Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.Full Bio
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Have you ever heard the story about the woman who lost her cell phone and found it, days later, in her freezer?
And what about the time someone you know sat through an entire movie but couldn't remember what it was about?
It's not always dementia , or memory loss. Sometimes it's a matter of mental focus.
We all do wacky, strange, head-scratching things when we don't focus. And “that” woman I described above? You've probably already figured out that it was me.
Some of this is entirely normal when you think about how our lives are filled with so many details and worries about work and family. Keeping so many details straight makes it tough to focus on just one thing and even tougher not to multitask in the interest of time and efficiency.
The problem is that our minds are not meant to multitask. Rather, we do things better and more thoroughly when we complete one task at a time. If you've ever tried to do more than one thing at a time, I can guarantee neither one of those things was done as well as they'd be if they were the one and only thing you were doing.
When we multitask, we tend to lose focus and, in return, lose out on precious productivity. Not only that, but our attention is shattered and scattered — along with our sense of calm. Some call that inability to focus a “runaway mind.”
How to improve focus and concentration
There are lifestyle changes and things you can do in the moment that can help your focus problem.
. It brings your attention to the present and returns your thoughts to the present.
shows that mindfulness meditation can produce changes in the part of the brain responsible for processing information and focusing and may help improve attention span.
Read: 5 Best Apps to Cultivate a Meditation Habit >>
. Physical activity increases dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that boost focus and attention. Exercise has also been found to help with
, skills you need for things like planning and organizing, remembering details and paying attention.
. Each time you hear a buzz or beep signifying that you’ve got a text or something new has been posted, your brain is wired to instantly respond — and it has a tough time ignoring that impulse. Each time you shift your focus, it takes time for your brain to get back to where it was before you got distracted. When you need to concentrate, don't fight it. Log off from all your social media for at least 30 minutes. You won't miss much, and you can catch up on whatever you have missed after you've finished the task at hand.
Check the temperature in the room.
Cornell University study
found that temperature affects productivity, which was affected by both a too-hot or a too-chilly room. Other
have found that people perform best at temperatures around 71.6 degrees.
Jot it down.
When you have a lot to do, it's tough for those things not to randomly pop into your head, which messes with your focus. Keep a notepad handy and jot down those things as they come up. This helps build structure into your time and keeps random thoughts from competing for space in your brain.
. While food is not a cure-all, certain foods can help keep your brain
healthy and improve its function and focus. Caffeine, for some, is energizing and helps with concentration. And foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids , like cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines and herring, and nuts, seeds and plant oils, have been linked to lower rates of dementia and slower rates of mental decline . Keep in mind that it's not just what you eat, but how much you eat: Eating too much or too little can also interfere with your ability to focus, too.
Prep your brain.
With some practice, you can expand your attention span. That's why it's important to prepare yourself to work. Before you tackle a task, take a moment to sit quietly and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. This may help calm your brain and improve focus.
Take a break
. Many people work better if a long task is broken up with short breaks throughout. This can help you regather your thoughts and refocus when you sit back down.
- Set goals. A to-do list helps you set goals and prioritize, which is a huge first step toward improved focus. Focus begets focus, in a way: With each strikethrough, you'll gain confidence and satisfaction that you've accomplished another goal, which is incentive enough for pushing onward.
So far, my cell phone has steered clear of a return visit to the freezer (which happened, by the way, when I was talking on it, searching for a buried bag of frozen veggies and listening to a podcast at the same time).
And when I watch a movie, my hands are totally free. I leave my cell phone behind, put away my reading materials and just watch the movie.