What if concentration exercises were more successful?
In 1991, the Fast Track Project began. A multi-year study project during which 386 kindergarten students were observed into adulthood. The ambition of this project was to find out what was the greatest predictor of success in life. 1
To their surprise, the researchers discovered that it was neither the IQ nor the social background of the children that determined their success, but their ability to concentrate.
They found that the students who had the best ability to concentrate at school were also the most successful not only in their studies but also in their working lives, despite their IQ or social background.
And for good reason: concentration allows for better memorization, in-depth study of subjects, increased productivity and less stress.
The advantage, unlike IQ or social background, is that it can be trained.
So in this article, you will discover 10 concentration exercises that will allow you to train your brain. But before getting to the heart of the matter, we will see how our brain is a muscle and why it needs to be trained.
Consider your brain a muscle
Your brain is like a muscle, it gets stronger when you train it and weaker when you don’t train it hard enough. It also needs a rest period after working, just like your muscles.
When you do a sports session and you are at the end of your strength, it seems impossible to do one more rehearsal or run another kilometer. All you want to do at that point is to stop.
Just like when you read a long article and want to stop to open a new tab and do something else that is less mentally tiring.
Yet it is when you push yourself in these difficult moments that you make the most progress. If you decide to go further, you will be surprised how much strength and concentration you still have left. It is when you are in this zone of resistance that you develop your physical endurance the most, but also your mental endurance.
If you want to improve your concentration and fitness, there are no “secrets”, “hacks” or shortcuts. It all comes down to work.
To become better, you need to exercise daily, eat properly, get enough sleep and challenge yourself.2
You won’t reach the top right away. If you have trouble concentrating for more than 10 minutes without interruption today, don’t expect to be able to stay focused for 45 minutes straight by tomorrow. Just as if you do 10 push-ups today, don’t expect to do 200 push-ups in a row overnight.
You need to train regularly and gradually increase the challenge. First by concentrating for 10 minutes, then 15 then 20… The more you train, the easier it will be for you to concentrate.
In the following parts, you will, therefore, discover several concentration exercises, which will help you to strengthen your attention.
The red thread technique
This technique is certainly one of the most useful because it not only improves your concentration but also helps you to develop your thinking, solve problems efficiently, make better choices and develop your imagination.
The red thread technique consists in choosing a theme, a problem, a subject… in short, choosing a red thread and reflecting on it for a given time until you reach a conclusion.
This reflection must be internal and uninterrupted. You are not allowed to use external resources. So no computer, no smartphone, no book, no request for advice. You must come to a conclusion on your own.
By thinking intensely about something without any support, you exercise your concentration.
When you have a problem in mind to solve, you are forced to direct all your thoughts towards it without getting distracted. Because as soon as you let yourself be distracted, you lose the thread.
So you have to draw on your knowledge, connect concepts and ask yourself questions to reach a conclusion.
Let’s take a concrete example to better understand how this technique works.
The other day I was walking in an old district of Paris and I was wondering how a person who lived in the same district 200 years ago would react when he saw all this modernity.
For 5 minutes I concentrated on this subject by imagining the situation in the smallest details.
I told myself that this person might recognize some old buildings that are still there today.
I imagined that the sounds she would hear would be completely different. Then he would hear the sound of carriages and horses, now he would hear the sound of cars and horns.
The smells would also be different. I wondered if she would not have difficulty breathing with the level of pollution she didn’t experience 200 years ago.
After five minutes of reflection, I concluded that this person would probably be very anxious.
Why would that be? Because he would have very few points of reference. Few things would be familiar to her.
And what made me think she would be anxious? Because when a person is in a situation that is very foreign to them, they feel insecure, and when they feel insecure, they are afraid.
While doing this little exercise, I was forced to concentrate. To imagine myself in that person’s skin and to feel what they might potentially feel.
To come to my conclusion I had to ask myself questions which forced me to concentrate to provide an answer.
Here I took a trivial example but you can do this exercise with anything.
I sometimes use this technique to find new customers, to optimize my finances, to find new ideas, to optimize my processes…
All I have to do is focus intensely on my problem, ask myself questions, connect ideas with each other until I come to a conclusion that I think is good enough.
