This modern, digital-centric world in which we live has seemingly made our lives busier than ever, with an endless amount of distractions making it increasingly difficult to maintain focus on the things that truly matter. Moreover, in a society that's inherently built on high productivity and success, there are often multiple tasks simultaneously competing for our attention, hindering our ability to immerse completely in the present moment.
On the surface, multitasking can give the illusion of accomplishing more, but it doesn’t make you as effective as you think; in actual fact, research suggests working on several tasks at once reduces focus and productivity by as much as 40 per cent . So how can you train your mind to achieve laser-sharp focus on one thing at a time?
Meditation is one such way to improve concentration and increase productivity, making it easier to achieve your goals and prioritize tasks. So if you’re looking for effective ways to cultivate mental clarity and improve focus, then this article will make you pause for thought. Keep reading to discover the best meditations for concentration.
According to research by Harvard University, the mind is usually lost in thoughts of something other than the task at hand around 47 per cent of the time . Don’t get us wrong, we’re partial to a daydream or two to bring us momentary relief from life’s ongoing stresses, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Focused meditation can help extend your attention span so you can maintain focus for longer lengths of time. Once you learn to remain present, concentrating on tasks for extended periods becomes less challenging as the brain’s ability to control impulses subsequently improves.
Several studies have confirmed this theory, including a study on children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) who learned to meditate. The practice reduced symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness by 50 per cent, with brain scans exhibiting tangible brain changes in participants. These results were on par with the success of prescription medications used to treat ADD .
Research confirms that ten minutes of daily meditation can cause physical changes in the brain, improving how it works in as little as eight weeks through a process called neuroplasticity. But what exactly does this mean?
The brain communicates through electrical nerve cells called neurons. These neural connections constantly adapt to your environment, behavior, and lifestyle; essentially, how you think and feel reorganizes established neural networks. Thereby, consistently training the mind to pay attention to the present moment wires new neural connections for focus, subsequently creating structural changes in the brain, including increased grey matter density.
Grey matter is the tissue that composes neuronal cell bodies and is responsible for processes such as muscle control, sensory perception, emotion, memory, and self-control. Furthermore, by thickening the pre-frontal cortex, meditation enhances functions like awareness, concentration, decision-making, and cognitive performance .
Communication occurs between neurons through electrical brainwaves, all of which resonate at a distinct frequency, ranging from slow to fast. The five main types of brain frequencies are delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma. Meditation allows you to manipulate the frequency of your brainwaves to produce your lived experience.
Beta brainwaves, in particular, are present during concentration, conversation, and focusing on a specific task. Practicing focused meditation heightens beta brain wave levels, thereby boosting the brain’s capacity to control where attention is directed for sustained periods.
In fact, one review of 23 studies concluded that even relatively novice meditators demonstrated an enhanced ability to ignore distractions while focusing on set tasks. At the same time, those who were more experienced showed a significant ability to maintain focus for especially long periods .
Although there are many different forms of meditation, they all have similar end goals: to help you regain focus at any time of the day, zero in on your goals, and enhance productivity.
With that said, some may be more effective in increasing concentration. See below the various meditative techniques and choose the ones that appeal to you.
The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to concentrate wholly on a single focal point, whether it’s your breath, sensations in the body, a physical object, or a specific activity. Release any thoughts and feelings that arise throughout the process without allowing yourself to become absorbed, and then redirect your attention back to your focal point of choice.
By completely directing your consciousness to a single object, mantra or sensation, you’re essentially training your mind to become unresponsive to any distractions, be it internal thoughts and feelings or external stimuli like loud car alarms or people shouting.
People who have difficulty concentrating may benefit from counting their breathing cycles. The process involves counting inhale, exhale, one. Inhale, exhale, two. Inhale, exhale, three, and so on.
Intentionally observe the breath, specifically how it moves in and out of the belly. Feel your lungs expanding and contracting. Notice the sensation of air travelling in through your nose and out through your mouth. This practice fosters an abiding sense of presence and alertness.
Many people may notice that their minds have wandered before counting to three; when this happens, go back to one. With consistent practice, you can successfully train your mind to concentrate for increasingly longer periods.
The goal of zen meditation is to regulate attention by thinking about not thinking. Rather than focusing on a specific object, zen meditation involves a more general awareness and broad scope of attention that incorporates monitoring subjective perceptions, thoughts, and emotions.
An Italian study in 2012 found that people who engaged in zen meditation over the long-term exhibited enhanced mental stability and a superior ability to focus .
Practitioners usually assume the sitting position while keeping their eyes semi-open and dismissing any wandering, intrusive or unintentional thoughts that pop up. By training the mind to achieve such stillness, meditators can reflect on the task at hand with better focus and increased creativity.
