By Jenny Menzel, H.C.
If you find yourself distracted, tired, or not productive enough throughout your day, you’re not alone. Difficulty focusing can be caused by underlying physical or mental conditions like infections, lack of sleep, pain syndromes, and more. But most commonly, our concentration is hampered by overly ambitious schedules and everyday interruptions from chatty co-workers, family obligations, and incessant notifications popping up on our phones, the internet, and advertisements at every turn of the head. People who lose the ability to focus can suffer from subtle to severe cognitive decline that may negatively impact one’s life, and the lives of those around them.
So what can be done to improve your focus? There are many ways to boost brainpower, but the reasons you’re experiencing hampered cognition is unique to you. Below are top strategies that have been found to generally improve concentration levels. Consider using only one strategy at a time, slowly adding others to avoid being overwhelmed. Journaling your progress along the way can make for a great reference guide to monitor improvements.
7 Strategies to Increase Your Focus Ability
Exercise Your Brain.
An unused brain dulls over time, not dissimilar to a stagnant car losing functionality from not being driven. Fortunately, keeping our brains sharp can be fun, fast, and easy. According to a recent study, brain exercises administered to over 4,000 adults revealed only 15 minutes of doing crossword puzzles five times per week is enough to improve cognitive function. If you hate crosswords, that’s ok! Brain games on apps like Elevate or Luminosity make cognitive training fun while charting your progress. If brain games still sound miserable to you, you might be relieved to know that video games can be a mind-sharpening activity as well — making this an ideal option (ironically) for kids when used in moderation.
Move Your Body.
Research from The Journal of Neuroscience shows exercise can change our chemistry by activating the frontal regions of the brain responsible for managing stress — the amygdala. Depending on the type of exercise, it also increases the heart rate which pumps out neurochemicals, like serotonin and endocannabinoids, to reduce nervousness and boost focus with consistent practice. However, be mindful to not go overboard with high-impact training, which one study says carries risk of reduced cognitive ability in children. A brisk walk, cycling, and yoga are great physical activities that balance and protect the brain.
Refuel with a Whole-Food Diet.
When we energize our brain and body with exercise, we need to refuel with a wholesome diet of grains, legumes, quality protein, fruits, and vegetables. Research published by Harvard Health Publishing suggests brain-boosting foods are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and B vitamins; with dark leafy greens, fatty fish, blueberries, and walnuts being the most recognized “brain foods.” Try crowding out unhealthy eating habits by first introducing more brain-healthy options. While you may not see immediate results, this slow-paced strategy to change your diet can be more sustainable in the end, and not as shocking to your system when you strip away unhealthier foods.
Supplement with CBD.
Even with a healthy diet and consistent exercise routine, supplements may be needed to finesse your focus. Hemp-derived cannabis compounds like cannabidiol (CBD) may fortify support to your body and brain. One way CBD boosts brainpower is by increasing blood flow to the area of the brain responsible for processing memories. Interestingly, non-psychoactive CBD is most known to inspire relaxation and better sleep when taken in higher doses, but a study published in Journal of Psychopharmacology revealed CBD could have more alerting properties when taken at a low dose — thereby enhancing mood and focus ability.
Unplugging from electronics is trending. However, as device-dependent beings, arresting a heavy phone-checking habit might be one of the more challenging tasks. To increase your focus, carve out a little time to ditch distractions. Some of the most common distractors are:
- People. Let your family or co-workers know that you are blocking out a specific time for yourself, free of people and devices.
- Phone. Schedule Do Not Disturb times. Silence your phone, and turn off notifications.
- Internet. Block or set limits on specific websites that habitually distract you.
Use Popular Productivity Methods.
A simple tactic that may keep you on track comes from the book, Eat That Frog. Do the “yuckiest” task first (eating a frog is a yucky task no one wants to do), and then reward yourself when you’ve successfully completed the task. Another productivity tool is the Pomodoro Technique, or the Tomato Timer. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and commit to ignoring everything but the one task you designated to work on. After 25 minutes has passed, take a 5 minute break, repeating a few rounds or until you’ve completed your task.
Give Your Brain a Break
There is such a thing as too much training, too much work, and too many rules. We need breaks for balance, and improving brain health is no different. Go do something fun for no reason. Take a break — even if it is a short one to step out in nature and feel the sun on your face. One of the biggest indicators that we need to take a break is the fact that we are not able to focus. Lean into the lack of focus and unplug as much as possible until you feel recuperated and refocused.
Rest, Relax, and Repair
When burnt out, our body usually tells us it’s tired. Instead of overriding the signal by reaching for more caffeine or distractions, surrender to it by listening. Take a power nap to recover your energy. If it’s evening, go to sleep early. Do something fun. Consistently practicing meditation has been proven effective at reducing feelings of anxiousness and clarifying confusion. If you fall asleep during meditation, that’s OK. Its a sign that you’re simply tired and your brain needs some repairative slumber. At least, take a power nap before reaching for synthetic options that may only add fuel to the scattered fire.
Brain health is an essential piece of living a quality life, and yet, it often gets overlooked. If we compare our body to a car, our brain would be us — the driver, the computer. We need to run the engine and physically move the car around to keep our parts working optimally. We need to feed the car the proper fuel so the computing system operates as it should. And we need to perform preventative maintenance to avoid the need for any major repairs. Exercise, nutrition, sleep, and play are the cornerstones of a balanced brain and a healthy body.
- Bloomfield MA, Green SF, Hindocha C, et al. The effects of acute cannabidiol on cerebral blood flow and its relationship to memory: An arterial spin labelling magnetic resonance imaging study. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2020;34(9):981-989. doi:10.1177/0269881120936419
- Hardy JL, Nelson RA, Thomason ME, et al. Enhancing Cognitive Abilities with Comprehensive Training: A Large, Online, Randomized, Active-Controlled Trial. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0134467. Published 2015 Sep 2. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0134467
- Samuel RD, Zavdy O, Levav M, Reuveny R, Katz U, Dubnov-Raz G. The Effects of Maximal Intensity Exercise on Cognitive Performance in Children. J Hum Kinet. 2017;57:85-96. Published 2017 Jun 22. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0050
- Schoenfeld TJ, Rada P, Pieruzzini PR, Hsueh B, Gould E. Physical exercise prevents stress-induced activation of granule neurons and enhances local inhibitory mechanisms in the dentate gyrus. Journal of Neuroscience. 2013;33(18):7770-7777. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.5352-12.2013
Jenny Menzel, H.C., is a Certified Health Coach and branding specialist for various alternative healthcare practices, and volunteers her design skills to the annual grassroots campaign, the Lyme Disease Challenge. Jenny was diagnosed with Lyme in 2010 after 8 years of undiagnosed chronic pain and fatigue, and continues to improve by employing multiple alternative therapies, including Āyurveda, Chinese Medicine and Bee Venom Therapy.