Focusing on Concentration - Improving Mental Focus and Concentrating Effectively

Published: 28th July 2006
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"How can I focus more effectively, and when I lose focus how can I get it back quickly?" This is one of two key requests made by high-performance clients who have tapped into our programs over the years. It's what I refer to as one of the Holy Grails of the performance equation!



What most businesspeople and athletes don't realize is that the ability to mentally focus is a skill and because it is a skill, it can be developed through quality practice. The first step to begin to gain control over your "focus of attention" is to clearly understand what components make up the skill of concentration and how to manage 'concentration energy', based on the demands of the situation. The second step involves actually training the skill of concentration using cognitive tasks that challenge your mind to focus and process mental information in specific ways.



The four interrelated components that define concentration include: Width, Direction, Intensity, and Duration.



The width of attention can vary from a broad perspective, where you process a large amount of information coming from various sources to a narrow one, where only a limited amount of information is allowed to capture your attention. There are instances where a broad focus of attention is appropriate while at other times, you need to shift your focus of attention to only a few thoughts… When you've mastered the ability to shift from broad to narrow concentration and back again, and the capacity to maintain the correct focus based on the demands of the activity, you'll be able to avoid irrelevant thoughts since they can negatively affect both your decision-making and your reactions.



The second component has to do with the direction of your focus. There are occasions when an internal focus of attention is necessary... you selectively filter external events. At other times, an external focus of concentration may be more appropriate since you must continue to focus on the changing events that are occurring around you in real time.



Concentration can also vary in terms of its intensity - from being weak to being intense. Finally, concentration can vary in terms of its duration. Here, concentration varies from brief to sustained periods of time. It's important to understand that these components of concentration are mutually exclusive in that it's not possible to concentrate both broadly and narrowly at the same time, nor can you concentrate internally and externally at the same time. Likewise, the more intense your concentration is, the shorter will be the length of time you can maintain focus at that intensity before mental fatigue sets in.



Under relaxed conditions we possess greater mental flexibility – we are better at shifting amongst these four different components of attention. But under conditions of pressure or when we allow emotional stress to increase, we tend to rely on our own particular concentration bias. This may become a disadvantage if your bias is inappropriate for the particular demands of the situation at that time.



A practical technique you can use to control your focus of attention is to think of concentration as an adjustable flashlight shining from your forehead, where YOU control this 'beam of concentration'. You can choose a broad focus, directed to a lot of events in your environment (like a floodlight would reveal) or a narrow focus, directed to a specific object or idea (like a spotlight). This beam of concentration can also be turned inward toward your mind to target specific thoughts, images and feelings. When your beam of concentration is broad (whether internally or externally directed) it takes in a lot of information but when it is directed narrowly, it intensifies as it's directed to the object of your focus. It's like spinning the head on your adjustable flashlight! When directed in this narrow way, everything on the periphery of the object of your focused concentration fades to black. Using this imagery technique, you can begin to consciously control the direction and intensity of your 'beam of concentration'.



Even though mental skills are acknowledged as being important to effective performance 'on the limit', competitors haven't had an effective 'tool' to develop their ability to focus, to control that focus, and to develop other important mental skills like visual scanning ability and mental processing speed and accuracy – until recently. Visit www.mindshaper.com or www.dallaireconsulting.com to learn about the MindSHAPER suite and other high performance products.


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