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Concentrate! How to tame a wandering mind

How to control a wandering mind

To change anything in the brain, you have to focus your attention on the task at hand. However, most find it challenging to concentrate for long periods of time without daydreaming.

Curb your wandering mind by working out the cause for the wandering. Procrastination is a psychological coping mechanism that kicks in during times of stress.

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Concentrate! How to tame a wandering mind

Concentrate! How to tame a wandering mind

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20141015-concentrate-how-to-focus-better

bbc.com

6

Key Ideas

Your brain can be changed

Neuroscience has shown that the adult brain remains malleable throughout life.

The circuits we use most often become stronger and more efficient — the ones we don't use, shrink and fade away.

Brain target

  • The default mode network of our brain, responsible for mind-wandering and creativity, needs to be turned down when we want to work for any length of time.  
  • The brain's dorsal attention network - the part that helps us make decisions and focus on a task - moves into action when we are deliberately focusing on a task.

When people are less able to focus for any length of time, they are leaning more heavily on the left hemisphere of their brain, while the right hemisphere is not working as hard as it should be working.

Focus

Brain training, using magnetic brain stimulation followed by computer-based training, may help a person to focus for longer.

Brain stimulation with a weak electromagnetic pulse can turn down the left hemisphere and force a person to develop the more efficient right hemisphere and boost the powers of concentration.

Mind nudge

Your ability to pay attention is not about putting all your energy into the task - it's about allowing the brain to wander occasionally and gently refocussing.

When you get too stressed trying to focus, norepinephrine [a hormone responsible for vigilant concentration] receptors in the prefrontal cortex, shut off. It then makes trying to focus seem too hard and it makes us less able to concentrate.

The downside of adult brain training

Just like physical exercise, you have to keep training your brain to retain the benefits, or you’ll end up as before.

While research on brain training is still ongoing, mindfulness meditation may also help with continued focus. Another method to help you to focus is making a task more visually demanding. (It can be done by adding more colors or shapes to the page or increasing the number of sounds your brain has to process.)

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Our attention is fragile

Research indicates our mind wanders 50 percent of our waking hours. Internal and external distractions easily disrupt our attention from the task at hand.

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What mindfulness is

It’s about paying attention to the present moment with awareness and without emotional reactivity.

Mindfulness training

It can be broken down into two major categories:

  • Focused attention exercises cultivate your brain’s ability to focus on one single object, like one’s breath or walking.
  • Open monitoring helps you learn to pay attention to what’s happening around you without becoming attached to it.  
Altering the brain
Altering the brain

In 2005, studies began to point out that meditation can change the structure of your brain by thickening the cortex. The cortex controls your attention and emotions.

You can reap the benef...

Mindfulness meditation

It typically refers to a practice for training your attention. It is an awareness that comes through paying attention in the moment, but non-judgmentally.

It involves sitting down with closed eyes and focussing on feeling your breath go in and out. When your attention starts to wander, you take note and bring your attention back to your breath.

Reduced amygdala activity

Meditation shows reduced activity in the amygdala, our brain’s threat detector. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it sets off the fight-flight-freeze response.

In a study, after practicing mindfulness for 20 minutes per day over just one week, participants showed reduced amygdala reactivity only while they were engaged in mindfulness, suggesting they need regular practice.

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Taking good breaks

This is important for your daily productivity. Good breaks can leave us feeling refreshed and energized. It can reduce mental fatigue, boost brain function and keep us on-task for extended periods....

The brain and goal management

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is mainly responsible for goal management. It orchestrates attention, working memory and other cognitive resources to help us get what we want.

For a challenging task, briefly taking our minds off the goal can renew and strengthen motivation. Doing activities that rely on different brain regions is best to restore focus.

Going Natural

Exposure to nature restores the mind. One study showed better working memory scores for people after a walk in a natural environment, but not in an urban setting.

If you are unable to go into nature, find plants, fresh air or a fish tank. Sit down, take a deep breath, and notice the details of nature. Research shows that even looking at some pictures of nature can work.

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