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Strategies to Improve Your Concentration

5 tips for better concentration

By Sam Horn

Updated June 22, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

U = Use Your Hands as Blinkers

Picture your mind as a camera and your eyes as its aperture. Most of the time, our eyes are "taking it all in" and our brain is in "wide-angle focus." We can actually think about many things at once and operate quite efficiently this way (e.g., imagine driving down a crowded highway while talking to a friend, fiddling with the radio, keeping an eye on the cars beside you, and watching for your exit sign.)

What if you want to switch to telephoto focus? What if you have to prepare for a test and you need 100% concentration? Cup your hands around your eyes so you have "tunnel vision" and are looking solely at your text book. Placing your hands on the side of your face blocks out surroundings so they are literally "out of sight, out of mind." Think about the importance of those words.

Want even better news? Does the name Pavlov r-r-r-ring a bell? If you cup your hands around your eyes every time you want to switch from wide-angle to telephoto focus, that physical ritual becomes a Pavlovian trigger.

Remember? Pavlov rang the bell, fed the dog, rang the bell and fed the dog, until the dog started salivating as soon as he heard the sound of the bell. Similarly, using your hands as blinkers every time you want to narrow your focus teaches your brain to switch to "one track" mind and concentrate on your command.

S = See As If For the First or Last Time

Want to know how to be "here and now" and fully present instead of mindlessly rushing here, there, and everywhere? Frederick Franck said, "When the eye wakes up to see again, it suddenly stops taking anything for granted." Evelyn Underhill said, "For lack of attention, a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day."

I constantly relearn this lesson. One time I was giving my sons their nightly back rub. Although I was sitting right next to them, I might as well have been in the next country because I was thinking of the early morning flight I needed to take the next day and wondering if I had packed my hand-outs, if my ticket was in my purse, etc.

Suddenly, my unfocused eyes fell upon my sons and I truly SAW Tom and Andrew as if I was looking at them for the first time. I was immediately flooded with a sense of gratitude for these two healthy, thriving boys. I felt so blessed to have been gifted with such wonderful sons. In an instant, I went from being absent-minded to being filled with a sense of awe and appreciation for their presence in my life.

Next time your mind is a million miles away, simply look around you and really SEE your surroundings. Study that exquisite flower in the vase. Get up close to the picture on the wall and marvel at the artist's craftmanship.

Lean in and really look at a loved one you tend to take for granted. This will "Velveteen Rabbit" your world and make it come alive in your mind's eye.

What people have said about concentration
  • "I used to think the human brain was the most fascinating part of the body, and then I realized, 'What is telling me that?'" - Emo Phillips
  • "I'm getting so absent-minded and forgetful. Sometimes in the middle of a sentence, I . . . " - Milton Berle
  • "Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen, even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind." Leonardo da Vinci
  • "Tell me to what you pay attention, and I will tell you who you are." - Jose Ortega y Gasset
  • I would go without shirt or shoe sooner than lose for a minute the two separate sides of my head." - Rudyard Kipling
  • "It's not that I don't want to listen to people. I very much want to listen to people. I jut can't hear them over my talking." - Paula Poundstone
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