We all need to improve our concentration, and sometimes much more than we think. The Fast Track Project, a study that followed about 900 children over several decades, concluded that the most important discriminator of success (in school and work) was the ability to concentrate.
Without knowing this study, many people realize the impact of concentration on their lives and are looking for exercises and tips to improve it: here is our selection of the most effective.
What is concentration?
In a few words, it is essential to understand what concentration is to allow you to do the exercises correctly, but especially to understand where we want to go together.
Concentration is a synonym for “attention” and consists of the ability to mobilize all one’s mental faculties on a particular subject. Concentration is composed of three poles: control, intensity and selectivity. Attention is very strongly linked to memory and cognitive functions. Despite prejudices, it can only be focused on one subject at a time and it is often the result of productivity.
The activities we offer are varied and will train your concentration for a wide range of applications, at all levels of brain activity. Exit the preconceived ideas in front of the training.
→ Also have a look on our complete guide to stay focused at work
10 simple exercises to improve your concentration
As the exercises progress, you will understand that concentration is mainly trained by mobilizing the brain in a long and intensive way on a single subject. To do this, we will mix specific exercises with activities that you probably already practice, changing your way of doing things a little.
More than anything, this panel of exercises will allow you to find the ones that suit you best. Don’t forget that all learning requires training and a step-by-step progression. So set achievable goals and don’t hesitate to read our advice.
1- Calculation exercise
I never understood why we were so quickly invited to use a calculator in school, no matter what the course of study, when mental arithmetic is a very good tool for improving attention. Without a machine or paper, the brain has to juggle several information in an iterative way, and that doesn’t matter the level of mathematics.
It is not necessary to do very difficult calculations, but simply to maintain your attention for as long as possible. Some examples:
Start from 100 and subtract 4 each time. So 100, 96, 92, 88…
Start at 100 and remove each time the previous number multiplied by two: 100, 99 (100 – 1), 97 (99 – 2), 93 (99 – 4), 85 (93 – 8)…
Multiply the numbers by themselves up to 25: 1×1, 2×2, 3×3….
Of course, you can create your own version of the above workout.
Recite the multiplication tables to yourself in order, and when it’s too easy go backwards. You’ll find that the slightest distraction will force you to start from the beginning. This can be frustrating, but it will happen less and less with practice.
2 – Reading exercise
While the above exercise is fun for those who are comfortable with numbers, letters are also very important. The simplest and oldest concentration training remains reading. The overall reading time has decreased a bit in the last few years, but nothing to worry about when it comes to reading “in a row”. Our new way of consuming information has largely contributed to modify our relationship to attention.
Reading novels, short stories or long articles will require you to follow and understand the story. In this case, you are obliged to make logical sequences. More than that, reading develops imagination, general culture and design skills. By reading, you work on yourself while having a good time.
So for beginners, start by giving yourself 15 minutes of uninterrupted reading per day. Even if this may seem difficult, try to move up to the next level as quickly as possible: 30 minutes, 45 minutes and finally 1 hour. Start with simple stories, nowadays many novels are accessible (less than 300 pages and easy to read) in paper or digital version.
With one hour of reading a day, you get your brain used to staying focused for a long time while you travel away from your armchair.
3 – Sudoku exercise
My favorite practice to improve my concentration (after reading) is sudoku filling. It started in class when I was a student: in the transportation or in the bathroom, I can’t help but play a little game. Sudoku grids are Japanese puzzle games. You have to fill the 9 rows, 9 columns, 9 squares with each number (from 1 to 9) only once per row, column and square.
These are games that prevent you from doing anything else at the same time, because once you lose the thread, it is very complicated to resume. So you have a good reason to stay focused. If, like me, you already have a good level on Sudoku and you never spend more than 15 minutes on them, keep them for fun!
4 – Mandala exercise
The mandala has a history deeply linked to the psychic and to the consciousness. In the Indian tradition, they mean “wheel” or “circle” and are representations of the cosmos, as much as they are used in the exercise of meditation. There is a multitude of pre-designed mandalas that you can find in dedicated magazines or on the internet.
The important thing is to stay focused on the mandala as you color it. This moment of coloring, which may seem childish, should be a moment of freedom of your consciousness. When you choose the colors, think about the impressions you want to represent. It is your feeling that guides the filling in of the drawing rather than the search for beauty or a goal.
