WHAT IS CONCENTRATION AND WHY IS IT EASY TO BECOME DISTRACTED?
Concentration is the ability to efficiently focus attention on the tasks at hand. With adequate concentration skills, an individual should be able to block out distractions and inhibit actions that could cause loss of brain focus and concentration.
When the concentration is at its highest, work is easier, faster, and better.
Problems concentrating become an issue when the inability to concentrate and focus on a stimulus impede the ability to get something done. A background noise, cell phone, or internal thought processes get in the way of work.
WHAT HELPS THE BRAIN FOCUS?
Concentration levels vary depending on the following factors:(21)
- Dedication to the task
- Interest in the task
- The ability to complete the task
- Physical and emotional state
- A conducive environment with few distractions
Learn More about How to Improve Cognitive Function
TYPES OF ATTENTION
When the brain is focusing on a task, at least three different types of brain attention are producing the ability to focus and concentrate:
Selective attentionallows the brain to focus on one thing while disregarding its surroundings.
Divided attentionis the process that allows the brain to manage and process multiple sources of information at the same time. An example of this would be the multifocal task of driving.
Sustained attentionallows the brain to stay focused on one thing for a long time. This process is not affected by the aging process. Sustained attention allows the brain to sort out and reroute information amid distraction. This process is supported by two functions, sensitivity enhancement, and efficient selection. Sensitivity enhancement turns up or tunes into sensory information to help the brain process input more efficiently. Efficient selection directs the brain to focus capability by filtering important information and moves it up the thinking process for deeper concentration while it suppresses interruptions. (20)
WHAT CAUSES CONCENTRATION PROBLEMS IN ADULTS
- Fatigue and emotional stress (21)
- Hormonal changes during menopause or pregnancy
- Certain psychological and physical conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Poor sleep and rest
- Hunger and poor diet
- Physical pain
- Medication and drugs
- Distracting environment
SYMPTOMS OF CONCENTRATION PROBLEMS IN ADULTS
- Inability to complete a single task for a prolonged period of time
- Difficulty reading and recalling material
- Poor time management
- Easily distracted
- Inability to focus on a conversation
- Taking too long to complete a task
BRAIN FOCUS & CONCENTRATION FACTS & STATISTICS
To lose focus is part of the internal human survival system. It is meant to keep humans safe. When the brain notices something that needs its attention, the internal human survival system kicks in and requires the brain to break concentration when the disruption may be dangerous or rewarding.
Once focus is broken it can take up to 25 minutes to return to its original task. (3) Studies suggest that it takes 5 to 15 minutes to refocus. The average office worker is interrupted anywhere between every 3-10 minutes. Some of these interrupts come in the form of colleagues, phone calls, and emails, etc. The most frequent interruptions are internal, about 44% of the time according to research. (3)
The human brain is able to focus up to two hours, after which it needs a 20-30 minute break. The average American spends about 9 hours a day at work. According to the NeuroLeadership Institute, work focus equals about 6 hours a week. One reason Americans lose focus is the American workday hours do not correspond with the brain's best focus periods. Studies reveal that 90% of people do their best thinking outside of the office early in the morning or late at night (2).
MEDICAL TREATMENT OF CONCENTRATION PROBLEMS
As pressure mounts, college students, entrepreneurs, and people in highly competitive jobs are turning more and more to smart drugs like piracetam, modafinil, and off-label use ADHD medications to help. But this is unfortunate because they come with a high price tag (literally), including multiple side effects with the high possibility of addiction. (23)
10 NATURAL WAYS TO IMPROVE BRAIN FOCUS & CONCENTRATION
Practices to Support Focus and Concentration:
- Block Outside Stimuli: wearing headphones, turning off desktop notifications, implementing a quiet period of focused work in your office
- The Pomodoro Technique is a brain training technique in which you focus on a task for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break and start again for another 25 minutes. This is done for 4 periods, then you take a longer 20-30 minute break. You can start with 15 minute periods and build to the 25 minute period if this is too hard in the beginning.
- Meditation is also a brain training technique. It trains the brain muscle to become more single-minded. It can start as simple as closing the eyes and trying a visioning the process of eating an apple, focusing on each sensation. Try stretching this to 10 minutes of being focused on one thing only. It may be helpful to try using a meditation podcast or App.
- Technology Vacations: when the brain is confronted with two tasks it will choose the easier one, technology is almost always the easier one. Being mindful of technology and setting limits can help brain focus and concentration. One technique is to use an app to manage email interruptions.
- Organize: plan a certain time every x minutes to respond to those e-mails in your inbox.
