Mental focus, along with intelligence, has been shown to be the two most important indicators of future success. Raw intelligence has proven to be very difficult to increase naturally, but there are many ways of improving mental focus. Mental focus is like a muscle; with repeated effort, the strength and stamina of your focus can grow over time. The more focus you can cultivate, the better you can control your impulses and make better long-term decisions.
Sadly, our current culture is turned toward developing as little mental focus as possible. The number of distractions and entertainment options we encounter is far more than in previous generations. Children seem tethered to smart phones where attention flits to a different thing every second. Adults can’t stand to be alone with their thoughts for more than a few minutes. Concentrating on anything difficult proves exhausting. It’s a sad state of affairs, but with effort you can learn now to leave this cage.
I‘d like to show you a few techniques you can use to help build your mental focus. Using these techniques you can sharpen yourself into a more effective human being. An effective life is a happy life!
1. Eat properly
Mental focus is determined by the brain, and the brain needs fuel. The brain’s primary fuel is glucose, which is mostly derived from sugars and carbohydrates. When this fuel gets low, impulse control and concentration levels dip dramatically. If you’ve ever fasted for a few meals or had a sugar crash you know what I mean.
Try following these tips:
* Time your meals with your activities. Eat an hour before a big test or project.
* If you feel your concentration slipping, ask yourself when the last time you ate was.
* If you know you’re going into a situation where you’ll be engaging in conversation with someone, eat beforehand so you don’t exhaust yourself reserves and say the wrong thing.
* Most importantly, don’t eat too much sugar at once or you’ll complicate the problem.
2. Flush your brain regularly
Our brains can hold only so much data at a single time without a lot of practice or tricks to extend our memories. If there’s a lot of worries’ weighing down on your mind, it’s like having a lot of small programs running on a computer. Eventually, they’ll eat up all the memory and everything will slow down to a halt.
Many people try to stop this by using a to-do list, which can be self-defeating if used improperly. They’ll beat themselves up if everything isn’t completed at the end of the day, or feel dejected at how much there is to do. Instead, try thinking of your to-do list as a “worry about it later” list. Your unconscious mind doesn’t forget things easily, and if it thinks a task is important it’ll keep holding onto it until it’s acknowledged. Writing it down lets that part of your brain to shut up and redirect reserves of mental focus to more pressing tasks.
Here are some ways to accomplish this:
* At the end of the day, write down everything that is worrying you and a step you can perform immediately upon waking up. Once your brain realizes that it won’t forget that pressing issue it can relax.
* If that method really works well for you, consider a task management system such as Getting Things Done for organizing your whole life in this manner.
* Minimize your tasks and commitments as much as you can. An overstuffed mind is like trying to lift too much weight in the gym.
* Learn how to shift gears between activities by making up a small ritual to divide your work life and your home life.
3. Keep careful records
Mental focus is demonstrated when you can use it to accomplish things. A good way to keep on track with a goal you want to achieve is to record data about it on a consistent basis. This is more than just weighing yourself once a week if you’re on a diet. This is weighing yourself daily and marking the results somewhere you can see them. Shigeru Miyamoto got the inspiration for making Wii Fit by doing exactly this.
By doing regular recording, you can accomplish two things:
* It links another habit to the one you’re trying to cultivate, increasing your chances of success (more on this in a bit)
*It creates a record of accomplishment you can look back on if you slip up in your goal, so you don’t throw in the towel.
Try making a wall chart, or use one of the many online tools available for goalkeeping such as Mint.com and Quantified Self.
4. Reward often
Have you ever played a modern video game? They’re full of short-term rewards. Xbox achievements and MMO guests are designed to push players to stick with the game for long periods of time. By offering little rewards all along the way, the player’s brains get little bursts of success chemicals, creating a feedback loop that can sometimes end with tragic consequences.
However, we can turn this mechanism on its ear and use it for developing mental focus. By giving yourself small rewards often and increasingly large rewards as milestones are reached, you can set up this feedback loop in a positive direction. Pick something you normally wouldn’t give yourself but really want to, then tie it to your mental focus goal. Then think of something small you can give yourself if you work on it every day. An extra five minutes of sleep, play some victory music, whatever gets you to keep doing it over time. That little reward is often enough to keep momentum going until your goal is reached.
5. The Do Nothing offense
This is a secret weapon to go on the offense against procrastination, which is definitely a sign of weak mental focus. Set aside a block of time where you’ll do the task you want to perform. Separate yourself from distractions, then for that block of time you’ll only do one of two things: the task, or nothing at all. No other positive activity should be done during that time period other than the task. Eventually, the mind will get so bored that it’ll turn to the task to escape the boredom. Getting rid of the distractions may be the hardest part of this exercise, but this is a powerful technique. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.
I want to see everyone who comes to this site succeed. If you already knew these tips tell your friends on Facebook and Twitter about them. You can also sign up for my newsletter and get other motivational tips and strategies to help you in your journey to a success-filled life. Let me know your experiences with these and you might get featured on the site as a success story!