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How to Improve Focus: 13 Ways to Feel More Alert

Reviewed by Wendee Nicole MS, MA
 
A man focusing at work.

Are you having trouble concentrating? Can't stay focused? While most people occasionally struggle with the inability to focus, other people may have a more serious condition like attention deficit disorder or perhaps a vitamin deficiency that requires directed guidance.

For most people's everyday lack of focus, simple, easy-to-follow techniques can show you how to improve focus in your day-to-day tasks. With just a few changes, like getting enough sleep, meditating, managing stress, and taking breaks, you may find yourself feeling more alert, sharper, and ready to take on your day.

We'll show you how to power through and avoid common distractions to stay focused and increase your productivity exponentially. First, let's dig into why you can't concentrate — and then solve the concern.

Why Can't I Focus?

It's no wonder that you find it difficult to concentrate in the modern world. Constant alerts from your smartphone and social media, and the demands of balancing work and family life all combine into a chaotic assault on your senses.

Blame some of these issues on the rise of technology. Our brains work just like our muscles; you need to exercise them regularly in order to maintain their health and strength.

Technology has made the human attention span 8 seconds — less than a goldfish.

For example, when you rely on apps and internet searches rather than your memory, did you know you can lose your ability to concentrate, recall facts, and store information?

According to research, the human attention span has been shrinking over the years. Between 2000 to 2013, our attention spans have declined from 12 seconds to eight seconds.[1] That makes us less attentive than a goldfish! Now let's get into what to do about it.

How Can I Improve My Focus?

Fear not: you can improve your ability to focus with some simple changes. As you get older, these exercises become more important to countering the brain's natural cognitive decline.

Manage & Reduce Stress

Stress places a huge demand on the body and mind, making it difficult to focus on anything at all. One study found that more than 25 percent of students reported that stress had contributed to lower grades or an inability to finish their course.[2] And workplace stress can be intense, as well.

It's no secret — stress makes it extremely difficult to concentrate. It's important that you find ways to relax and reduce stress.

Stress can be managed in a number of ways including confiding in a trusted person, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.

However, the best way to manage your stress is to find ways to reduce it in the first place. Make changes in your life: set boundaries, say no, spend what you have versus what you do not, be content and thankful, surround yourself with positive people who believe in you, or even try some stress-relieving foods.

Meditate

Adopting a daily meditation habit can help calm your mind and eliminate distractions — and those benefits extend far beyond the 10 or 20 minutes you are actually meditating.

Pro tip: Start meditating for 5 minutes per day, then increase the time when you feel ready!

Meditation involves sitting still in a quiet place without distractions and focusing on your breath or a positive mantra of your choice. Although it can help to lower stress, it has also been found to increase grey matter in the brain and aid concentration.[3]

Don't worry if you find your mind wandering when you first start to meditate, it's a skill that gets better with practice.

Get Enough Sleep

Wait, what? When you don't sleep it has the same effect on your body as alcohol intoxication.

Poor quality sleep not only affects your ability to concentrate but it also contributes to a range of other health issues. A chronic lack of sleep can have the same effect on the body as alcohol intoxication.[4]

By getting enough sleep — quality sleep — you can better support a range of bodily functions including memory, concentration, alertness, and decision-making skills.[5]

Some suggestions for getting more and better-quality sleep include making your room as dark as possible, using a weighted blanket, using aromatherapy such as lavender oil, limiting caffeine, and shutting off electronics in the evening. For more tips, check out our article on how to get more sleep.

 

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Exercise Regularly

Aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week! You'll feel the difference.

Human bodies need to move. Exercising brings freshly oxygenated blood to all the organs of the body, including the brain. Scientists have found that regular physical movement releases chemicals in the brain which are vital for concentration, memory, mental sharpness, and agility.[6]

Listen to Music

While some people can concentrate in total silence, most of us need a little background noise while we work. Listening to music can actually help you to pay attention because it engages both sides of the brain.[7] Choose classical or relaxing tunes for the greatest effect: songs with lyrics are distracting and can make you lose focus.

