This month at Move On, we’ve been talking about how to boost your concentration and motivation! We recently asked our young people and mentors to choose six topics they’d like to discuss. They exchange their thoughts on one topic with our staff each month. We then share their thoughts and experiences here! Our six chosen topics are;
- Coping With Stress
- Winter Night Positivity Tips
- Breaking Out Of Your Comfort Zone
- Leaving The House: Feel Confident
- The Importance Of Self-Care
- Boosting Your Concentration
Why It Matters
A common theme of our Topics For Discussion blog series has been the different aspects of mental health and wellness. To date, we’ve covered topics such as stress, confidence, and self-care. We’ve offered personal insight into how these issues affect our service users, and shared their advice on how best to deal with specific areas of mental health.
Concentration and motivation are both key aspects of this. They’re often very closely connected – both with each other, and with other aspects of our mental health. You’ve probably noticed yourself – it’s easier to concentrate when you feel motivated. In turn, it’s easier to feel motivated when you’re engaged with what you’re doing. Personal wellbeing – and really, how good you’re feeling on any given day, also feeds into this.
We rely on concentration to get us through daily life. If you’re struggling to concentrate, it can make it difficult to focus your attention. This can affect your performance in work or school, as well as creating personal frustrations.
Difficulty concentrating presents differently in different people, and can vary depending on the time of day, or social setting. This can include struggling with short-term memory, restlessness, and low levels of physical and mental energy. These can all make it difficult to complete important tasks, or make even simple decisions.
Why Am I Struggling To Concentrate?
There can be many reasons why you’re having difficulty concentrating. Some of these could be medical, but often can be environmental, and easy to work with.
We’ve discussed the impact of the COVID pandemic on mental health in previous posts. Our concentration levels are no exception to this. There’s an acknowledged trend sweeping the UK – and beyond – where people are finding themselves distracted, unfocussed, or frequently overwhelmed at far higher levels since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Commonly referred to as ‘pandemic brain,’ this is believed to be an ongoing stress response to two years of fear and uncertainty, compounded by many of us now finding ourselves busier than ever as we try to catch up on everything we missed out on during a series of lockdowns and distancing rules. The pandemic essentially represents a collection of simultaneous stressors, so it’s no surprise that many aspects of our health will be impacted.
It’s also generally true that our modern lifestyles are in many ways perfectly set up to reduce our ability to focus. High levels of screen time have been found to impact on our concentration span. Daily life, however, means that we’re never far from a screen. Between our jobs, social media accounts, and entertainment streaming devices; most of us won’t spend a waking hour in the average day without interacting with a screen of some description.
Severe ongoing issues with concentration can in some cases also be a health indicator. Cases of long COVID have recently been linked to struggles with attention span – as a relatively new discovery, the longer-term impact of this is still unknown. Long-term health conditions such as depression, epilepsy, and ADHD can also cause severe difficulties with concentration.
How Can I Concentrate Better?
The good news is, there are often lots of things we can do to improve our concentration levels – both long-term and in short bursts to help us through important tasks.
First off, it’s worth taking a look at your lifestyle choices, and seeing what small, easy changes you can make to improve your concentration – and your general wellbeing. High consumption of alcohol, low levels of sleep or poor sleep quality, poor diet, excessive stress and too much screen time are all seemingly small things which can seriously impact your wellbeing, and your attention span along with it. Putting together a sleep schedule to ensure you go to bed in enough time to get the hours you need (around 8 hours for most adults), making small changes to your diet, including drinking enough water, and making the choice to switch off from your devices could make all the difference!
There are also a number of small, specific exercises you can do, or habits you can adopt, which will help you improve your concentration. These will be different for everybody. Why not try a few out, and see what works best for you!
Our Top Tips
To get you started, our volunteers and young people have put their heads together and come up with their own suggestions and hot tips on what works for them. We hope these will inspire you to try out some concentration techniques of your own!
First up – those lifestyle changes we mentioned. Now we KNOW it sounds really obvious; but making small changes towards a healthy lifestyle really does improve your wellbeing. Well bodies make for well minds; well minds concentrate better. This can be as simple as ensuring you take a walk every day, or that you drink enough water. And you don’t have to do it alone! There are loads of great tools nowadays which you can put in place to prompt you throughout the day to fit in those good choices.
One of our mentors recommended a great free resource to help you with this, the Tick Tick app;
“The best thing to help me focus and stay motivated are to-do lists. I use Tick Tick. I have a repeating list of good daily habits which the app reminds me to do every day. Drink 2 litres of water, meditate for 5 minutes, walk 10,000 steps, eyes shut by 10pm. It’s really prescriptive, and I love it. It reminds me what makes me feel good and in control every day.”