This technique will allow you to easily avoid distractions. Even if you have to take a break, you can return to the mental state that leads to the Mandala several times during the day, or even over several days.
You will be able, thanks to this particular hobby, to gain in concentration, but also in creativity, while keeping all your energy.
5 – Two minute exercise
You also need to practice what I call intense concentration. We all know that moment when nothing else exists in the world but what we are doing. This is the state we want to be in as often as possible when working or solving a problem.
So the workout is simple and can be done in many ways. You can stare at a clock, a candle, or simply force yourself to sit still for 2 minutes. And you must not focus on anything other than the action you have chosen. You will see how difficult it is to stay focused on sitting still and doing nothing. You should not think about anything else, the breath will help you.
If it’s easy, set new goals and move to 3,4,5 minutes.
You will quickly notice that thinking of nothing requires a lot of concentration. Very quickly, you will want to occupy your hands and your mind with a subject, and potentially let your daily problems get in the way. You will be fighting with yourself, and that is exactly what we want to train you to do. Quick and efficient, you can practice it during your working day, but be careful, it is not a break or a rest, but a personal development exercise.
6 – Meditation exercise
The previous exercise is a good introduction to meditation. It will be a compulsory step if you want to increase your ability to concentrate. A study from the University of Washington has proven that 10 or 20 minutes of meditation per day can increase concentration in a few days.
This is just one of many benefits, such as good mental health, stress reduction, awareness of self and others, increased energy or better sleep.
To get started with meditation you can use guide applications like Little Bamboo, Headspace or start on your own. There are many articles about these topics, and some even offer a complete online training.
Without going too deep into the expertise, I have some tips to get started. The most important thing is to focus on your breathing. You need to listen and feel each of your inhalations and exhalations. Feel the air going in and out of your body, without worrying about outside distractions.
As before, do not let your daily thoughts assault you, only the air you breathe should count. At first, however, you may even forget that you are meditating and think about that altercation this morning or that file you have to hand in. Then each time, you will have to return to your initial task until you forget all distractions.
7 – Geometric exercise
Math is back, but this time a little lighter. To improve your concentration and mental projection skills, you can play with geometry. Choose your favorite shape, a square, a circle or a hexagon, and then concentrate 100% on this shape and its mental representation.
The more comfortable you are with this practice, the more you can add, such as color, volume or density. Step by step, you can play with the shapes and create versions and mental representations that will allow you to escape and concentrate.
8 – Apple exercise
As part of your learning process, you can frame the previous exercise a bit more by taking known objects and moving them in your mind.
In this new version, first imagine a classic shoebox, without logo, from which you will mentally remove the lid. Then, visualize an apple, be careful this one must be perfect. Turn it around in your mind to check.
Don’t forget anything about it, its smell, its taste or its texture. Once it is completely mastered, place it in the shoebox without using anything, just by the force of your mind.
You can try doing this with your eyes closed, but this is obviously easier because it limits distractions. You will see that this little exercise seems easy, but it requires great concentration skills, because it involves many parameters.
9 – Wall exercise
Finally, we will combine several faculties for a total concentration. This mental activity is a bit like “counting sheep” to go to sleep. I sometimes use it to chase away thoughts that preoccupy me before going to sleep.
This is the easiest one for me, but sometimes some people find it difficult to imagine this white wall. It is very simple, because on this wall you have to paint the number 100, then erase it with white paint, then write 99, erase it and so on, without pausing. It is very similar to different exercises mentioned earlier.
After a few days of practice you will be able to chase away all thoughts from your mind and easily reach 0, if you don’t fall asleep before…
10 – Duet exercise
As you will have understood, the main objective of the proposed exercises is to train your brain to stay focused on the same occupation for as long as possible. However, this does not only work when you are alone. It is possible to adapt these exercises for a practice with two people.
Thus, fun activities can be very effective in learning these skills together. Within the framework of a company, you can set them up on a regular basis to reinforce team cohesion and the skills of each person.
Trying to get as many exchanges as possible at Ping Pong or passing to ten will be more effective than foosball. With each attempt, try to beat the previous company record.
What are the benefits of the proposed exercises?
