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Want to improve your concentration and attention? Find your personal focus zone

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If you find yourself staring in the distance while you wanted to work. If you’ve read one paragraph four times and still have no idea what it says. If everything around you seems to distract you. Then you probably haven’t found it yet: your focus zone. The good news is: everybody has one, so do you. 

Good start

If your mind starts wandering, simply acknowledge it. Don’t spend hours waiting for it to change (which probably won’t happen), just tell yourself: OK, I lost focus. Then you can make a conscious decision to activate yourself, or to unwind. 

Discover your focus zone 

According to Lucy Jo Palladino, clinical psychologist and author of Find Your Focus Zone, it’s important to find out what causes your lack of concentration. It has to do with the relation between attention and stimuli. You can think of the two as a u-shaped chart. On the one end of the ‘u’, there’s lack of stimulation, on the other end, there’s overstimulation. On both ends, your attention is weak. There are too many, or too little stimuli. 

But if the amount of stimulus is just right –and it comes to you evenly, without extreme highs and lows- you feel fine. You’re relaxed and alert, you have enough energy, you listen to other people or read words without your mind wandering and organizing things goes easily. Then you’re in the focus zone, in the middle of the u turn. Sounds great, right? 

How do you get into the zone? According to Palladino, there are eight ‘key rings’ with skills you can use to retrieve your concentration. Five of them: 

1. Observe yourself 

If you hear a nice colleague entering, you may tend to jump up and start a conversation with them. Listen to your observing self. What’s most useful to you now: having a nice chat that will help you to activate yourself, or staying on the job and finishing it as quickly as possible? Make a conscious choice, so that the distracting voice will stop nagging. 

2. Change your mood 

If you’re bored or tense, you can use a technique to change your mood. The power break is one of them. Plan regular breaks and use them to do whatever you like – the possibilities are endless. Watch a nice short video, meditate, walk the dog, take a nap. And then get back to work. If your work doesn’t stimulate you enough, it may be helpful to put on lively music, move your hands and feet or nibble at something healthy (fruit, nuts). 

3. Fight procrastionation

If you’re a procrastinator, it helps to explore what causes your procrastination. Are you afraid to fail? Do you feel reluctant towards the person who gave you this assignment? Or are you actually afraid to be successful, because people might expect more things from you then? If you know the answer, you can work on this, for instance by increasing your self esteem. Set realistic goals, divide your work into steps and appreciate yourself for your effort – not for the result. 

4. Battle stress 

Nerves make it difficult to remain focused. A reality check is helpful. Ask yourself whether your fear is realistic. Do your nerves give a trustworthy message, or are they disproportionate to reality? Oftentimes, the latter is the case. Try to relax, for instance by doing a breathing exercise. 

5. Motivate yourself 

How do you stay motivated? By setting goals you really want to reach. It reminds Palladino of runners: pick the runs you really want to do, ignore other marathons, and divide your runs into manageable parts. And never forget about your dreams, not even if they seem impossible right now. 

All about the focus zone

Lucy Jo Palladino,  Find Your Focus Zone.

Text: Dorien Vrieling - Photo: Sergio Souza