Train the Brain
Concentration–A Trademark of the Extraordinary
Where is your attention? Are you present, mentally?
Most of us must have heard the commands like ‘Be attentive’, ‘Focus’, ‘Concentrate’, but we rarely are taught how to ‘Be attentive’, ‘Focus’ and ‘Concentrate’. It is like we are expected to play guitar when we haven’t taken classes and practiced playing guitar. Students are often labelled as ‘Careless’ and ‘Inattentive’ by teachers, and partly teachers are to blame as they themselves don’t know about concentration and what it takes to concentrate. Learning to concentrate and mastering this skill requires grit, determination and practice.
The daily practiced habit of distraction needs a break
Distraction is being practiced on a daily basis. In this day and age, where there is a huge influx of information at our disposal and where there are many windows to our system, we have distracted minds. We have mastered the art of distraction because we are practicing it, repetitively. We can’t focus because our attention and awareness wander and we let it happen. We don’t have control over our thoughts, rather our thoughts control us. We rarely focus on distraction-management and, consequently, we are attention-deficient. We are what we do repetitively, as evident from the law of practice, i.e. practice makes a man perfect; repeating what one has learned.
Rein the wandering mind
Dictionary defines concentration as “the action or power of focusing one’s attention or mental effort.” This seems a bookish definition; for the sake of understanding, let us define concentration as “the sustained awareness for an extended period of time.” We often hear the phrase, “My mind wanders and I have no control over it.” There seems a technical error in the statement as the mind doesn’t wander; it’s the awareness that keeps on changing. Let us simplify and assume that the mind is a vast space having different segments like anger, frustration, happiness, sorrow, acrimony, malice, pride, excitement, curiosity, etc. and awareness is a floating ball of light. It should be our conscious control or call to move the ball in any of the areas/segments of the brain for a duration we intend to. For example, if you watch a movie, you will experience how its director takes your awareness to different areas of the mind because you allow him to drive your focus and concentration. The goal is to have control over our thoughts and to let our conscious decision be the sole factor to have desired awareness.
First learn, then practice, “Concentration”
To be present in the moment/now is easier said than done. Mindfulness and attentiveness are the byproducts of concentration. Let’s learn to have concentration, i.e. controlled awareness for a stipulated period of time. Firstly, start doing one thing at a time and give your focused effort to that task. Select any activity you do on a daily basis, and take this as an opportunity to practice concentration. For example, if there is one person around to whom you talk daily, give him/her your undivided attention and if the awareness/attention slips away, bring the ball of light back. Whenever the awareness drifts away, bring it back. Becoming aware of the present is an exercise and to have an unwavering focus on that particular point in time, requires practice, patience and time.
Multitasking: drains the brain
Our brains are designed to tackle one task at a time and multitasking not only drains our energies but also de-focuses us. In the current times where information is readily and ubiquitously available, the attention span is decreasing. We are currently suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD), and, in these times, channelling your thoughts and energies toward the completion of a single task seems challenging and overwhelming. Have you ever wondered why you feel tired and exhaustive when you haven’t done anything substantial and worthwhile throughout the day? It is tired all the time (TAT) syndrome; it implies that multitasking and exposing your brain to multiple tasks and thoughts, the influx of unfiltered information and excessive thinking drains your energies.
Manage distraction: Control extrinsic factors
In neuroscience, neurotransmitters such as endorphin, dopamine, serotonin, etc. have a major impact on the level of emotions we experience. Whenever we achieve something or whenever we feel accomplished or gratified, dopamine levels rise in the brain. The brain craves gratification and to have the surge of dopamine, sticking to one task creates a feeling of boredom, restlessness and anxiety. To easily give up is the dilemma of modern times because the motivation to keep up a task that is attention-intensive seems exhaustive and burdensome. Simplify the tasks at hand and break down complex problems into simpler fragments for facilitation and clarity of purpose.
Undeterred concentration requires patience and perseverance
Concentration requires resilience and perseverance is the ability to move forward despite the odds and difficulties. Learnt helplessness is a phenomenon pervasive around; where initial hurdles demotivate and thwart future attempts and eagerness to resolve the issues around. Appreciation and acknowledgment are undoubtedly impetuses to propel but situations don’t always evolve the way we want them to. A difficult and thought-provoking situation puts us in a vulnerable position and we want to get out of it urgently. We have to overcome this formidable obstacle to have extended levels of concentration. Remember, slowly is the fastest way to go where you want to be.
Work on your skill but don’t stress out
A relaxed mind can concentrate more than a stressed and over-occupied mind. There are certain relaxation techniques one can employ such as breathing exercises, meditation, physical exercise, yoga, etc. A certain level of stress induces excellence but if the stress goes beyond a certain degree, it is harmful. An important aspect worth mentioning here is that the skill you possess, and the challenge you face, go side by side in achieving sustained attentiveness and improved focus. If the skill is more than the challenge in front of you, you will feel boredom, and if the challenge is way more than the skill you possess, you will feel frustrated and agitated. So, always yearn for an increase in your skill set and work on it on a daily basis.
Concentration creates a flow in your efforts
In the equation of skill and challenge, optimal performance occurs when the challenge is slightly greater than the skill one possesses. Flow is defined as a state of “effortless effort” where one strives to perform as the situation demands of him. Although it may sound paradoxical, finding a flow for optimal performance is pivotal. When you are wrapped in attention for a task at hand, engrossed and indulged, time disappears. Persistence and practice help you achieve the state where you are focused on the task at hand. There are many triggers for flow, the concentration being the most important one.
Concentrate wisely: The quality of your life depends on it
Concentration requires patience, observation, mindfulness, the discipline of thought, mental muscle and importantly, understanding of the working of the mind. Humans are built for performance and we are capable of much more than we know. The quality of our life depends on “HOW” much we concentrate and “WHAT” we concentrate on. So, concentrate wisely.
The writer is an officer of Pakistan Administrative Service, currently posted as Deputy Commissioner Ghotki (Sindh).