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Try these three activities to regain control of your concentration

In an age when our attention spans are being seriously tested, a lack of motivation, procrastination, and concentration issues are omnipresent. But you can retrain your brain to focus by spending time getting absorbed in certain everyday activities.

Published: Jun 22, 2024 11:00:41 AM IST
Updated: Jun 22, 2024 11:09:12 AM IST

Reading can be a good activity for experiencing Reading can be a good activity for experiencing "flow." Image: Shutterstock

Scrolling on your phone in front of a movie, spending hours on TikTok before falling asleep, or staying on Instagram until you forget why you're there. Sound familiar? If these are the kind of bad habits you want to get rid of, then you can regain control of your concentration by trying out activities that help foster a mental state of total immersion, a state known as "flow."

Flow is a concept conceived by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, which he detailed in several works between the 1970s and 1990s. It's a mental state in which your attention is completely focused on an activity, making you forget the passage of time. Conversely, the same kind of altered perception of time can be a factor in the feeling of boredom. A math lesson, transport time or even a simple conversation can feel like they're taking forever when your interest wanes. In an age when our attention spans are being seriously put to the test, a lack of motivation, procrastination and concentration issues are omnipresent. But you can retrain your brain to focus by spending time getting absorbed in certain everyday activities.

Reading


It may be no surprise to hear that reading engages the mind profoundly, since it inspires people to feel, imagine and create. According to a 2023 study by Newcastle University researchers in the UK, reading reduces stress levels by 68%, compared with 61% for listening to music, 42% for walking and 21% for playing video games. "Researchers believe that the concentration required for reading has a physiological effect on the brain," the paper explains. "As the stress hormones dissipate, the fear center of the brain becomes less active and the rationalization areas of the brain take over. This shift in the brain makes you feel calmer and more in control."

Exercise


Exercise is essential for physical well-being, but it also promotes mental well-being. Playing sport or working out requires you to push your limits, and constantly encourages you to achieve new levels of performance. This gradual progression, in which all your sensory acuity, skills and emotions come together, helps foster a state of optimal concentration -- you're in the zone. And the feeling of accomplishment after great effort can become addictive for some sportspeople and athletes. A remedy for depression, as stated in a study published in 2021 by Harvard Medical School, exercise is a great way to combat the attention-hungry culture cultivated by social networks.

Meditation


Achieving flow through meditation is quite a different sensation from that of the first two activities. With reading and exercise, you become immersed in your task with a goal in sight -- the end of a chapter or a mile marker to reach. With meditation, your body and mind find a new anchoring, a brief moment of letting go that disconnects you, literally. A study published in 2023 in the journal Learning and Individual Differences reports that practicing mindfulness-based activities like meditation can significantly reduce procrastination, notably through attention control, emotional management and self-awareness.

Also read: Our brains are designed to learn from people we like: study

With these three activities, your attention is no longer a commodity but a productivity tool. Whether it's reading, exercising or meditating, practicing them from time to time is enough to build good habits and familiarize yourself with the state of flow, which you can then harness to help you work or study more efficiently.