Break Up Your Tasks
One common theme we identified was that it’s helpful to break up tasks to make them more manageable – and the good news is, this one’s scientifically backed!
Even at our best, we can only concentrate intensely on a task for a relatively small period of time – around 25 minutes for most people – before our focus and productivity begins to slip. Therefore short periods of activity broken up with short, frequent breaks, can be a truly effective way to maintain concentration and get things done.
One especially popular method for doing this is the Pomodoro Technique, mentioned by a couple of our contributors. The pomodoro technique is a time management system whereby your workday is broken into 25 minute chunks, separated by 5 minute breaks. These 25 minute periods of activity are referred to as pomodoros – the Italian word for tomatoes! After about every 4 pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.
Many people over the years have tried and loved the pomodoro method. Our Move On mentors are no exception;
“It has been a total game changer and forces me to focus on one thing at a time and kind of race myself to complete my tasks”
The essential idea is that by breaking your tasks into small chunks you create both the drive and urgency of a limited time span, while knowing that you have the relief of a short break coming up to avoid burnout. What you do with your 5 minute breaks is entirely up to you, and can vary throughout the day; one of our mentors shared that they find getting some movement in within your 5 is helpful!
Much as with the lifestyle changes suggested, there are loads of handy tools out there to help you adopt the pomodoro technique yourself – the Tick Tick app has a function for this, or iPhone users can use Pomofocus. You can also set an alarm on your phone or activity tracker – and why not keep track of your longer break periods by drawing your own pomodoros to check off!
Organise Your Time
Now we know this might just sound the same as breaking up your tasks but bear with us – there’s more, we promise.
We were all in agreement that creating a routine, and organising what you need to get done around it, can be a great way to guarantee increased concentration levels throughout your day!
“Try to tie a new habit to an old one if you can. So if you want to go to the gym, do it on your way home from work. Or if you want to start meditating, do it once you’ve given the kids their breakfast (true story, that one)”
“Doing something daily for even a week, you notice that motivation becomes a lot easier – it’s part of your daily routine.”
Your environment can have a real influence on your ability to concentrate. While some of us need total silence to focus, that’s not the case for everyone. Why not experiment with different background noise in order to see what works for you? This could be classical music, ambient meditation or mindfulness recordings – or it could be something a bit more lively, and completely personal to you. One of our young people likes to listen to rave and drum music as it increases her focus; especially when studying!
One mentor also shared that they take a lot of inspiration and motivation from many different media sources;
” Listen to things which motivate you; find podcasts or audiobooks about the subject. Follow Instagram or Facebook groups, or blog/vloggers who have the same interest. I follow loads of ADHD channels, and a lot of sobriety blogs. I’m not sober but it has completely changed the way I feel about alcohol, and I’ve learned so much about ADHD through doing this.”
Often, a calmer mind is a more concentrated mind. We know this can be easier said than done, particularly at times of stress; however, bear in mind that high stress levels can be a huge contributor to low attention span. There are things you can do to help, for example, taking up meditation or mindful breathing. There are lots of free resources you can access for this.
One of our young people submitted meditation as a tip, and finds it really helpful when she’s studying; she likes to lock her phone screen while she’s doing it to really switch off, finding that “even a couple of minutes when you’re in procrastination mode can really help.”
Set Your Mind
Sometimes half of motivating yourself through a task can just be about committing yourself to doing it. This can be a small step, giving your brain the cue to get ready for what’s coming next;
“There’s many times I don’t feel like exercising, but I change into my gym/yoga gear anyway. If I still really don’t feel like doing it, I take the hint and don’t, but even just taking that first step really helps my brain move into that mode. 9 times out of 10, I end up getting the motivation together to go ahead with it!”
Most importantly though, we all agreed you need to take a positive mindset towards yourself; have patience, and don’t beat yourself up if you’re having trouble concentrating. It’s difficult for everyone right now, and there are plenty of very good reasons behind it!
“Be kind to yourself; it’s always harder to get up and do that thing if you’re giving yourself a hard time about it.”
We mentioned earlier in this article that severe difficulty with concentration can be linked to medical conditions, such as ADHD. If you believe you may have ADHD, or any other condition related to low concentration levels, you should contact your GP for diagnosis and support.
Extremely low motivation levels can be symptomatic of low mood and depression. If you need help, you’re not alone. Samaritans Scotland have a free phoneline open 24/7 on 116 123, or you can email email@example.com for a response within 24 hours.
If you have any questions or thoughts about concentration, or about Move On generally, you can contact us here.
Until Next Time…
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And be sure to keep an eye out for our next Topics For Discussion post. We’ll have top tips on dealing with isolation – coming to the Move On blog soon!