When you think of training, your mind may think of physical exercise. After all, you do exercises to train and strengthen your muscles. But what if you take the same approach with your brain? Instead of just trying to force yourself to focus, train your mind to focus using targeted exercises, discipline, and new strategies.
Treat the Brain as a Muscle
Much like muscles, you strengthen your brain, which is actually an organ, by using it. Studies have shown that mental exercises have the power to improve your memory, help prevent age-related memory loss conditions, and increase focus.
One study found that the brain grows in areas that are exercised. Not only does it help get smarter or better at a given task, but you’re making new connections in your brain and strengthening it. You just have to train your mind to get better at what you want to do – in this case, it’s focus.
Physical activities are good for your entire body. However, physical activity that requires more focus helps exercise your attention span. For instance, when you’re simply walking or jogging, you’re probably not thinking too much about what you’re doing. While both are good for you, you need something a little more challenging.
Yoga, swimming, martial arts, and any other physical activity that makes you think more about your form, breathing, and movements are great to add to your exercise routine.
Switch Tasks the Right Way
Just like a muscle, your brain can only focus for so long at a time. After so long, it gets tired. You’ll easily notice the signs, such as being more easily distracted or even feeling physically tired.
A simple exercise to gradually increase your focus is to practice switching tasks the right way. As you finish a task, take a physical break. Get up and move around for a few minutes. Otherwise, you’ll still be focused on the previous task as you move onto the next one.
If you still catch your mind drifting to the previous task, stop what you’re doing and start asking yourself questions about your current task until you’re re-focused.
Take Mindfulness Breaks
Negative thoughts are often the norm, especially with stressful jobs. Trying to find a balance may seem impossible at times. However, an overabundance of negative thoughts reduces how well your brain focuses. Functional brain imaging has actually shown the difference in the brain’s function between negative and positive emotions and thoughts.
When negative thoughts are taking over, take a mindfulness break. Stop what you’re doing and breathe deeply. Focus on the present moment only. Think of something you’re grateful for. After breathing deeply for several minutes, you’ll regain focus. Doing this regularly helps train your mind to reach a better balance naturally and focus better.
Increase Time Gradually
Have a hard time focusing for more than ten minutes? Not a problem. Pick a task that you usually struggle with to help train your mind. Then set a timer – start with 10 minutes.
When you’ve mastered 10 minutes, set the timer for 15. Over the course of a month, increase the timer to your target length of time, which could be 30, 45, or even longer. You can also set a number of tasks as well.
Read and Recall
While you can do this brain-training exercise alone, it’s helpful to do it with a friend. Read a book, short story, or even long article about something you don’t know much about. And yes, fiction works well, too. Devote a set amount of time, which can increase gradually, to reading daily or weekly.
Once you’re finished reading, talk about what you’ve read. If you’re alone, quickly type up a summary or write down your favorite part. Knowing you have to recall what you read makes you pay more attention, training you to focus better.
You can’t completely eliminate distractions. However, you can build your willpower to fight them. Train your mind to note the distraction but not follow through. Much like focusing, do this gradually.
For instance, on day one set a goal to ignore three distractions. Keep a notepad by your side. Write down the distraction, when it occurred, and how you successfully ignored it. Seeing this accomplishment written down improves your confidence, making it easier to train yourself to ignore more distractions.
Plan Your Day
Create a clear plan for your day. Set your schedule to focus on a single task at a time. When your mind doesn’t have to think about what to do next or juggle multiple tasks, your focus is stronger. Use a planner or to-do list app to keep yourself more organized.
Learn Something New
One of the easiest ways to train your mind is to learn something new. Ideally, pick up a new hobby or skill. This requires your mind to focus harder. Plus, if it’s something you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with the regular exercise of learning daily or weekly.
Focusing on this new hobby strengthens your ability to focus on other tasks. Plus, it helps make you happier, which naturally increases your brain’s ability to stay focused.
No matter what, just practice focusing daily. Over time, you will get better at it.