Do you recognize them? Those moments when you stare at your screen while your attention drifts away from the tasks at hand. When you find yourself reading and rereading the same sentence – not because it’s complex, or you had a bad sleep, or skipped a meal – but because you just can’t focus.
No, I mean those moments when you are consciously or unconsciously under pressure. That stress causes your mind to wander.
The Impact of Stress on Concentrating
What moments might these be?
Think of situations, for example, when you are distracted by what is happening around you. Maybe it’s too loud or too quiet to concentrate. Or maybe, because your head is full of other thoughts. Worries or reflections on what didn’t go well, what you still have to do, or what might happen.
Situations where your amygdala sends a stress signal to your hypothalamus, which reacts by warning your adrenal glands that you are under pressure. That message causes your adrenal glands to respond by releasing adrenaline into your bloodstream.
But while a good dose of adrenaline helps you focus better, too much leads to excess arousal, making it much harder for you to focus and perform effectively.
Getting your Head Back in the Game
It’s why ‘Being unable to concentrate’ is one of the 55 cards in our/my Coach Card set: Stress! Herken jij de signalen? It may not apply to you at all, it may only apply to you sometimes, or it may be completely to you personally.
If you or someone you know finds it hard to concentrate under pressure, how do you get back on track?
Well, I have searched for tips and workouts to help you get focused back on work – and that eventually got a little out of hand.
While I had planned to give you 3 tips, I came across so many great exercises that this time, 3 tips have become 10.
Ten Tips to Refocus your Brain
The exercises and workouts below will help you when you have trouble focusing. The first two exercises will help you free your mind, while exercises 3 to 8 are Concentration Workouts.
During a Concentration Workout, you entirely devote your attention to an activity for a set period.
1. Take a Brain Break
We all need a break now and then. An easy and fun way to do this is with a 30-second dance party. It is as simple as picking a song and dancing it out for a bit.
Getting up and moving around is a great way to get oxygen to your brain.
After getting your groove on for half a minute, you’ll be surprised by how much easier it is to refocus on the task at hand.
2. Do a Brain Dump
This exercise helps you de-clutter from your mind and place it all outside yourself – a simple free association process of dumping anything and everything in your mind onto paper. All the thoughts that make your attention drift; stressors, frustrations, nagging thoughts, annoyances, irritations.
- Grab a pen and paper, and
- Write down every thought that comes to your head.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this exercise; write until you feel like there’s less pressure inside of you.
When you are finished, you’ll be ready to refocus on the task at hand!
3. Counting Backward
For this concentration workout, count in your mind from one hundred to one, skipping every three numbers. So 100, 97, 94, etc.
This exercise helps you clear your head of everything else for a few minutes.
It requires persistence and different skills, which could include visualizing the numbers as you count.
4. Spelling Backward
Spelling words backward is an excellent way to focus – set a 3-5 minute timer for this exercise.
We encourage you to start with words that are easy, like sun, yes, dog, cup, book, or joy. After that, try building up to longer words. To find words, you can look around the room and pick any objects around you.
5. Do Not Blink
This exercise is perfect when you only have a few minutes to spare. You can do this exercise any time, anywhere.
Make sure you’re in a comfortable position, with a peaceful view like a blank wall or the view outside your window.
- Then set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes, and
- Try to blink as little as possible.
6. Focus On a Word
Devote your attention to a word in this concentration workout.
Choose an inspiring word, phrase, or even a simple sound.
Positive words are great examples, like excellent, beautiful, effortless, freedom, happy, love, optimistic, or safety. Pick a word that has positive connotations for you.
- Set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes.
- During that time, repeat your chosen word silently in your mind.
7. Candy Workout
This concentration workout is not as easy as it seems. It is tasty, though!
We ask you to suck on a lollipop or hard candy until it’s gone.
While you’re at it, could you resist the urge to bite into it?
We encourage you to pay attention to the flavor, the sensation of the candy on your tongue, and how long it takes to finish it completely.
8. Examine Some Fruit
Take an apple, orange, banana, or any other fruit, and hold it in your hands. Start by looking at the fruit and examining it for about 2 minutes. Examine it from all its sides.
Notice its shape, smell, taste, and the sensation it gives you when you touch it.
Put it aside.
Then, close your eyes, and try to see, smell, taste, and touch the fruit in your imagination. Try to create a clear, well-defined image. If the image becomes blurred, open your eyes and look at the fruit for a moment before closing them to continue with the exercise.
9. Opening and Closing your Fist
This concentration workout is a monotonous activity, which can be an effective way to train your attention.
- Move your chair up to a table.
- Place one hand on it, keeping the back of your hand on the table. Clench your fist, with your thumb doubled over your fingers.
- Now, fix your gaze upon your fist for a while.
- Then gradually extend your thumb, with all your focus on the action as if it’s a matter of great importance.
- Then gradually extend your first finger, then your second, and so on until you open the rest.
- When you are done, reverse the process, first closing the last finger you opened and then the rest until finally, your fist is once again in its original position with your thumb closed over your finger.
- Repeat this exercise five times for each hand.
10. Follow the Second Hand of a Clock
This concentration workout requires some willpower, as there’s very little interesting about the second hand of a clock.
- Sit in a chair and place a clock with a second hand in front of you.
- Follow the second hand with your eyes as it goes around, starting when it’s at 12, and focusing intently on its progress around the clock face. Every time your concentration breaks, wait until the second hand is at 12 again and start again.
- Keep this up for three minutes, thinking of nothing else but the second hand.
After doing one of these workouts or exercises, it might be interesting to evaluate how it has impacted your ability to concentrate.
Maybe the effect wasn’t that big – if that’s the case, it might not be the proper exercise for you.
If, however, it had a positive impact on your wandering mind, it might be helpful to use it the next time your attention drifts away from the task at hand.