We’ve all been there before.
You’re supposed to be working, but you just can’t take the time to sit down and concentrate on the task at hand.
When it’s not Facebook distracting you, it’s the urge to check out what’s trending on Twitter, or hop on over to YouTube and browse through your top subscriptions to see what you’ve missed.
Aside from technology and media, the urge to drift off or daydream can seem overwhelming when you’re faced with a blank screen and a vague objective. “Just do your damn job” you might whisper to yourself, but every time you clock in another five minutes you either find yourself succumbing to drowsiness, or staring at the clock in incredulity at how slow time has been moving.
At other times, however, it’s more than just a little daydreaming or classic procrastination. You feel the overwhelming urge to compulsively do other things, cyclically check your email and your social media accounts and go off for another sip of water or your fifteenth bathroom break – your avoidance growing to alarming levels, enough to worry yourself.
The inability to concentrate is, just like the ability to concentrate, part of the human experience. Our mind and our subconscious have been carefully crafted by millions of years of natural selection – but we’ve rapidly “evolved” through technology in what amounts to a blink of an eye, and we’re facing new challenges time and time again, such as dealing with the massive overload of data and stimuli present today.
But there’s a limit to what’s normal, and what’s a sign of deeper mental troubles – understanding how focus functions, and how much of an impairment to it can be considered “normal” is useful in helping you cope with your behavior, address it, fix it, and if need be seek the help you need to diagnose and treat something much bigger lying underneath your low attentiveness. Let’s take a look at five of the more common reasons your focus is often butchered, and the accompanying ways to resolve the issue.
There are a few things the human mind and body need to function properly. Without these things – or with too little of them – we’re in trouble. And one of the first things to go when you’re facing medical issues is your ability to concentrate and focus.
The easiest and most significant thing in the list is sleep. A lot of people don’t get enough of it, and sleep is one of the biggest culprits of poor performance – in everything. We need sleep, and we need a good chunk of it on a daily basis.
Why? We’re not entirely sure. Okay, that might sound a little disappointing – after all, the human race has shown an active scientific curiosity in all things medical since the days of the early Egyptians, and since then we’ve come to the point where we’re doing research in preventing osteoporosis due to space travel, and are seriously contemplating head transplants, all the while compiling countless encyclopedias full of factoids on countless organisms – but sleep is one of the simplest little enigmas we’ve yet to resolve.
We don’t rightly know why people have to nod off so frequently and for so long, and why some people have to nod off for longer than others, but we do have a few guesses. One of the more scientifically-sound guesses is that sleep is a mechanism employed by the human body – and mind – to prevent wear and tear.
In order to save a time for the body to focus on physical rehabilitation, and for the mind to rest from data overload and leave some time for introspection (remember, we digest what we’ve learned during the day whilst sleeping), we undergo a brief hibernation every day.
Skip that hibernation or deprive yourself of a part of your sleep, and your mind begins to shut down on you, forcibly putting you to sleep. But you don’t have to be on the brink of sleep deprivation to feel the negative effect of a lack of good sleep.
If it isn’t a lack of sleep, then a lack of exercise may be at fault here. Just like sleep, the body needs a certain amount of exercise on a regular basis to function properly. You must’ve heard the basic argument for this time and time again from anyone advocating for weight loss or general fitness – the human body is meant to be used for more than just sitting around, and not doing so can severely impact your health.
This doesn’t just apply to the body, though – it’s also true for the mind, to a degree. I say to a degree because being physically impaired doesn’t automatically lessen your capacity to keep a sharp and focused mind. Physical exercise just happens to be one of the healthiest ways to keep your mind trained and cognitively challenged, as it has the added benefit of keeping you fit, and giving you a slew of other physical benefits including better sleep, regulated appetite, a much-improved mood, and emotional benefits like boosted feelings of self-worth and security.
If exercise isn’t an option due to some form of physical paralysis or impairment, then staying cognitively-challenged in general is important for focus and concentration. Puzzle games are a great way to do this, as are strategy games. Play a few rounds of chess, or fuel your need for a good challenge with mentally-challenging video gaming.
If the issue isn’t too little, then it’s probably too much – when it comes to zapping and sapping your ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand, then the two biggest culprits in our modern-day society is an overload of stress and an overload of information.
Let’s tackle stress first. Emotional and mental stress comes from facing too many challenges, issues, difficulties and problems all at once. While technology has basically allowed us to expedite absolutely anything, our minds have yet to really catch up to just how quickly we can get things moving now – and the stress of living in such a fast-paced hustle and bustle can often get to us.