Get in Tune With Nature

Take a walk on the wild side! Nature walks are proven to decrease anxiety & improve memory performance!

Taking a walk in a natural setting is good for your body and mind. One study found that walking in a forest, rather than an urban setting, helped to decrease anxiety and led to an improvement in memory task performance.[8]

Start Doodling

Have you ever mindlessly doodled while on a tense phone call or when you are working on a project? This could be your brain's attempt to relieve stress. Researchers found that concentrating on drawing allows the brain to reset its focus and can help you if you're stuck on a concern.[9] So give it a go!

Always Jot Things Down

One surefire way to improve your productivity involves writing out your most pressing deadlines. Prioritizing your tasks helps you stay focused. Seeing your goals for the day can help you to complete the most important jobs first.

The act of writing something down takes it from a mental task to a physical one, which keeps it in the front of your mind.

Take Short Breaks

It's easy to reach a plateau if you keep going without taking any breaks. Your body and brain need refreshment every once in a while. Take quick mental and physical breaks when you need them. During this time you can stretch, do some quick jumping jacks, or even lie down for a moment or two.

Try simple stretches, push-ups, or planks for short breaks that'll jolt your body and brain!

The Pomodoro method is a highly effective technique where you focus intensely on your activities for 25 minutes at a time using a timer and then take breaks between the intervals.

Ignore Distractions

Ensure that you are not losing focus by limiting distractions with the spider technique.[10] If you hold a vibrating tuning fork next to a spider's web, it will investigate the noise. If you keep repeating the exercise, the spider learns that the vibrations are not an insect dinner, and it will ignore the intrusion.

Be like the spider: Turn your phone alerts off to create a peaceful work environment and focus on the task at hand, ignoring distractions.

Avoid Multitasking

You want to be more productive and multitasking sounds like the perfect way to get more done — but it's actually an ineffective way to prioritize tasks. Splitting your attention means that you're never giving your total concentration to any of your jobs. Instead, slow down and commit to completing one thing at a time. You'll get through them much quicker and achieve more in the long term.

Eat Foods That Help You Focus

Antioxidant-rich and omega-3 foods are game changers! These foods will help you concentrate and focus.

Your diet has huge implications for your mental agility, including your ability to concentrate and focus. By filling your plate with these healthful, nutrient-rich foods, you'll be providing your brain with everything it needs to work optimally.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Antioxidants are nature's power-ups. Contained in a number of unprocessed, plant-based foods, antioxidants counteract the "oxidative stress" in cells that lead to disease, age-related decline, and body stress.

Some antioxidant-rich foods like nuts and seeds are high in vitamin E and can help to counter the effects of age-related cognitive decline.[11] The foods highest in antioxidants include:

  • Berries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Walnuts
  • Spices including allspice, clove, oregano, mint, and thyme
  • Celery
  • Okra
  • Artichokes
  • Curly kale
  • Chilis
  • Prunes, dried apricots

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can improve cognition in young adults.[12] Find them in the following healthy foods:

Try Nootropic Herbs & Supplements for Focus

"Nootropics" are herbs, vitamins, or other compounds that promote healthy cognitive function — including creativity, memory, motivation, and, of course, focus.

Ayurvedic or other traditional practitioners use many herbs and supplements for brain health and focus, and modern research has backed up the use of some of these. Many herbs are chock full of antioxidants and other phytochemicals that are good for your brain. Check out our list of the best science-backed, focus-boosting herbs.

Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba is an ancient Chinese remedy used to support brain health and memory. The supplement we use today comes from gingko leaves; scientific tests show it can support a healthy memory.[13]

Rhodiola

An herb that grows in mountainous areas in Europe and Asia, Rhodiola rosea may help with daily stress. One study also found that it supported normal cognitive function, like problem-solving, memory, and information processing.[14]

Curcumin

Curcumin is the main component of the spice turmeric, and it offers many health benefits. Specifically, curcumin supports attention and working memory.[15, 16]

Bacopa

This plant from India was long used in Ayurveda practice. Bacopa monniera is favored for its ability to support healthy memory and dampen the effects of occasional stress and anxiety. One study found that bacopa promoted healthy cognitive performance in an aging population, including normal memory recall and lower rates of anxiety.[17]

Panax Ginseng

Different types of ginseng have different uses and benefits to the body. Panax ginseng, or Asian ginseng, comes from Korea and is used to boost thinking, energy, and concentration. One study found that it promoted normal attentiveness in children.[18]

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha root and berries are used in the Ayurvedic tradition. As an "adaptogen," it helps the body adapt to stress.[19] It's much easier to concentrate when you are free from stress!

L-theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid commonly found in green and black tea. Although not made in the body and not required by the body, this relatively rare amino acid may help you focus. One study found that when L-theanine and caffeine were combined, participants showed improved performance on cognitively demanding activities.[20]

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning the body needs it but does not make it — therefore, you must get it from your diet. A diet rich in tryptophan can have a positive effect on cognition and help to boost the mood.[21]

Points to Remember

Improving your focus and concentration is easily within your grasp. You can take small but powerful steps like getting enough sleep, eating a variety of foods to boost brain power, and taking nootropic, focus-boosting herbs, where needed.

Other ideas to improve your focus include plotting out your daily tasks, taking breaks, trying meditation, listening to music, and getting outside in nature to support total brain function.

Besides the many nootropic herbs and minerals that help focus, like lithium orotate, bacopa extract, and rhodiola. I recommend NeuroFuzion® which contains a blend of minerals and herbs to support brain vitality and help you stay focused.

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References (21)
  1. Why is our generation's attention span so short? Penn State. 2015. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  2. Carlson D. 3 ways stress negatively affects student performance. Penn Foster. Published 21 Sep 2016. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  3. Dibra S. Mindfulness can increase your concentration and lower stress. Penn State World Campus. Published 7 Oct 2014. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  4. Sleep deprivation. Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia. Updated June 2014. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  5. Sleep, learning, and memory. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Updated 18 Dec 2007. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  6. Regular exercise releases brain chemicals key for memory, concentration, and mental sharpness. Harvard Men's Health Watch. Published May 2013. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  7. Can music help you study and focus? North Central University. Published 29 Mar 2017. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  8. Suttie J. How nature can make you kinder, happier, and more creative. Greater Good Magazine, UC Berkeley. Published 2 Mar 2016. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  9. Pillay S. The “thinking" benefits of doodling. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Published 15 Dec 2016. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  10. Improving your concentration. Kansas State University. Updated 27 May 2018. Accessed 22 Feb 2019.
  11. Carlsen M, et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J. 2010;9:3.
  12. Bauer I, et al. Omega-3 supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2014;29(2):133-144.
  13. Silberstein R, et al. Examining brain-cognition effects of ginkgo biloba extract: brain activation in the left temporal and left prefrontal cortex in an object working memory task. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011(3):164139.
  14. Fintelmann V, Gruenwald J. Efficacy and tolerability of a Rhodiola rosea extract in adults with physical and cognitive deficiencies. Adv Ther. 2007;24(4):929-939.
  15. Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: a review of its effects on human health. Foods. 2017;6(10):92.
  16. Monroy A, et al. Curcumin and neurodegenerative diseases. Biofactors. 2013;39(1):122-132.
  17. Calabrese C, et al. Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14(6):707-713.
  18. Lee S, et al. Clinical effects of Korean red ginseng on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children: an observational study. J Ginseng Res. 2011;35(2):226-234.
  19. Singh N, et al. An overview on ashwagandha: a rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5):208-213.
  20. Owen G, et al. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutr Neurosci. 2008;11(4):193-198.
  21. Strasser B, et al. Mood, food, and cognition: role of tryptophan and serotonin. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2016;19(1):55-61.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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