Even if you’re not operating under a deadline or working in an office where bouts of zoning out can add up to hours of lost productivity — and even job troubles — we all find our minds wandering at inopportune moments. How embarrassing is it when you space out at the precise moment someone tells you his or her name, and have to subtlety grasp for pronouns until a mutual acquaintance fills in the blank?
Plus, smartphones, tablets, commercial-free TV, and a million other “conveniences” have left us with something akin to adult-onset ADD. "There's never been another time in history when there was so much to be distracted by, and all our technology reinforces the feeling that you're missing out on something if you're not able to pay attention to a bunch of things at once," according to Charles Folk, Ph.D., director of the cognitive science program at Villanova University.
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Try out these methods to shut out the distractions and learn how to improve concentration:
1. Get yourself a lumosity.com account
No, they didn’t pay us to say that. Our associate editor swears by this site, as do about 40 million other users. All you have to do is log on a few times a week and play a few quick games designed by neuroscientists to improve cognitive function. When you first create your account, you can customize your cognitive workout regimen, prioritizing which areas of brain health you’d like to improve (memory, attention, speed, cognitive flexibility, problem solving, etc.). While the benefits of luminosity.com aren’t yet set in stone, The Human Cognition Project, the coalition of researchers, educators, clinicians, and volunteers behind the project, has done several peer-reviewed studies on the benefits of luminosity training that point to its efficacy. Either way, the games definitely get those cogs churning. Then again, if it’s all for naught, we suppose this may be just another form of procrastination…
Again with the water. According to a 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition, mild dehydration can cause your mind to wander. Researchers found that women who were less than two percent dehydrated demonstrated impaired performance on a series of cognitive tests. The sensation of thirst doesn’t kick in until our body is really desperate for some fluids, so consider inattention to be a warning sign you a water break.
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3. Take a mental breather
Your neurotransmitters get depleted in as little as 10 minutes of doing the same activity. Take “brain breaks” in the middle of work to give them time to re-up. Stretch, walk around the office, grab a healthy snack, or just look away from your screen and do some eye yoga. Consciously taking a brief break can save you tons of time lost unintentionally daydreaming.
If you’re worried or stressed about something, it’s extremely hard to focus on another task. Work on your mental poise with these meditation and stress relief tips, and you’ll find it a whole lot easier to harness concentration and accomplish the task at hand despite whatever’s nagging at you.
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5. Wiggle your toes
Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, advises wiggling your toes when you feel yourself beginning to enter la-la-land. Zoning out is your brain’s way of seeking new stimulation. If you’re attempting to have a conversation but can’t quite focus, take a moment to direct your attention to your toes. This mindful effort will force you back into the present, and is a great undetectable way to give yourself a mental shake, and, in the long term, be a better listener.