Ability to Concentrate Isn't What It Used to Be
When you are rolled into the operating room at the hospital, you want to know that
the surgeon is ready to concentrate on your procedure. When you board a jetliner for
your next vacation destination, you want to know that the tower crew is rested and
ready to direct the pilot through dense airport traffic.
Concentration is vital in some professions. Even in our everyday lives, though, we
all need to concentrate — to avoid traffic accidents, to get the job finished, to
remember important information. But with today's world filled with flashing images
on TV, quick news reports, and fast-food restaurants on every corner, are we capable
of concentrating as well as we used to?
Before we answer that question, let's take a closer look at concentration, and its
sibling, attention. Attention is a global term. It is used to describe a state in
which you are interested in everything going on around you. Concentration focuses
that attention on 1 specific thing.
Staying in focus
Attention and concentration developed in humans as defense mechanisms. Early humans
had to be constantly alert or be eaten. But it's difficult to keep up a high level
of attention for long periods of time without getting stressed out.
Stress is good in small quantities, but too much stress leads to burn out, accidents,
or illness. Think of your life today. Stress? That's your middle name, right? Hurry
here, hurry there, with never enough time in the day.
So, with all this stress and a culture that thrives on short takes, can we concentrate?
One reason people have trouble concentrating may be too much television. When a brain
is battered by so much stimulation, it's hard to concentrate on just 1 thing. Some
experts have pointed out that a child's attention span is now about 7 minutes — the
length of time a program runs before a commercial break. In Europe, by contrast, attention
spans seem to be longer. Perhaps that is because there are longer gaps between commercials.
A concentration tune-up
To help tune up your concentration skills, practice these tips:
Cut back on the amount of television you watch, or your children watch.
Get enough sleep. The CDC recommends 7 hours to 9 hours of sleep for teens and adults, 10 hours
to 11 hours for school kids, and even more for preschoolers and toddlers.
Avoid drinks that contain stimulants. Although caffeine or nicotine can give you a quick boost, it lasts only a short
Pay attention to what you eat. A high-fat meal can leave you feeling sluggish. This is not because the body
needs the extra blood to help digest the food. Research has shown that you feel
sleepy after eating a meal high in fat or refined sugar because these foods change
the makeup of the amino acids entering the brain.
Try to stay calm and relaxed. Take a short break of a few seconds to a minute every hour or so at work to
break the tension cycle. Just taking a moment to breathe deeply and slowly can
help you re-center yourself.