- Prioritize: Leave more difficult tasks for times when the brain is feeling awake and refreshed. The brain will be able to focus better and complete tasks quicker and easier and feel less drained when completed. Make a list of the tasks that need to be done and put them in order from hardest to easiest. Do the difficult tasks before the brain is tired and take breaks in between.
- Motivation: Making sure the motivation for a task is clear. This allows for a better focus. Concentration becomes easier when there is a passionate goal involved and a clear reward at the conclusion.
- Brain games and cognitive assessments: the cognitive process can be improved if properly trained. Validated programs can be sued by doctors and individuals that allow training of brain functions that plan a role in concentration online with fun and interactive games and activities.
- Nature bathing: walking in a wooded area or a place, with trees and grass, can noticeably improve brain focus and concentration levels. In nature, there are fewer distractions and stimuli that require the brain's attention that allows the brain to disconnect and calm down.
- Mindfulness training can help improve attention as well as reduce stress levels, anxiety, and depression. Mindfulness can change the brain because it helps keep thoughts focused on one single idea that helps improve concentration. There are mindfulness programs for children and adults that have shown efficacy in research.
Natural Supplements for Brain Focus & Concentration:
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin C
- Niacin (Vitamin B-3)
- Kava Kava root extract (Piper methysticum) (5)
- Bacopa extract (Bacopa monnien) (16,17,18,19)
- Yerba Mate leaf (Ilex paraguariensis) (6,7)
- Caffeine (from Coffea arabica) (11,12,13,14)
- Holy Basil Leaf (Ocimum sanctum) (8)
- Ginkgo Leaf Extract (Ginkgo biloba) (9)
- Huperzine whole herb extract /Toothed Clubmoss extract (Huperzine serrata) (10)
- Hum Psychopharmacol. 2004 Jun;19(4):243-50. Enhanced cognitive performance and cheerful mood by standardized extracts of Piper methysticum (Kava-kava). Thompson R, Ruch W, Hasenöhrl RU. Department of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AB, UK
- Prediger, R. D., Fernandes, M. S., Rial, D., Wopereis, S., Pereira, V. S., Bosse, T. S., Da Silva, C. B., Carradore, R. S., Machado, M. S., Cechinel-Filho, V., and Costa-Campos, L. Effects of acute administration of the hydroalcoholic extract of mate tea leaves (Ilex paraguariensis) in animal models of learning and memory. J Ethnopharmacol. 12-8-2008;120(3):465-473.
- Lanzetti, M., Bezerra, F. S., Romana-Souza, B., Brando-Lima, A. C., Koatz, V. L., Porto, L. C., and Valenca, S. S. Mate tea reduced acute lung inflammation in mice exposed to cigarette smoke. Nutrition 2008;24(4):375-381
- Saxena RC, Singh R, Kumar P, et al. Efficacy of an extract of Ocimum tenuiflorum (OciBest) in the management of general stress: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2012;2012:894509. Epub 2011 Oct 3.
- Rigney U, Kimber S, Hindmarch I. The effects of acute doses of standardized Ginkgo biloba extract on memory and psychomotor performance in volunteers. Phytother Res 1999;13:408-1
- Xing Zu Zhu, Xiao-Yu Li, Jin Li.,"Recent pharmacological studies on natural products in China"., European Journal of Pharmacology 500 (2004) 221 – 2
- Durlach PJ. The effects of a low dose of caffeine on cognitive performance. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 1998;140:116-9
- Kamimori GH, Penetar DM, Headley DB, et al. Effect of three caffeine doses on plasma catecholamines and alertness during prolonged wakefulness. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 2000;56:537-44
- Scholey AB, Kennedy DO. Cognitive and physiological effects of an "energy drink:" an evaluation of the whole drink and of glucose, caffeine and herbal flavoring fractions. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2004;176:320-30.
- Johnson-Kozlow M, Kritz-Silverstein D, Barrett-Connor E, et al. Coffee consumption and cognitive function among older adults. Am J Epidemiol 2002;156:842-50.
- Klag MJ, Wang NY, Meoni LA, et al. Coffee intake and risk of hypertension: The John Hopkins precursors study. Arch Intern Med 2002
- Roodenrys, S., Booth, D., Bulzomi, S., Phipps, A., Micallef, C., and Smoker, J. Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology 2002;27(2):279-281
- Morgan A, Stevens J. Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med 2010;16;753-9.
- Sharma, R, Chaturvedi, C, and Tewari, PV. Efficacy of Bacopa monniera in revitalizing intellectual functions in children. J Res Edu Ind Med 1987;1-12
- Singh, R. H., and Singh, L. Studies on the Anti-Anxiety Effect of the Medhya Rasayana Drug, Brahmi (Bacopa monniera Wettst.) - Part I. Journal of Research in Ayurveda and Siddha 1980;1(1):133-148