To some, stress has simply become a fact of life. Yet no matter how ubiquitous it might be in your chosen hobby or line of work, it’s important to learn how to cope. It’s good to stay occupied – it’s not good to spread yourself too thin and neglect your own needs in an effort to keep up with the blinding speed of the world around you.
Coping – relaxing and finding ways to turn the valve and blow off some pressure – is something that depends on you. Just like how stress and how it’s perceived is entirely subjective, the same goes for stress reduction – only you can decide what works best for you, and why. Stress is something that hits some people harder than it does others – and if you’re already facing a serious mental disorder like major depression, then chances are you’re going to be dealing with stress-related issues more often than most other people, and this can include the ability to work properly and focus on tasks.
I’ll give you a couple suggestions to fix the issue. Generally, exercise or sports can be a great way to blow off steam. Or maybe you prefer first-person shooting games. Or maybe neither of these is your idea of a great time, and you want something much simpler and mellower, like relaxing music and a retreat into your favorite reading nook. Or perhaps the need for luxury grips you and you decide you want to take a vacation in order to shake off the shackles of stress.
Whatever you do to cope, it has to be constructive and adaptive in a positive way – maladaptive coping mechanisms, like addiction and self-medication, are not a good way to reduce stress and are likely to only add onto your problems in the long-term.
Aside from stress, more and more people today are facing a technological burn-out – the symptoms of being bombarded with so much media and stimuli that you can’t help but feel overwhelmed and anxious. Yet in our attempt to keep up with the crowd, we can’t help but feel compelled as well – compelled to keep checking, keep refreshing, and keep flipping through pages and pages of content out of fear of missing out on something.
When we do miss out on something, it can produce regret and envy. And when we don’t miss out on something, we end up comparing our experience to that of others – and the same emotions pop up. Combine that with the constant popularity contest and countless different fake internet points in forums of discussion, and it becomes easy to add a whole host of different issues onto an overuse and abuse of digital and social media, including lowered self-esteem, body image distortions, increased risk-taking and other strange behavior.
The solution? Turn your phone off for a little bit, engage in stricter time management, or utilize applications that limit and ration your access to content like that. Ironically, there’s a lot of tech out there dedicated to helping you use less technology – or at the very least, be healthier and more responsible in the way you access and consume media.
You Don’t Love What You Do
Speaking of technological burnout, another reason for why you may be faced with trouble concentrating is that you simply don’t like your job – and it’s a surprisingly common issue, as most people aren’t engaged in what they do.
Now, there’s something to be said for the definition of a job basically being that you’re not its hugest fan, but that doesn’t mean you’re meant to actively hate what you do. In fact, there’s no excuse for you to be doing what you hate for long periods of time – it’s still a choice.
If you’re stuck in a job you have no pleasure doing, then you still need to take the time to invest in yourself in a way that will get you out of that job. Slaving away at a job you despise for the monetary incentive alone will affect your health rather significantly.
Now, we’ll all be somewhat unhappy with our job now and again – maybe you’ve had a bad day with a frustrating client, or nothing’s gone your way, or you simply didn’t get anything done. But if you’re not doing what you absolutely love, then at the very least seek to do something you like.
Otherwise, you won’t just have your concentration sapped from you – you’ll have your life sapped from you.
We’ve mentioned ways in which life can chronically wear you down and make your attention span truly suffer – but sometimes, life doesn’t visit you with a chisel and a hundred motions, but a sledgehammer and a single swing.
Grief, trauma, loss, shock. No matter what the cause, a single detrimental experience can cause us to lose sight of the day-to-day, and be trapped in a cycle of memories and emotions.
That’s part of the natural grieving process. There’s a reason we need to take time off after a particularly emotional event in life – to let it all sink in. The mind needs to take some time to properly process certain events and let them take their full effect. After a period of time has passed, the grieving process ends – and life returns back to a certain degree of normalcy. In most cases, at least.
When events are traumatic, the mind can’t properly recover or let things sink it – it gets scarred, and the effect is a case of PTSD. Plummeting into a depression or developing irrational behavior as a result of a traumatic event can tie into that diagnosis – and time alone won’t always heal those wounds.
If you or your loved one is in an emotional daze that isn’t coming to an end, it might be a good idea to contact a professional and perhaps consider therapy.
All of the abovementioned problems – especially stress – can be exacerbated by a serious mental illness. Dealing with burnout, social media anxiety or general stress on top of a diagnosis of depression or ADHD can be difficult – but not unmanageable. With the right motivation, support, and technique, you can overcome your diagnosis and slowly eliminate its symptoms – and vastly improve your ability to focus not just on work, but concentrate on living in the moment and enjoying the day-to-day aspects of your life.