You're typing away, supporting your thesis, working the footnotes - things are rolling. Then you get to the end of the paragraph, look over at your Smartphone and... 25 minutes later, nothing new has been added to the page. What happened between the end of the paragraph and the realization that you've been goofing off for almost a half an hour? You lost your concentration!
There are a number of ways to build your concentration skills and sharpen your focus.
Oxygenate your brain!
If you sit down for a long period of time, your blood doesn't circulate as efficiently, so not as much oxygen gets to your brain. Stand up, walk around and get the blood flowing!
We've discussed how meditation and awareness can help relieve stress. It can also help sharpen your concentration and focus. Meditation is all about sitting with your thoughts, becoming aware when your mind wanders and gently returning your focus to your breath and the present moment. Practicing meditation for even 15 minutes a day will help you to recognize when your mind is wandering and quickly switch back to the task at hand.
Take a break!
While you're working on an essay or studying for an exam, it's important to move away from your computer and take a break: to rest your eyes, move around and clear your mind. If you consistently take a break (not just stop when you're completely exhausted), you will approach your work with renewed focus!
Get into the habit of doing one thing at a time and completing it
Notice how there's a multi-tasking backlash afoot? That's great news! Multi-tasking is sometimes an unavoidable, grim reality, but if you don't have to do it – don't! If you tackle a bunch of tasks at once, none of them get completed properly. We're so used to switching focus that when we need to hunker down and work on something uninterrupted – it's next to impossible. Our minds are constantly seeking out stimulation, a distraction. So, practice doing one thing at a time. Start with a simple task like making nachos from start to finish—without stopping to do something else. So, when it comes to important stuff like essay writing, you'll be used to focusing and staying with one task.
Feed those concentration muscles with brain food, stimulate them with scents!
Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are excellent for the brain (think salmon,flax seeds or tofu), berries, a milder caffeine source like green tea. And start out the day with breakfast! And if you need an extra, non-caloric boost, try essential oils. Add to water in spray in your room or just put a couple of drops in your palm, rub them together andbreathe. Peppermint oil is great for focus.
For more information about sharpening your concentration, check out FOCUS: Maintaining Concentration and Overcoming Memory Blocks from Wilfrid Laurier University's Counselling
Services or Improving Concentration from the University of Western Ontario's Student Development Centre. Or Humber College has workshops on Memory and Concentration throughout February.