Concentration is vital in some professions. Even in our everyday lives, though, we all need to concentrate—to avoid traffic accidents, to get the job finished, to remember important information. But with today's world filled with constant connectivity and social networking, breaking news reports, and fast-food restaurants on every corner, are we capable of concentrating as well as we used to?
Before we answer that question, let's take a closer look at concentration and its partner, attention. Attention is a global term, used to describe a state in which you are interested in everything going on around you. Concentration focuses that attention on one specific thing.
Attention and concentration developed in humans as defense mechanisms. Early humans had to be constantly vigilant or be eaten. But it's difficult to sustain a high level of attention for long periods of time without getting stressed out.
Stress is good in small quantities, but too much stress leads to burn out, accidents, or illness. Think of your life today. Stressed? Perhaps that's your middle name. Hurry here and hurry there, with never enough time in the day. Just making me think about my day can make me dizzy.
Some experts have pointed out that a child's attention span is now about seven minutes—the length of time a program runs before a commercial break. In Europe, by contrast, attention spans seem to be longer—perhaps because there are longer gaps between commercials.
Practice the following tips to increase your ability to FOCUS:
- Get enough sleep. The CDC recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for teens and adults, 10-11 hours for school kids, and even more for preschoolers and toddlers.
- Cut back on the amount of television you or children watch.
- Pat attention to what you eat. For instance, a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids is garnering appreciation for supporting cognitive processes in humans.1 Foods that rich in omega-3 fatty acids would be cold-water fish such as salmon, cod and halibut. Also consuming walnuts and flaxseeds on a regular basis are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Take a short break of a few seconds to minute every hour or so at work to break the tension cycle. Just taking a moment to breathe deep and slowly can help you re-center yourself.
- Limit your amount of caffeine. It is widely believed that caffeine boosts attention in normal adults, but research results are unclear. Some studies find better performance on memory tasks; others find that caffeine aids concentration but impairs short-term memory. There is also a general belief that caffeine makes people more anxious and hinders sleep. Caffeine withdrawal may trigger headache, fatigue, irritability and nervousness.2,3
1. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function-www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/
2. Effects of caffeine on human behavior-www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12204388
3. Caffeine Withdrawal: A Parametric Analysis of Caffeine Dosing Conditions-jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/289/1/285