What do you do when you want to improve your physical strength? You start running, hit the gym and maybe enroll in a program of weekly exercises to strengthen your muscles. Just like the muscles in your body, your brain also needs a regular dose of exercise to improve its focus and concentration.
Unfortunately, a focused mind is a rare commodity. Your brain is also highly sensitive to several factors including the external environment and your mindset. However, just 10-15 minutes of mental exercises can help discipline your mind.
Here is a list of ten mental exercises that will gradually increase your ability to focus in almost any situation.
1. Count the Number of Words in a Single Paragraph
This is one of the simplest mental exercises that will help improve your concentration.
Take a book or magazine (preferably something you like), choose a random paragraph and count the number of words in it. However, the counting should be mental. Avoid using your fingers to count the number of words in a paragraph. Repeat this process at least once to confirm you have counted the words correctly.
Though doing this sounds simple, it will take some time to master this exercise. So, start with a small paragraph and gradually work your way up.
2. Fix Your Gaze on an Object
Another effective and easy mental exercise that can help improve your focus is to sit comfortably in a chair with your head up, chin out, and shoulders back. Hold any object that fits in your hand such as a fruit, baseball or even a flower. Raise your arm until it is on the same level as your shoulder. Now, focus your attention on the object in your hand while examining it from all sides.
Don’t let your mind wander off to irrelevant thoughts during the exercise. Instead, focus all your energy on the sensation you get from touching the object. If possible, empty your mind of any thought at all. Start small, maybe focusing your mind for a minute or two until it becomes accustomed to this exercise. You can gradually work your way up to 5-10 minutes daily.
3. Count Backwards in Your Mind
This is a simple yet powerful mental exercise that can help improve your concentration considerably.
Count backwards in your mind from hundred to one. However, just like any other mental exercise, keep your mind free from any irrelevant thought. You can take this exercise one step further once you have mastered the basic trick. For example, count only even numbers such as 100, 98, 96, 94, and so on.
The mental benefits of regular meditation are well-documented. Learning just a few simple meditation techniques and practicing them at least 5 minutes a day can improve your focus by a mile. Meditation helps shift your attention from your internal anxieties to the peaceful external environment.
The aim is to concentrate solely on your breathing to keep random thoughts from entering your mind. This will help you keep your mind focused on the present moment. At first, meditation may seem challenging. However, with time, you will be able to reach a state of peacefulness.
Early morning, preferably before sunrise, is the best time to practice meditation. Start small, with a 5-minute session of meditation. With regular practice, you will be able to meditate for 20-25 minutes in a few months.
5. Listen to Music
Music has been a part of every human culture and society for centuries and why not? It can set the tone of the external as well as the internal environment. Music can help you relax and feel alive at the same time. But, can it help discipline your mind and improve your ability to focus? Yes, it can.
According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy programs can be used to achieve a variety of goals including managing stress, enhancing memory, and alleviating pain.
However, not all types of music can improve your cognitive abilities. Classical music seems to be the obvious choice when it comes to improving your focus because this genre of music is without lyrics.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Helsinki, listening to classical music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, which can lead to various benefits including improved brain function.
So, make it a point to listen to your favorite classical or instrumental music every day for 10-15 minutes to boost your focus. You can do it on your way to the office (if you are not driving) or during your coffee break.
6. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is one of the best ways to increase your focus. Usually, people fall into the habits of mind and body.
When was the last time you paid attention to the chicken sandwich in your lunchbox? Chances are you go through your lunch without even remembering the taste of it every day. This is one of the most common examples of working in autopilot mode.
However, practicing mindfulness throughout the day cannot reduce your tendency to “tune-out,” but also increase your ability to concentrate on the task at hand. So, try to focus your mind on one single task at a time.
To begin with, eat your lunch with complete mindfulness. Pay close attention to the taste and the texture of the food and the sensation it brings to your palate.
7. Sit Still
If you don’t have the time or the perfect environment for meditation, this exercise is your best bet. All you have to do is find a chair or a stool and sit comfortably and see how still you can keep. The aim is to sit perfectly still without making any involuntary muscular movements. Focus your energy on relaxing every muscle in your body one by one.
However, this exercise is easier said than done. So, initially, you will be able to sit still for only a couple of minutes. But, with practice, you can sit still without a movement of the muscles for as long as 15-20 minutes. The biggest advantage is you can perform this exercise anywhere including your office, home, or even on the bus or the subway.
8. Focus on Opening and Closing Your Fists
Here is another simple exercise that you can perform at office or home.
Sit comfortably in your chair, placing the back of your hand on the table with fists closed. Focus all your attention on the closed fist for a minute. Now, start opening your fist gradually with the thumb going out first, followed by your first finger and so on until you open the rest. Focus your attention on the open palm for a while, then reverse the process.
Do this exercise with each hand for at least 5 minutes every day. In fact, doing this exercise during your short breaks will increase your productivity significantly as it will allow you to concentrate your thoughts on the task at hand.
9. Practice Savasana
Savasana or the Corpse Pose (martasana) is one of the easiest yoga asanas to perform, but the most difficult to master. Apart from improving your concentration, Savasana offers several health benefits such as curing insomnia, relaxing your mind, and releasing stress, fatigue, and depression. This is also excellent asana for stimulating blood circulation.
Savasana is usually performed at the end of the yoga practice. However, you can perform this asana alone if you don’t have the time for a full-fledged yoga routine.
Lie down on your back with your legs separated, arms at your side and palms facing up. Now try to concentrate on every muscle one by one starting from your head to your feet. Breathe a bit faster and deeper if you feel drowsy during Savasana. Initially, you can practice Savasana for 3-5 minutes. But once you have mastered the technique, you can practice for 10-15 minutes.
10. Coloring, Drawing and Doodling
Coloring, drawing, and doodling are not only fun, but can also help relax your brain and increase your concentration. Several recent studies have documented the benefits of coloring, doodling, and drawing on the brain. These activities can also reduce depression and tension significantly. They can boost your creativity in the long term.
Plus, this is an inexpensive way to spend some quality time with your friends and kids. So, the next time you are out buying your children’s stationery, don’t forget to grab a new box of crayons and an adult coloring book for yourself.
We live in a fast-paced world full of distractions where keeping your mind focused is a challenge. Some may have more distractions than others, but they are everyone’s problem.
Though learning to keep your mind focused is difficult, you can develop it over the time with patience and practice just like any other skill or ability. These 10 mental exercises will help increase your ability to concentrate over time.