Ways to improve concentration
You can boost your concentration in many ways. It’s about skill training, as difficulty concentrating is not usually permanent. Skill training is part of the treatment for ADHD too. Daily routines, a sound approach to studying and good mental health all support the ability to concentrate.
Changing your habits requires repetition
Try boosting your concentration by choosing one of the topics below (such as “Everyday basics”, “Sleep”). Then practise it regularly for at least three weeks. Changing habits and creating new routines alongside the old ones can take time and require repetition.
Once you’ve managed to include one thing in your everyday routines, you can start training another one. You can, for instance, choose the easiest target to start with. If you’ve already been successful in several areas and just need to tweak your routines, choose the area that requires most training. Note how your concentration and well-being change as the training progresses.
It’s good to have evening routines. Relaxed evening activities such as reading, knitting, having a snack or watching television all signal to the brain that it’s time to slow down and go to sleep. Choose a routine that suits you and repeat it every night for three weeks. Start the relaxing activity at least one hour before bedtime.
The food and drink we consume daily can have a significant effect on concentration and energy levels. Check out the FSHS Nutrition service. The mobile Nutrition application helps you to follow a healthy diet, provides peer support and contains individual training programmes on well-being. The application provides tips and recipes to support healthy habits in everyday life, a food photo diary and programmes to track how well you’re achieving your targets. To support the ability to concentrate, we recommend a four-week individual training programme on coping in daily life that allows you to visualize your actions and do exercises at your own pace to support your well-being. You can access the FSHS’s Nutrition application via Self.
Stop to think about your eating habits:
- Do you eat regularly, i.e. 4 to 6 times a day?
- Do you put together your main meals according to the plate model?
- Do you drink enough, i.e. 1 to 1.5 litres a day? Do you prefer water as your drink of choice?
- Are you trying to boost your concentration by drinking plenty of coffee or energy drinks? 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day will generally energize you but bigger amounts won’t.
Take one or two longer walks per week, preferably out in nature. Use all of your senses and be aware of your environment: What kinds of things do you see around you? What smells do you notice? How does the path or the road feel under your feet?
If you can’t take a walk out in nature, take a virtual walk in a forest by watching Mieli Mental Health Finland’s videos. Being out in nature helps our brain to regenerate itself, and exercise also improves learning.
Exercise helps to regulate energy levels. Even light exercise can boost your energy and help you to focus better on your studies. Stand up and do a couple of exercises to get your body moving.
At times you may have to lower your energy levels to improve concentration. That’s when you may benefit from calming down and doing deep breathing exercises.
Studying and working
You can improve the way you study in many ways to boost concentration. Nowadays it’s recommended that brain work should be tailored to be cognitively ergonomic for the brain. This means eliminating excessive stimuli, taking regular breaks and concentrating on one thing at a time.
Some educational institutions organise courses on study skills which can help you make changes to the way you study. Study coordinators and psychologists usually have information about such courses.
Get a diary or use an electronic one. Plan your week by writing down your study times and your free time. Be realistic and leave time for recovery.
Start with just 1 to 2 hours of studying a day. Studying for 6 hours is quite a lot, especially if you have difficulty concentrating. Your family or friends or professionals can help you to decide where to start.
Plan your schedule in detail one day at a time. You’ll find the most suitable methods by experimenting with them. These instructions have helped many people:
- Reserve the morning for any tasks requiring sustained concentration and creativity.
- Take a break once an hour. Reserve time for lunch.
- Move shorter routine-like tasks to the afternoon.
- Take breaks in the afternoon too, including a snack break.
- Stick to the time reserved for studies and social life. Learn to say no.
Try to follow the schedule for three weeks. Choose at least one event in your calendar that you want to stick to during this time. Keep monitoring how suitable you find your schedule. Listen to your personal resources and modify your schedule as required.
The Pomodoro technique helps you to break a major task into smaller parts. Work on the task for 25 minutes and then take a break for 5 minutes. Repeat this cycle. After four identical cycles, take a longer break, for example half an hour. You can modify the ratio according to your needs. Practise the technique daily while studying.
Read more about the Pomodoro technique:
- The Pomodoro Technique® (francescocirillo.com)
- Pomodoro Technique 4 x 25 min – Study Timer 2 h – (YouTube.com)
Put your phone away
Research shows that students use their mobile phone 50 times a day. They look at their phone on average every 15 minutes for five minutes at a time. In other words, you can spend more than four hours a day on your phone! Because of these constant distractions, the brain starts to bounce from one thing to another.
You should be aware of the number of times your phone keeps distracting you. Make a conscious effort for three weeks to use your phone less often every day. Once you do open it, you can use it a little longer. Putting your phone away and keeping the sound off may help. Your phone can also be used to set time limits on your use of social media.
The notifications coming from computer applications are also a constant distraction. Consider turning off the notifications while you’re studying.
Mindfulness means the ability to be fully present at the moment in question. Being present is about being aware of yourself or your environment without criticizing or in any way judging your observations.
Once you observe things from a distance, you get a chance to take a break and reassess your situation. It also helps you to focus on the essential.
Training mindfulness skills helps you to develop, so that you won’t let difficult thoughts take over. If you initially wanted to give up on a task, you can now bring your attention back to it and try to do it again.
Values – how do you really want to spend your time?
Often the days go by as if on automatic pilot and are full of things without any clear meaning. It may be difficult to decide which things you should concentrate on and invest your time in. Clarifying your values may help. Think about the things and people that matter to you. How would you spend your time if everything was possible?
Write down the things you value about relationships, studies and free time. Choose one thing you’d like to change and write down what you intend to do in line with your values in the next three weeks. For instance: “I’ll invite a friend over”, “I’ll tell my friend how I am and also listen to what my friend has to say”, “I’ll concentrate on our time together and put my phone away”.