and affords the opportunity for unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.”
Writing expands your imagination and capacity for learning, opening your mind to new possibilities. As an added bonus, writing in a journal every day can alleviate anxiety.
According to a study published in Psychotherapy Research, psychotherapy patients who expressed their emotions through writing showed lower levels of anxiety.
In another study, published in Behavior Modification, expressive writing led to a decrease in symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). These symptoms include worry and depression.
It’s no secret that mindfulness and meditation go hand-in-hand. To enter a more focused state of awareness, you need to clear your mind and let go of negative, stressful thoughts.
Researchers continue to discover new health benefits. For example, meditation activates the part of the brain responsible for focus and learning.
In an eight-week mindfulness meditation program, Sara Lazar, Harvard University Medical School professor and a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital explored how meditation improves cognitive function.
“The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”
Now, let’s get focused! Click here to watch a meditation from Deepak Chopra to help boost your concentration in three minutes.
This article originally appeared on Boom.Boom.