Who said meditation has to be constrained to sitting or laying still? Setting aside time each day to walk slowly and mindfully can also improve focus and concentration.
Pay particular attention to the movement and sensations in your legs and feet as they make contact with the ground, from the heels through to the toes. Notice the movement in your arms as they swing back and forth. Become aware of changes to your breathing patterns, as well as the sounds, sights, and sensations in your surroundings.
Introducing a mantra into your meditation can be an effective way to increase your concentration span. For instance, you can try basic positive affirmations, such as ‘My mind is clear’ as you inhale, followed by ‘I have the power to focus’ as you exhale.
Reciting single-syllable sounds can also help to develop the power of concentration. While taking a deep breath in, you may find plenty of spontaneous thoughts circling through your mind; however, repeating a sound like ‘ohm’ each time you exhale can help bring your focus back to the present moment amidst interruptions.
Although sitting perfectly still sounds pretty simple, you may find putting it into practice isn’t as easy as it seems. The key to freeze-frame meditation is to close your eyes and not move a single muscle.
As you do so, pay close attention to your posture. Many of us tend to sag or hunch our bodies and hold on to tension in certain areas without even realising it. Keep your back straight and your head upright while releasing tension in areas like your jaw or shoulders.
Undoubtedly, your body will send many distractions your way, including itches, tickling hairs, or objecting joints. Ignoring these hindrances will calm your mind and increase your ability to concentrate over time.
Meditation appears easy in theory; however, in action, it can be quite challenging when your mind constantly wanders, particularly for those new to the practice. As you develop your meditation muscle, you’ll notice this process will become increasingly easier. In the meantime, here are a few handy tips you can follow:
Assume a comfortable position, whether sitting on a chair, on the ground, or lying down on your couch or bed, do what feels good for you. You can even use cushions, blankets, candles, and aromatherapy to optimize your space and get you in the right mood to meditate.
Relax your body by taking deep breaths and loosening your shoulders. Notice any areas in particular where you may be holding tension and slowly release it.
If you struggle to remain focused throughout your meditation session, that’s okay. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; the key is to be aware of when your mind starts to wander and redirect your attention back to your chosen focal point.
As a beginner, it’s better to start with short sessions lasting less than five minutes before gradually working your way up to longer lengths of time as you become more experienced.
Following a guided meditation can be an excellent way to keep you on track. Hearing the voice of an instructor leading you through your session can help prevent your mind from drifting off.
To make the process easier, you may choose to follow a guided practice through the Mesmerize app. The unique audio-visual experience can help you achieve better focus and concentration through expertly-crafted guided meditations to help you through your journey.
Download Mesmerize on your iOS device today to get started.
Beaded rosaries, otherwise known as ‘malas’, can be a great way to help you focus on the task at hand. Place your concentration on sliding one bead at a time through your fingers with each breath, affirmation, or mantra.
Using malas is one of the simplest ways to practice meditation. You can carry your mala with you so it’s at hand for when you need it most throughout your day to keep you alert and in the present.
When it comes to meditation, there’s no right or wrong time to do it; it’s a completely personal decision based on your daily schedule and temperament. Some people may find that starting their morning with focused meditation is ideal for seizing the day, while others might prefer to practice clearing their minds before getting home from work or as part of their relaxing bedtime ritual.
Regardless of the time of day, the time you devote to your meditation must be free from distractions and interruptions in order to get the most out of your session.
Try not to beat yourself up for failing to focus on your target continually; we’re all human, and it’s natural for our minds not to be present 100 per cent of the time. Anytime you notice yourself drifting off, respond compassionately to your inner self by expressing gratitude for realizing when your mind wanders and redirect yourself back to the present moment.
Studies suggest it can take up to eight weeks of 10-minute daily meditation sessions for your brain to start reaping the results. Benefits include improved focus, enhanced emotional regulation, better decision-making, and a boost in memory. Results from meditation in the long term include more effective communication, better cognitive performance, and heightened motivation.
Once you’ve gained some experience in calming your jumpy mind and distracting thoughts through meditation, you may feel sensations of calmness, relaxation, wholeness and euphoria during your session and for a considerable time afterwards. The body can also feel light and airy, free from any tension. This elated feeling allows you to retain focus for prolonged periods and better cope with stressful situations.
There are many forms of meditation designed to help you achieve different goals. You can try different meditative techniques depending on the outcome you want to achieve as well as what works best for you. Some people may work better by practicing the same meditation daily, while others may benefit from trying different techniques. Whatever you choose, consistency is always the key.
The proven benefits of meditation on mental health are extensive, helping to relieve symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. However, one study found that 6 per cent of participants who practiced mindfulness reported negative side effects that lasted more than a month . If meditation worsens your depressed, distressed, or anxious state, then you should stop and explore other options for help.