Thanks to these exercises and tips, you can work on your mental concentration. Indeed, brain plasticity allows you to improve your cognitive abilities as well as the muscles of your arms or legs. It is a long term learning process, which implies to progress in progressive steps, try to adapt the training to your level. This will prevent you from getting discouraged.
With regular training, the change will be significant and long-lasting: you will be able to stay focused much longer. Concentration problems can affect your personal and professional life, so don’t hesitate to solve them with fun!
First of all, you will be able to gain time and efficiency in your tasks. Your daily activities such as a report to hand in or a dish to cook will be completed more quickly because they are less affected by external distractions and stimuli: you will keep your objective in sight.
By concentrating in this way, you will have a much sharper awareness of the present moment, and often your understanding of the situation will be more refined. You will feel much more alive and involved in your actions. A real joy for those who think they are missing out on life.
Finally you can say goodbye to mental fatigue, which is particularly induced by multitasking and overloads the brain. It is a huge source of stress. By concentrating, you offer the brain the possibility to work less while being more efficient. Use this new energy to enjoy life!
Other ways to increase concentration
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
In order to have a good concentration, you must first of all take care of your lifestyle. So we are not going to enumerate here all that composes it, but the bases are articulated around three pillars.
It is important to get a good night’s sleep and give your brain a rest, sleep is a major factor in the assimilation of information. The best advice on this subject is to learn to listen to your body.
In the same sense, doing sports will be able to stimulate your body, your muscles and your hormones properly. Sport is a great training to regulate the breathing and to acquire a better will.
Finally, eating well, that is to say varied and healthy, will allow you to have all the energy necessary to remain concentrated all day long. It is this way of life that will allow you to make the most of your mental and psychic capacities.
A list of foods to choose from
Certain foods should be favored to promote concentration (and memory). As before, they won’t be able to do everything, but most of them have already proven their effectiveness in concentration work. It takes more than 40 different nutrients to ensure complete nutrition of the brain.
There are special diets that help boost your abilities by focusing on these foods. Generally, the diet to improve concentration corresponds to the Mediterranean diet, which involves ingesting a lot of vitamins, lean proteins and omega-3, as well as spreading carbohydrates throughout the day.
Therefore, this plan includes :
● Cereals, fruits and vegetables
● Garlic onions spices
● Vegetables, nuts, seeds
● Fish, chicken and eggs
● Olive oil and butter
As you can see, it is above all the food balance and the proportions that make the Mediterranean diet so rich.
Fill up on vitamins
Finally, we can explain it more in a dedicated article, but vitamins are a great contribution for the brain, especially for a better concentration. Vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12 are essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
But it is vitamin B5 that will help and promote intellectual performance. You can find vitamin B5 in many foods, such as fish oil, sunflower seeds, beef or poultry livers, and especially in shiitake mushrooms.
Finally, there are obviously dedicated food supplements that will allow you to assimilate it directly.
What causes lack of concentration?
The causes of lack of concentration are numerous and range from poor lifestyle to depression (which is the most cited cause by those who suffer from this disorder). There are many causes for a lack of concentration, while some are mild others affect the whole psychological situation. It will be difficult to diagnose yourself, so it is necessary to take advice quickly.
The most common causes are: head trauma, depression, lack of interest, chronic fatigue and stress. You can start by asking yourself about these issues as they apply to your life.
→ Learn more on the lack of attention causes
Do I have attention deficit disorder?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that affects between 3 and 6% of children, usually diagnosed around the age of 10. It is characterized by concentration problems, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. The symptoms are numerous: lack of attention, agitation, inability to stay in place, need to act, frequent forgetfulness.
For the child (or undiagnosed adult) it is advisable to consult a specialist as soon as possible who can confirm the case.
In this case, who to consult?
It is important not to hesitate to consult a specialist as soon as possible. Studies show that the earlier a child is identified, the less impact it will have on his or her future life and the less effective the treatment will be. Leaving a child with such disorders without support and therapy, she will face insurmountable difficulties in the areas of employment and social integration.
In general, the pediatrician and the general practitioner are good introductions if you have doubts about yourself or a child.
However, it is the clinical examination with a doctor specializing in the disorder (psychiatrist or neurologist) that will make the final diagnosis.