With the incredibly busy lifestyles we have become so accustomed to, and the amount of time we spend on technology, it is not surprising that it is common to find that the vast majority of us experience a lack of concentration. Simply being able to focus on a book (I generally have about three or more going at one time, at various stages throughout the house!) or to sit through a film without our minds wandering is becoming more and more difficult. Whether it’s caused by too much sensory input or because technology has us too connected to the world around us, it is also not surprising that our growing lack of concentration is having a negative impact on our memory. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between our concentration and memory.
Concentration And Memory
It is important to understand and be able to decipher what both memory and concentration are:
- Memory is the act of being able to recall information that you were previously exposed to. This can be something you seen, heard, read or experienced.
- Concentration is defined as the ability to focus your attention on something while excluding the other things around you.
Here are a couple examples of how concentration and memory work together:
- You are reading the newspaper while the radio plays. Being able to concentrate on just reading the newspaper means you are more likely to remember what you are reading and not what was being said on the radio. Whereas, if you were distracted by the radio you may remember the song that was playing, but not the details of the article you were reading. I am notorious for this – in some ways I feel like I am multi-tasking, but if I’m not fully absorbing the information then I go back for it later. This can get frustrating. The distraction doesn’t need to be external – it can be an internal thought that is distracting you.
- You are in a staff meeting. While your boss is explaining what he needs everyone to do for a project, you are thinking about the list of groceries you need to pick up from the store after work. This is of course, not uncommon for busy working parents to experience. After the meeting when you begin to work on the project you don’t remember the details of what your boss covered earlier in the meeting and find yourself asking for clarification.
How Can Meditation Help?
Meditation is the art of focusing away from external stimuli and achieving a clear relaxed state of mind. It allows your mind to become clear and silent. It is considered to be the most powerful way to enhance your concentration. When you first begin meditating, you are going to have lots of intruding thoughts. Try not to let this discourage you. As you practice, these thoughts will become easier to let go of. Eventually your subconscious will dismiss distracting thoughts before you consciously acknowledge them. This is an incredibly empowering feeling.
Meditation And Concentration:
When you are trying to focus or concentrate on something, there is a tendency to be distracted by your wandering mind, similar to the process of learning to meditate. By learning how to let go of your thoughts to achieve a clear mind, you will be able to apply the same methods to focus your mind to concentrate on what you are doing.
If you are able to improve your concentration and focus, you will also improve your memory. A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that people who practiced meditation had a better short-term memory. This is because it is easier to keep things in your short-term memory when you mind is jumping around from thought to thought. You might also want to check out this article from Psychology Today on The Science of Meditation.
Does Practice Make Perfect?
Learning to meditate can be frustrating. Our brains have been trained to have control over our thoughts. But this is a fine example of us being able to mislead ourselves, because the neurons in the brain are continually firing with the input and output due to occurrences in our natural environment. If you stick with it, you will learn how to focus without being distracted by intrusive thoughts and stimuli.
To take this a step further, with meditation you are learning the rhythms of your own mind and exploring its depths. The gifts with this are unsurpassed, as this is another tool for self empowerment. You will learn what you need to do specifically for you, to make the most out of your hours, days, weeks and months. And as you are better able to concentrate, you will also be better able to remember the things that you want to remember and your memories will no longer be getting lost among stray thoughts.
So can meditation boost concentration? Definitely.
In fact, it is never to early to begin working to boost power in concentration and memory. We can begin from as young as children and teens, since the benefits on discipline and curricular performance bode well. If you’re considering trying meditation for the first time in your life, with the intention of sharpening your concentration levels, here’s how you can go about it:
Understand What You’re Trying To Achieve
You’re not going to magically become psychic by performing meditation, but rather learn to empty your mind of clutter and achieve inner calm and heightened awareness. You can meditate anywhere doing anything as you become proficient; but to begin with, peaceful surroundings can help.
Find A Quiet Area To Meditate
By quiet, we do not mean necessarily away from civilization, as truly effective meditation transcends minor distractions. In fact, it can be done quite effectively in your back yard; the sound of birds or dogs barking should not break your meditative session. Meditation makes you even more aware of distractions, but equips you with the ability to quickly let go of wavering thoughts.
Make Your Clothing As Comfortable As Possible
Do not attempt meditation in tight fitting clothes that restrict free breathing, or leave you wanting to pop out of them. Clothing should be loose, and you should feel utterly comfortable in what you choose to wear. You may wish to consider fabrics as well – I find that for some reason, I feel ridiculously comfortable in bamboo fabrics when I meditate. Cold or extreme heat can also break your meditative focus, so be sure to account for the weather you plan to be meditating outside.
Decide How Long You Want To Meditate Before You Begin
If you are just starting out, you may wish to begin with shorter time segments – five or ten minutes seems to be good for most people just beginning. As you progress, you will be able to go longer, up to 20 minutes per session, and perhaps even up to twice daily. It is also important to try to remain as consistent as possible; do it every day, at the same time, and focus on creating a rhythm for yourself. Then it becomes like an old friend, something you look forward to communing with each day. Make it a ritual and you are likely to progress. Setting a gentle alarm to tell you when time is up is also advised, and constantly checking your watch makes no sense and defeats the exercise in concentration.
Get Comfortably Seated
You may sit on either a chair, or a cushion placed on the ground, with your legs crossed in the lotus or half lotus position. If you have posture issues, or experience back pain when seated without support, be sure to brace your back on a wall or some sort of rest. If you have very tight hips, then you may also wish to sit on top of a yoga block or a bolster.
Close Your Eyes to Bring Your Focus Inward
Experienced meditation practitioners may even have a session with eyes open; however, this can be very distracting to someone new as visual stimulus may easily overload your mind. By closing your eyes, you eliminate the majority of distractions, and this allows you to concentrate better on the recommended breathing meditation. Keeping your eyes closed also helps you get more acquainted with the sensations occurring within your own body, so that you eventually become very skilled at reading any signs or ‘messages’ your body may have.
Incorporate Mindfulness Meditation
It is not necessary to always meditate in a “closed” environment. Rather, meditation for short periods of time, such as when under extreme stress, can help alleviate the frustration you feel and can help refocus your mind.
In addition to improving your concentration, the major effect it has on relieving stress and decreasing levels of cortisol also improves your memory and makes your brain more efficient. Levels of positive neurotransmitters improve, and symptoms of depression (if any) are reduced. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you, with improved sleep as a bonus!