Today’s world demands so much mental strength and concentration. In the modern world demands for attention are intense and unrelenting. Your child must keep up and complete school work. If they miss something that can mean they struggle to understand work. Classrooms are busy with lots of exciting activities.
In adult life there are also huge demands for attention. Everyone tries to attend to more than one thing at once: driving, the demands of jobs and also demands of family members and friends frequently occur all at once.
Importantly your attention span is not infinite.
Psychologists can help work out where you can take steps to enhance attention and concentration and improve your quality of study or work as a result. What are the key points for improving attention at any age?
What is attention?
Attention is a complex activity. It helps to think of it as a combination of different skills.
- Firstly alertness, being conscious and aware.
- Secondly the ability to receive information from your environment through your five senses. If any of your sensory organs, eyes, ears or skin for example are not working properly, then your brain will need to work even harder to get information from the remaining senses.
- Thirdly you need to be able to focus on what you need to concentrate on. That means you must be able to block out distraction from the environment and also your own internal thoughts.
How does the brain do it?
We don’t yet know exactly where your neural centre for alertness and awareness or consciousness actually sits in the brain. We do know that several key brain areas form neural networks to direct and sustain attention and concentration.
The prefrontal cortex is known to be a key area where incoming information from the environment is organised and integrated.
Internal information from your emotions, memories and unconscious feelings are relayed from your long term memory stores and the nearby amygdala, which generates your emotional reactions.
Information from the outside world comes into your eyes, ears, skin, taste buds and nose. Your sense of balance, position and direction is conveyed by nerves near your joints and muscles of your body.
Incoming sensory information is processed by sensory reception areas in the brain. Usually toward the rear of the brain. Identification of what your senses are picking up is interpreted and put into language by these association areas. Often there is too much incoming information. Too much noise or visually busy situations make it hard for your brain to focus and it means information can be ignored and that can be a problem.
There’s also individual variation as to how much sensory information you can bear. Some people find loud music and lots of movement helps them focus. Other people need quiet to concentrate well.
When your different brain areas can filter, sort and interpret this information quickly and efficiently you can concentrate even in busy surroundings.
How can attention be improved?
- Make sure your sense organs are in good condition. An eye exam or hearing test are easily obtained and can identify if glasses or hearing aids can increase the quality of information you can get.
- Children can have immature sensory processing and need specialised assessment of their visual scanning ability as they move their gaze from the board to their school books or screen and back again. Often children’s eyes have difficulty changing focus as they move around.
- Some people have poor hearing or, are deaf in one ear. This can have huge implications as they do not hear as much information as others.
- Some children have adequate hearing, but have difficulty interpreting the information once it enters their brains from processing. They often need specialised auditory assessment of their central auditory processing.
Keep your work environment free of clutter.
- Can doors be closed or mobile phones be switched to silent to reduce unexpected noises.
- Allow down- time, rest breaks when you don’t need to focus and attend to let your brain reset.
- Use motivational music wisely. Sometimes lively music can help raise energy and focus if tasks need to be done quickly, late at night, or are repetitive. Otherwise save music as a background ambience when you are relaxing or working out or partying not for doing intellectually demanding work.
- Break up big tasks into smaller tasks to beat feelings of fatigue and stress. If you have trouble doing that ask someone for help.
- When reading or writing lots, especially studying, break up text and writing into short sections. Use visual means to do this like coloured shading of text on a computer or simply use a ruler or highlighter pen to underline important ideas.
- Free up the capacity of your attention. Repeat and practice some information you need all the time. If there are pieces of information you can commit to memory or to muscle memory if they are physical movements then your frontal cortex simply won’t need to devote precious attention to them. They become automatic. This frees up space.
- Be aware of and take steps to combat and reduce your stress levels. If you are anxious or stressed or worried then this will result in your attention wandering. Psychologists are skilled in helping you reduce stress and also sometimes uncover what you are stressed about, if you’ve feeling of disquiet but don’t quite know why.
If you are concerned that you or someone you love might have an attention deficit or concentration problem please contact us to make an appointment.
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