As I repeatedly emphasized in a previous post, our mind’s ability to focus and relax is heavily influenced by our experiences and lifestyle choices. In fact, our brain literally wires and can rewire itself based upon these factors.
Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.
Thus, concentration and peace of mind, like most everything else in life, can be immensely improved upon through consistent effort and practice. Taking pharmaceuticals might be the easiest way out of having a cluttered and hyperactive mind, but they aren’t necessary, they aren’t safe and they don’t cut to the root of the problem.
It is only through making the necessary changes in lifestyle habits and environmental surroundings that we can truly enable our mental faculties to function at their fullest.
I elaborate upon 6 ways in which this can be accomplished below.
1.) Meditate and/or Pray
Note: This article isn’t about why you should embrace any particular faith. Nor am I implying that all the following spiritual practices and religions from which they’re derived are equally valid. The emphasis here is only that they all provide similar benefits in terms of improving concentration. Whatever else may come about from which one(s) you adopt (or reject) is a different topic.
Your mind craves what you condition it to crave. Subject it to constant on-demand stimulation, and you will have a hard time paying attention to anything that doesn’t provide it. Make a habit of focusing on something that brings you peace, and you will have a more peaceful, focused mind. This can be most effectively cultivated through consistent practice of meditation and/or prayer.
The numerous scientific studies showing positive neurological changes from doing such exercises don’t lie, and I seriously doubt the children in this video are either:
The key is to habitually sit down and focus all your attention upon something that doesn’t stimulate your senses.
If you believe in God then you should make it a priority to regularly pray to Him and meditate upon His teachings. Read some scripture and quietly dwell upon its meaning and how it makes you feel. Meditative prayers like the Rosary can be especially effective in this regard.
Secularists can cultivate concentration through meditative practices as well. Simply sitting upright in a chair and focusing on the sensation of your breath for 10 minutes every morning can work wonders.
Whatever your practice, be sure to bring your mind back to the subject of your focus when it wanders elsewhere. You’ll find yourself needing to do this less frequently as your attention span improves.
2.) Focus on One Thing at a Time
This is similar to the above point, but is more of a lifestyle than a practice.
A mind subject to constant multitasking will inevitably struggle to keep attentive to individual tasks.
You should make a conscious effort to put all your focus towards whatever is most important at that moment, no matter how “boring” it might seem. All those mundane tasks will pass by much more quickly and pleasantly when you’re putting your all into them.
When you eat, focus on the sensations your food gives you instead of having the T.V. or radio on. When you do a chore, keep the music and movies off. You might have to go a while without background noise before you understand just how disruptive and annoying it is.
And when you do entertain yourself with such leisurely activities, cut out all distractions from them as well.
3.) Keep Your Living and Working Environments Clean and Organized
An orderly environment makes for an orderly, productive mind.
A disorderly environment makes for a disorderly, counterproductive mind.
Really, it should take 10 seconds at most to put something back where it belongs when you’re done with it. If you have a tendency to leave stuff out in the open instead, it’s not because you’re a naturally lazy or messy person. It’s because you’ve developed poor impulse control and need to put more effort into taming that monkey mind of yours. Maintaining a clean and organized living and working environment will help you with this immensely.
You might also benefit from compartmentalizing your belongings a bit better. For example, you could use a filing box to help you keep your important documents categorized and separated (i.e. bills, paychecks, important receipts etc.). I personally find it highly beneficial to have a valet tray to drop my personal belongings in every time I return home.
4.) Clear Your Conscience
You’re only as sick as your secrets.- Alcoholics Anonymous
It is certainly no coincidence that ADHD diagnoses so frequently correlate with with depression and anxiety.
Impulsiveness is often a distraction from the pain of anxiety. Anxiety is the byproduct of negative thought patterns. Negative thought patterns are rooted in unresolved fears and moral dilemmas. It is not possible to be truly happy, healthy, relaxed and focused when you’ve got something eating you up inside.
Your unresolved guilt, shame, resentments, worries and confusions will haunt you until you acknowledge and work through them. The best way to do this is by sharing them with someone who truly cares for your well-being.
Psychotherapists are often inadequate for this because their professional code prohibits them from expressing the love and compassion you need to get through your troubles. You can’t always be sure of their true intentions, either.
You must open up to a close friend, relative, mentor or religious authority who you trust to help you.
5.) Be Physically Healthy
More active or higher fit individuals are capable of allocating greater attentional resources toward the environment and are able to process information more quickly….
…Therefore, exercise and dietary management appear as a noninvasive and effective strategy to counteract neurological and cognitive disorders. (source)
In other words, a healthy body makes for a healthy brain. This generally comes down to following 2 essential principles:
1.) Eat right
Be sure to limit your daily intake of:
- processed foods
- high fructose corn syrup
- artificial sweeteners, colors and preservatives
- white flour products
- everything else of poor nutritional value
Many of these substances are known to make people hyper and/or fat. We all know it’s harder to concentrate when you’re hyper, but studies are also showing that excess body fat is associated with decreased blood flow in the prefrontal cortex (the brain region that controls attention).
2.) Get plenty of exercise
Once again: fat people have a harder time paying attention. Exercise not only burns fat, but also improves cognition and brain health.
When you exercise hard, you breathe deeper. Deep breathing increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain. That’s why people so often report feeling “high” after they put in a great workout.
There are also many exercises which can’t be accomplished correctly without putting a strong degree of coordination, balance and focus into them. Regularly practicing exercises such as the pistol squat will surely improve your concentration overall.
6.) Get Good Sleep
This one’s a no-brainer.
We all know it’s difficult to focus our attention on something for an extended period of time when we aren’t adequately rested.
Aside from following all the aforementioned protocols, you can also get much better sleep by doing the following at least a couple hours before bedtime:
- Creating a relaxing environment devoid of television, video games and radio.
- Turning down the room temperature.
- Abstaining from food and caffeine.
- Dimming the lights. (Too much light exposure before bedtime suppresses the melatonin levels which naturally lower blood pressure and body temperature.)
- Making the bedroom completely dark at bedtime or wearing a sleep mask.
You don’t have to have a brain disorder to suffer ADHD-like symptoms, and you probably don’t need drugs to overcome them either.
Every one of these lifestyle and environmental upgrades should be incorporated into your life before you even think about taking mind-altering medications or administering them to your children.
And even if you’re not having any problems focusing or relaxing, there’s always room for improvement.
Make the most of your mind so you can make the most of your life.