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Four Quick Concentration Exercises

Put your iphone down. Right now. In today’s day and age we have so many different things that try to take our attention. Yesterday I found a lady in my office who has to sit in front of five different screens! I have no idea what she does, but sitting in front of so many screens must make her feel important.

Lately, I have been having trouble with my concentration levels, my patience and… what was the other thing?

I don’t even remember.

Anyhoo, let’s learn together here, kids. I have been researching ways to improve your levels of concentration. Here are my essential tips. If you have any that I’ve missed, I’d love you to share them with me.

1. Visualize

The occipital lobes are your brain’s visual processing centre. They collect and categorise visual data and routes it to other parts of your brain for identification and storage.

Your memory is where you store both imagined and real autobiographical events. There are studies that suggest the differentiation between real and imaginary is less apparent for children, meaning that things they imagine to be real are quite real to them (for example imagining a ‘monster under the bed’).

Studies have demonstrated that you can engage your occipital lobes by using your imagination to ‘visualize’ yourself doing a task over and over (for example, if you were a surgeon you would be mentally practising an operation) this will improve your performance of the action in real life. However, you have to be imagining it as closely as possible – not just day dreaming.

2. Return to the five senses

When we feel really stressed, or when there is a lot going on, it pays to return to who we really are? So who the hell are we? It’s a big question but for the purposes of this post – you are just a breathing bag of skin, muscle, organs and emotions. Use five minutes to pay close attention to your breathing, breathe in and out. Focus on the air going in and out.

Then think – what can I hear, feel, taste and smell? Return to your five senses for a short time and try to concentrate on really feeling these faculties at work. You are a living, breathing receptacle for the world – what is it trying to communicate to you today? Pay attention.

3. Select the most relevant information only

There have been studies that show that your intelligence level depends on how selective you are when remembering information. This is called ‘selective attention’. Selective attention makes your working memory capacity greater as it allows you to prioritize important, often-used information above unimportant, little-used information.

Many people think that ‘more facts’ in your brain equals ‘more intelligence’, but this is not the case. Some studies have indicated that intelligence is more about how you control the ‘spotlight’ of your attention, giving prominence to important, useful facts above others. Students who score higher on intelligence tests tend to be better at controlling the spotlight of their attention.

4. Transform information

Transform information, don’t memorize it. Brain function is not just about having a good memory, it’s about turning the information you gather into bigger ideas. In fact, if you try to remember too many details, this can actually impinge on your focus. Einstein had been known to tell people that he had a bad memory, but this did not affect his ability to reason and transform information.

To really know that you have taken something in, you need to engage with the content. This can mean learning a song to memorize a fact or doing a role play activity to help you engage with the information in another way.

The five essential entrepreneurial skills for success: Concentration, Discrimination, Organization, Innovation and Communication.

Harold S. Geneen

Do you agree? How is your level of concentration? What tools and tricks have you found essential?

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21 Ways to Motivate Yourself (+ 1 Spare!)

You’ve got an idea. You’re excited about it. The first few weeks while you work towards your plan fly by in a flurry of activity: you organise things efficiently, you make phone calls and send emails, you start to get things moving.

Then you hit a wall.

It’s not uncommon for us to be really excited about something when we first embark upon it, it’s when we are a few weeks or months in that the real work begins. If you feel that you have become stuck in a rut with an idea, then there are ways to motivate yourself to achieve your plans and goals.

Getting stuck is nothing to be ashamed of – it happens to us all. The trick is learning how to motivate yourself when you’ve lost some of that golden enthusiasm you had when you first decided to study, take on a new project or job, or start that business.

1. Visualise your long term goals

Often when we set out to do something significant, the task seems unsurmountable. Make sure you have a clear vision of where you want to get to. Be specific. For example, if you are keen on studying accounting or beauty therapy, find a specific course that you want to do.

2. Focus on short term achievements too

A short term goal might be to simply spend a few hours researching what you want to achieve. Once you spend some quality time investing in your idea, whether it’s a business goal or study plan, you’ll feel a lot closer to the outcome.

3. Compete with yourself

A bit of healthy competition can be advantageous when the only competitor is yourself. Try to do just a little more today than you did yesterday and watch the rewards come in.

4. A bit of healthy competition

You might want to compete with others too, but in a positive way, that is! Motivate yourself by finding out what others are achieving in your industry or sector and see if you can match or better them.

5. Give yourself rewards

Rewards help to keep us motivated, so long as they are healthy rewards. Buy yourself a little treat when you finish that big study or work task or reward yourself with a long afternoon walk to the ice cream shop once you’ve done your allocated study.

6. Get a theme song!

Rocky had one and so should you! Make yourself a study or work playlist and use it to motivate yourself when times are tough.

7. Have a realistic goal

Want to rule the world? Have your own international show like Oprah? Design clothes for the future Queen of England? Start small. Many people get stuck because their goals are unrealistic. You can achieve anything you set your mind to, but work in small steps.

8. Break your goals into small tasks

Think of the things you need to sort out and break the tasks into small groups of things. If you have lots of banking or IT issues to sort out, have that in a different pile to your schedule-planning and phone calls. Study or work on one thing in the morning, another in the afternoon.

9. Get off the seat of your pants

Take frequent breaks from sitting down every single hour. Stand up, stretch and move your legs around. Even taking just one minute every hour can make a huge difference to your motivation levels.

10. Do some exercise

Factoring time to get out and about is vital to keeping you moving towards your goals. It’s preferable to get some fresh air and exercise outside, but doing a quick session at your local gym or a yoga or dance class can be just as valuable. Not your thing? Take the kids to the park and push them on the swing. It counts as cardio!

