Focusing on tasks is hard enough. But we now live in a world where we have access to virtually all known information kept handily in a device many of us carry from room to room.
Who can put in a straight hour of concentration when our favorite websites, apps, and other sources of instant gratification are calling?
But sometimes the inability to focus isn’t solely caused by all the other fun things you could be looking at. For some, the bigger issue lies in a dopamine deficiency, meaning you need to do more than put down your phone.
Fortunately, neither our attention spans nor dopamine levels are static. Rather, your ability to focus is like a muscle. Exercise and maintenance allow us to increase our focus and channel our concentration not just to be more productive but also more present.
If you’ve been feeling sluggish or unproductive, keep reading to learn how to increase mental focus – naturally.
Here are seven natural ways to increase mental focus.
1. Eat for Performance
Think for a moment about the feeling you experience when your hunger goes from peckish to a raging level of hanger. That’s your brain reacting to a lack of nutrition, letting you know it’s time to feed – or else.
While it’s tempting to eat to satisfy our bellies, it’s important to take what our brain needs into account.
Eating for brain performance doesn’t require superfoods or expensive health food products. In fact, the most important part of a diet focused on performance isn’t focused on what you eat but what you shouldn’t eat – refined sugar.
Refined sugar sends our brains wild and gives the accompanying mental boost. But the effects of sugar wear off quickly, and they come with a cost.
According to one scientific study, the brain doesn’t necessarily treat refined sugar like food. In fact, it sometimes treats it as if it were bacteria or a virus. When your brain detects a threat like a virus, your immune system kicks in to attack it, and it may result in cognitive defects, creating an almost Alzheimer’s-like effect.
While a healthy, balanced diet is at the heart of health, the only food you need to kick is sugar in all forms. Although natural sugars from fruit are slightly better, you still need to limit how much you consume if you want to reach peak brain function.
2. Create a Caffeine Strategy
What’s the first thing you reach for when it’s time to focus? Most of us will say caffeine. Whether it’s coffee, tea, or an energy drink, we associate caffeine with productivity and concentration.
Those assumptions aren’t wrong. A good dose of caffeine will improve your focus and concentration while also serving as a pick-me-up. Caffeine accomplishes all this by encouraging your brain to increase the level of dopamine.
If you’re wondering how to increase focus with caffeine, start by moderating the amount of caffeine you drink (or eat). Going for the venti coffee may not have the intended effects because while some caffeine stimulates dopamine production, too much caffeine reduces blood flow to the brain, producing the opposite of the effect you desire.
Additionally, consume caffeine without added or processed sugar. Tea and coffee are great, but added syrups and sugars produce the effects discussed in step one.
3. Unplug from Your Devices
Do you ever feel overwhelmed and almost like you’re overstimulated? Maybe you spend all day on the computer at work only to return home and watch TV while keeping one eye on your phone.
Taking time away from your devices – and technology in general – is a great way to increase focus. According to some researchers, leaving your tech behind after work will help you feel recharged the next day.
Unplugging can also improve your sleep. By keeping your phone next to your bed, you’re tempting yourself when you’re supposed to be sleeping. You may even be waking up at night and checking emails and other notifications, preventing you from getting the sleep you need.
Finally, turning off your tech is good for your mental health. Without the added chatter provided by social media and the comparisons and anxieties that come with it, you’ll have more time and a greater desire to focus on the tasks in front you, whatever they are.
4. Declutter Your Spaces
The space around you impacts your wellbeing.
Bright, open spaces connect us to natural light and improve our moods. Cluttered spaces are distracting, overwhelming, and destroy our focus.
Decluttering your home – and your life – allows your brain to choose the most important things to focus on more easily.
Although this seems like general wisdom, there’s real science behind the benefits of decluttering.
According to a team of scientists at Princeton University’s Neuroscience Institute, when you have several stimuli in your eye line, those stimuli then compete to be represented in your brain by suppressing the activity of the visual cortex of your brain.
