A scattered mind produces scattered decisions. A symptom of our over-stimulating, technology-saturated world is mental paralysis. That constant stimulation causes your mind to become clear as mud.
Neuroscientists have blamed the clutter of technology for shrinking attention spans and the ability to learn. With so many devices competing for your attention, your neural pathways are rewired into shallow minds that can only handle 144 characters at a time.
Thankfully, there are healthy habits to pull your brain back from cluttered thinking; Dr. Gary Small, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA says, “The brain can right itself if we’re aware of these issues.”
Here are 6 ways to improve your mental clarity and focus”
1. De-clutter your physical space
There’s a strong link between your physical space and your mental space; mess creates stress. Physical clutter is distracting and bombards your mind with excessive stimuli. The space where your most important work takes place should be a sanctuary.
Place any items outside your field of vision when it is not in use; out of sight, out of mind. The same rule applies to your computer desktop, create folders for every item and avoid a cluttered online work space.
2. Develop a routine
Sport psychologists run athletes through specific steps before making a play. Some of the movements seem unusual and arbitrary, but they’re designed to put the mind into a familiar state to recreate a successful performance. In the same way, having your own daily routine or morning ritual creates a familiar ‘comfort zone’ for your mind to do it’s best and most focused work.
Whether it’s coffee or some light reading before you start work, experiment with different work spaces and routines that allow you to be at your most productive and focused. We are creatures of habit — leverage this by recreating the settings where your mind works at it’s best.
3. Tap into your “flow state”
Have you ever been so absorbed in a task that you lose track of time? It’s a mental state known as “flow;” your mind becomes immersed into the activity.
In order to tap into this state, there is a sweet-spot between your level of skill and the challenge of a task. If your skills are greater than the challenges of task, then you fall into “boredom,” if your skills are lower than the challenges, than you experience “performance anxiety.”
The goal is to always stretch yourself beyond your current level of skill, but not so far that you’ll break. This sweet-spot between challenges and skills puts your mind into an optimal state of focus, pulling all your attention toward the task at hand.
4. Stop multi-tasking
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”
— Alexander Graham Bell
The ability to multi-task is a false badge of honor. Multi-tasking is really a misnomer, better defined as “task-switching.” It is useful in few occasions — when dealing with medial tasks, but has adverse affects when trying to be productive in detailed and important tasks.
Use the “3-to-1 method;” narrow down your most important tasks to 3, and then give one task your undivided attention for a period of time. Allow yourself to rotate between the three, giving yourself a good balance of singular focus and variety.
5. Work/Rest ratios
Studies have shown that workers are most focused and productive when following the rhythm of a work/rest ratio. The Pomodoro technique advocates working for twenty minutes followed by 5 minutes of rest. Other techniques suggest following a 52 minutes work, and 17 minutes of rest.
To focus well throughout the day, it is important to allow your mind to rest after processing a lot of information. Experiment and find an effective ratio for you.
6. Diet and sleep
It is true — you are what you eat. Heavily refined foods and foods high in sugar have been shown to have detrimental effects on our thinking process. And lack of sleep has also been linked with poor thinking and learning.
As best you can, steer away from foods with preservatives and additives; get into the habit of checking food labels. And in terms of sleep, the consensus for “enough” sleep is between 7-8 hours.
Sam Terry is a lover of people; and lifelong student of human relationships, behavior, and cultural habits. She has traveled the world and lived in France, Denmark and Canada. From a young age, Sam has been passionate about psychology and an avid reader of self-help books. She is motivated by the idea that so much of your life in within your control.
Today, her mission is to help others optimize their thoughts and emotional states to master their life.