11. Make a vision board

One way to motivate yourself towards your goals is to make a vision board. Collect images that represent how you feel about your goals. Stick your vision board somewhere prominent and look at it every day. Add things to it and remove things from it as you achieve and grow.

12. Allot appropriate time to tasks

One of the biggest traps you can fall into is not giving yourself enough time. Don’t think you can sort out a complicated administration issue with one phone call and don’t think you can read a whole book or study guide in a single afternoon. Be realistic.

13. Don’t get distracted

There is so much competition for our attention these days. Make sure you train your mind to focus on one thing, wholeheartedly, at a time. Even if you just give yourself 15 uninterrupted minutes with a task, you will see the difference.

14. Turn off social media

Put your smartphone in the next room, on silent. Let your message service take any non-urgent calls. Your social media networking could have a place in your study or business planning, but don’t get distracted by meaningless chatter. Keep your mind on the job.

15. Find some ‘you’ time

It’s essential to take some time to spend quality time with yourself. Often we are so busy with friends, colleagues, family and kids that we forget to spend a few minutes of quality time on our own. Try to make some time for yourself each week. Even if it’s only half an hour!

16. Keep hydrated

Without drinking lots of water, your brain will start to feel tired and lethargic. Take frequent, small sips throughout your study period to remain fresh and alert.

17. Study, plan or work with a friend

When we spend some time working with another person it can help to keep us motivated as we bounce ideas of the other person and hear their point of view. Make sure that you factor in some solo work time but collaboration often leads to grand results. Work with someone you trust.

18. Beat your personal best

Did you mange to complete three tasks yesterday? Could you get though four today? Giving yourself motivated goals can be a great way to stay alert and energised to push through a task to its competition.

19. Break tasks up into small chunks

Group similar tasks together and tackle them in chunks. This can mean that you do all of your administration on one day and all your research on another, leaving one day for note-taking and group study or work.

20. Have a great mindset

A positive attitude can go a long way! Tell yourself that you will achieve your goals and focus on the good things you have already done. There have been studies that indicate that pessimists often have a more realistic view of an outcome, but optimists get more done.

21. Find a mentor

A good way to motivate yourself is to connect with someone you admire, or who is doing something that you one day hope to do. Here is an article on how to make connections in both your local area and more broadly online.

And the very last tip? Have fun!

One way to remain motivated is to consistently have fun. Taking things too seriously can be a downer and life is too short to always achieve, achieve, achieve. We all feel lazy and unmotivated sometimes. Often if you are really stuck in a period of feeling unmotivated, you may really need to take a proper break. Don’t feel bad – you are only human!

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Multi-tasking vs. Mediation: Don’t Get Stuck in a Trap

My brain has been like Swiss cheese lately. My attention span is shocking and I can barely concentrate on one task for more than a few seconds. I am totally serious.

I blame this on contemporary social media. I blame this on multi-tasking. I blame this on modern life. And we are losing our valuable brain power. I am not kidding.

While it may seem that my statements are a little harsh, I am not the only person who sees a problem with the trend of ‘multitasking’. Scientists recently created an app that could track people’s moods throughout the day. About three times a day, the app would ask the user what he was doing and then about his mood.

Could your mind wandering be making you moody?

The study revealed that people’s minds were wandering about 50 per cent of the time. The only time this was slightly lower was while making love. I would have to agree with this because although my mind usually wanders at work, during sex I can definitely focus! I even have trouble focusing when I am eating dinner; so I guess this means that I have a higher level of engagement while making love than eating. I do enjoy both activities, as do most of us.

Eating dinner while watching TV (and talking on the phone)

Last night I was eating dinner, watching TV, typing on my laptop and talking to a friend on the phone. At the same time. Needless to say, I was not performing any of these tasks successfully, least alone the conversation with my friend who I ended up having a minor tiff with over nothing.

Can meditation help your focus?

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I have done quite a bit of meditation in this lifetime but I can say that I do not do nearly enough. It is important to maintain a daily practice. Honestly if we all exercised every day, made love every day and meditated every day – the world would be a better place. Today I have not managed any of those things.

Meditation can improve your ability to focus. This is imperative. In fact – this is the main purpose of meditation – to train the mind. If our minds are constantly jumping from one task to another, we lose focus and effectiveness.  If you do not know how to meditate I would recommend teaching yourself by going to Vipassana. Believe me, if you get through the free course, you will know how to meditate. Google Vipassana in your country. Please be aware, this is a Buddhist meditation but can be done by all people.

Is mind-wandering a bad thing?

Jonathan Smallwood from the University of California is mentioned in the study and he says: The connection suggests that cutting down on mind-wandering, either by practising meditation or simply by keeping busy, could help people battle depression.”

The article also goes on warn that we should not be cutting out daydreaming. “The irony is that mind-wandering also underlies invention. We don’t want to tell people not to do it.”

Multi-taskers are more impulsive and bad at multitasking

There are other studies that say that multi-taskers are more impulsive. I have to say that I am a very impulsive person and it’s not always a good thing. Students at the University of Utah (it has always been my dream to go to Utah because I am fascinated by bizarre modern religious movements) found that those who multitasked more were actually worse at it and more impulsive.

“The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking,” says author David Strayer.

You are not actually multi-tasking

That’s right, apparently your brain is simply switching between tasks; and not every efficiently either. A recent study called Cognitive control in media multi-taskers showed that your brain is actually not doing two (or three or four) things at once, it is simply switching back and forth and very inefficiently.

“Results showed that heavy media multi-taskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multi-taskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.”

So – our minds really are like Swiss cheese, we are not just imagining it. The only solution is to train the mind. The only way to do that is with meditation.

Now if I could only take my own advice.

Photos by elfsternberg and Hannah Eve – thank you!