Keeping too much stuff in your visual field shuts down your brain’s ability to focus on only one thing and forces your attention towards and away from things that may not matter at the moment.
Keeping your home, desk, and general space free of clutter removes your focus handicap, allowing your brain to flourish even when your current task is less-than-stimulating.
5. Stop Multitasking
Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task, but the reality is that multitasking only serves as a distraction and doesn’t improve our focus.
Instead of trying to juggle four balls at once, switch to a routine that allows you do one thing at a time.
Don’t think you’re multitasking? Think again.
How often do you stop what you’re doing to take a call or check a notification on your phone? That’s multi-tasking, and it’s a major distraction that trains your brain to bounce back and forth between different tasks.
Take the relevant steps to prevent the temptation to do multiple things at once. Turn the ‘Sync’ mode on your phone off so that you only receive notifications when you refresh your email or an app. Better yet, leave phones, tablets, and other devices in another room while you focus on a task.
When you have to physically get up and stop what you’re doing to do another task, you’re more likely to think of it as a distraction or a break. You’ll also re-train yourself to concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes at a time.
6. Increase Focus With Supplements
As we noted earlier, if you want to know how to improve mental focus, you need methods that target the dopamine levels in your brain. While food, exercise, and sleep are all essential, it’s not uncommon to need some extra help.
There are various supplements available for improving focus including both natural supplements and pills full of chemicals ranging from caffeine to mystery ingredients.
We recommend natural supplements because they help you avoid the pitfalls of things like caffeine and allow you to eat and drink normally.
Gingko Biloba is a popular herbal supplement. It goes so far in improving concentration and memory that some scientists see it’s potential in treating Alzheimer’s.
Improving your Omega 3 intake will also increase your focus. If you can’t get enough in your diet, consider taking it in supplement form for both brain power and overall health.
7. Create a Schedule
Schedules are loathsome to some because they’re associated with a forced sense of busyness. But there are some real advantages to using a schedule to improve your focus and concentration.
By creating a schedule – and sticking to it – you’re training your brain to anticipate periods of focused work with a scheduled reward at the end.
Schedules must be strict to work their magic, but once you’ve turned a schedule into a habit, you’ll find it much easier to focus on tasks even when the project itself is boring.
To start, you’ll schedule specific periods of work followed by a designated break where you rest.
For example, DeskTime, a productivity app, found that highly-productive people work for 52 minutes before breaking for 17 minutes. Of course, you’ll need to play around with your schedule to find the best method for you.
The key to improving focus isn’t necessarily in the work time but the rest time. Your rest period must be completely divorced from work. To keep yourself away from a pressing project, consider using that period to get up and stretch, which has the added benefit of keeping you moving throughout the day – an activity with benefits all its own.
8. Exercise to Focus
A good workout can really be the thing that changes everything for you. I personally hit that mid-afternoon slump pretty much every day at 3 pm. It messes with my productivity and workflow heavily and deems me pretty useless for the rest of the day.
To combat this, I began running each day for about 15-20 minutes, and I cannot tell you how much this boosts my mental capabilities for the rest of the day. Not to mention, I am much happier and lighter after a quick workout, because the endorphins create a healthy, natural high.
If you want a great way to zone in on your mental focus that is quick and easy, you can begin incorporating a quick jog or a few sets of sprints into your day. Some people prefer morning, others prefer night, but I have found that a quick run on my lunch break helps.
How to Increase Mental Focus Naturally
If you’ve been wondering how to improve mental focus, know that there’s no one way to achieve this. The methods that work best also depend on your body and brain – and whether you have a healthy foundation featuring a good diet, plenty of sleep, and the right amount of exercise.
Improving your focus doesn’t require expensive nootropics or medications. For most of us, it simply means removing the barriers that challenge our brain’s ability to stay on task.
Do you have a trick for improving your focus? Share your stories in the comments below.