How many times have you said “It’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t quite remember”?
Or “I am terrible with names but I always remember a face?”
Or you just lost your focus for a moment and ending up losing a chess match or important baseball game. Or you are wanting to be able to sink the winning free throw and drone out all of the crowd noise around you.
Check out these tips to help increase your mental focus and improve whatever in life your working on right now.
Tip #1: Read
I suggest this a lot. And that’s because one of the easiest methods to build mental focus is in reading daily.
Put away the cell phone and turn off the TV and read 5 minutes a day. When you are reading and involved in the book you are focused.
For some of us this may be the only time of the day when we are not bombarded with cell phone chatter, traffic jams and the rush of daily urban living.
What you choose to read doesn’t have to be oriented towards personal growth—find something you enjoy. This could be any genre you choose. If you say you “hate to read” ask yourself why. Is it because something was forced on you and it now has a negative association?
If that’s it, then tell yourself you’re going to create a new association.
Another option is audio books. But if you choose this, block off a specific section of your day where you sit and listen—not listen while doing other things like driving or exercising. The point is learning how to focus. You can’t focus and multitask (which I get into below.)
Tip #2 Eat Well
Research shows that Omega 3 found in fish oil can decrease cholesterol, improve your sleep and increase your IQ (allow brain to learn 6x faster). Blueberries may be the single most powerful brain-preserving food in the world.
Research has shown that blueberries also help to clean the brain’s mental pathways.
Tip #3: Brain Games Like Crosswords and Sudoko
Don’t roll your eyes. Research has shown that mental workouts (crossword puzzles, Sudoko) create new neural pathways in your brain. These pathways are what create greater mental capacity and allow for greater mental retention.
This is also a benefit that’s been found with meditation and reading. Creating new neural pathways is similar to adding a larger and larger hard drive to your computer; the more storage room you have, the better able you are to retain information.
Tip #4: Find the Flow
Kayaking, surfing, yoga, Jiu-Jitsu, diving, all allow your mind to be in the moment and not thinking about your cell phone. These activities obviously keep you active physically which in turn stimulate the mind.
Lack of focus can mean we have lack of stillness in our day. It’s easy, in our busy days to think we have to be going, doing, creating, moving, producing every minute we’re awake.
But that’s why we end up feeling scattered, unfocused and exhausted. It’s like what a friend once said: There is action in stillness.
What that means is you’re still doing something and being productive. Think about that for a moment and what that means.
When people like Elon Musk are asked what they do to feel productive and focused, one of the most common answers you see is “meditation”.
Learn How a Navy SEAL Focused on Goals to Make it Through BUDS Twice
Tip #5: Chunking Down
The Magic Seven Theory refers to our short-term memory can only hold roughly seven pieces of information. If there is more than seven bits of information, our conscious minds have to chunk it back to seven pieces.
You can use this in your daily life by taking complex task with more than seven bits and breaking them into more manageable pieces. This will also lower your anxiety and stress levels and help you to achieve the task quicker and more efficiently.
Tip #6: Observation
It is almost impossible to completely stop your brain from thinking. But you can slow down your overly active brain processes by withdrawing from your thoughts and become an outside observer.
This process is used in yoga to calm the mind and focus on the breathing. This method of self awareness (with deep breathing) will increase your mental focus and clarity in many other aspects of your life.
Tip #7: Stop Multi-Tasking
The more you try to do everything at once, the less you’re going to get done. Productivity isn’t about quantity—it’s about quality.
In today’s modern society we are all guilty of multi-tasking (performing multiple things seemingly at once). But according to researchers, multi-tasking does not really exist.
Neuroscientists point out that the portion of the brain called “Broadman’s Area 10” can only perform one process at a time. So when you think you are multi-tasking, you are actually shifting gears multiple times between these task with a 0.7 second lag time.
This lag time not only makes you less efficient than if you were to perform only one task with no mental pauses (think texting and driving).
Tip #8: Relax
Think of your mind as a blank canvas or flat open ocean. Thoughts will filter through your head but let them go easily. Your brain will slow as you relax with less pressure.
A mind that is constantly thinking and trying to analyze multiple thoughts will never be able to focus effectively on one. Slow down the mind and focus better on the one.
“My thoughts before a big race are usually pretty simple. I tell myself: Get out of the blocks, run your race, stay relaxed. If you run your race, you’ll win… channel your energy. Focus.” — Carl Lewis (Track and Field Gold Medalist)
Tip #9: Breathing Exercises
Sit in a comfortable chair or lay on the floor. Breathe in deep through the nose and breathe out slowly through the mouth. Purse your lips and blow a small circle like your trying to balance a feather above you.
This will reduce the many thoughts in your mind and help you to only focus on your breath.
If your mind gets filled with thoughts, don’t force them to stop. You can’t fully stop your brain from thinking and producing thoughts. But what you can do is stop how you react to them.
If your mind becomes busy while you’re doing a breathing exercise (a form of meditation), picture yourself stepping back from them and letting them go somehow—like picturing them as leaves caught in an eddy in a stream and then dislodging and flowing away.
Learn What a Navy SEAL has to say about Mental Toughness and Focus
Tip #10: Be Open
You mind needs to be constantly seeking out new challenges to improve. If you only do the same thing day after day, week after week, you mind will become weaker.
Try a new sport like Jiu-Jitsu or kick boxing. Learn a new skill like computer programming or sewing. Flex your mind like you would the bicep and grow 1% daily.
This will improve your minds ability to focus and be sharp like the knife and ready to be used at a moments notice.
Bonus Tip: Section Off Your Day for Specific Tasks
This is linked to Tip #7.
Our need for instant gratification can lead to why we feel so scattered. We feel the need to check Facebook, check our email, check Instagram, check Twitter, immediately reply to a text message. The more “noise” we have in our lives and head, the harder it is to feel settled and focused.
Create periods of time during the day when you turn off notifications. Or at the very least, set your phone so the badges and sound alerts are turned off. Then set specific times of the day where you check.
Productivity experts like Tim Ferriss suggest having a single chunk of your day where you answer emails and even text messages. Lack of focus leads to lack of productivity.
While there are times when a text message or a voice mail needs immediate attention, a lot of the time we’re the ones who have decided that all texts, emails and voicemails need immediate replies. If someone gets upset with you for not immediately responding to a text message, explain to them (later) that you’re sectioning off your time to reply.
About the Author
Brad McLeod knows first hand about mental toughness. After passing Hell Week and Dive Pool Comp at BUD/S, he failed a math test and was kicked out of training. A year later, he returned, graduated, and served as an operator on the Navy SEAL Teams.
Today, he helps Veterans and athletes achieve their dreams. Check out SEALgrinderPT Coaching to help you step up and take hold of your dreams and realize your goals.