What I notice is that the more I manage to concentrate, the better my quality of reflection.
The Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique is known to be an excellent concentration exercise.
The technique is simple. You set a timer and concentrate for 25 minutes on your work without being interrupted. You then take a 5-minute break and go back to work for another 25 minutes.
If someone interrupts you during the 25 minutes, start again from 0 and reset the timer to 25 minutes. This creates 25-minute sessions of intense focus.
Every 4 sessions, take a 20-30 minute break.
25/5 is the standard rhythm of the Pomodoro technique but you can adapt it to your own case. If, for example, you find it difficult to concentrate for more than 10 minutes, start with a 10-minute intense focus session followed by a 2-minute break. Then gradually increase the difficulty.
Personally I find it difficult to follow the 25/5 rhythm, I prefer the 50/5 where I concentrate for 50 min on my work and take a 5 min break. I feel more in the flow in these conditions.
The 2 minute technique
The 2 min technique is very simple. Take a clock and fix the seconds hand for 2 min. You must not take your eyes off it.
If 2 min seems easy to you, increase the difficulty by going to 3 min then to 4 min…
This exercise is excellent because it forces you to do nothing. Nowadays we have such a feeling that we have to be active all the time that we no longer take the time to settle down and do nothing. With the 2-minute technique, you force yourself to be inactive for at least 2 minutes.
If you do this exercise seriously, you will feel an internal conflict. As you concentrate on the needle, you will feel the irresistible urge to give in to a whole bunch of distractions. You’ll want to look away, go to Instagram, answer an email…in short, do anything but watch a needle turn. And it is precisely by resisting this internal conflict that you will strengthen your concentration.
Sudoku is an excellent concentration exercise. As a reminder, Sudoku is a grid of 9 rows and 9 columns. The goal is to fill the grids with numbers from 1 to 9. The number must appear only once per column, once per row and once per 9-cell square.
To be able to fill in all the boxes correctly, you must be concentrated. If you get distracted, you make more mistakes and it is harder to finish the game quickly. You must therefore pay attention to memorize the location of the numbers and make sure that they do not appear twice.
Sudoku thus stimulates concentration, thinking and memory.
Today we spend all our time zapping, scrolling, clicking. We don’t read, we scan. We want the summary, the pre-check. As a result, we spend a lot less time reading than before.
Yet reading remains one of the best ways to maintain our concentration.
When you read a long article or a book, you have to concentrate on the story or the subject to try to understand it and not lose track. And the more you read, the more you are able to maintain your attention.
If you’re not familiar with it, reading for 15 minutes without interruption may seem difficult, but with the time you can easily hold on for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour.
In addition to improving your concentration, reading allows you to develop your imagination, explore concepts in depth, learn new things and discover new concepts.
According to a study by the University of Washington3 10 to 20 minutes of meditation per day can improve our concentration and increase our attention span. You don’t have to wait for years to feel the benefits. In just a few sessions, you can see the results quickly.
There are a multitude of ways to meditate, but I will recommend 2 of them.
The first technique is simply to focus on your breathing. Observe your inhalations and exhalations.
With each inhalation feel the air entering your nostrils, feel your lungs inflate. And when you breathe out, feel the air coming out. Do not force anything, breathe at a normal pace.
When you concentrate on your breathing, distractions will naturally occur. Maybe this is something you need to do. Maybe it’s a sound you hear. Whatever it is, calmly bring your attention back to your breath each time.
At the beginning of the practice, you’ll fall in distraction very easily. It may even be that certain thoughts will carry you away to the point of making you forget that you are meditating. But with time and practice, you will manage to channel these distractions better and better.
The second technique is to watch your thoughts go by. That is, instead of getting carried away by them as you usually do, you observe them from the outside like a spectator. You watch them come and go without judging them.
At some point you will be tempted to follow them, but remember that you are a spectator.
This technique will allow you to take a distance from your thoughts while training your concentration.
Full Consciousness is about focusing on what you’re doing.
When you walk, for example, you usually think about a multitude of things. A task you need to do, a conversation you’ve had, a podcast you’ve recently listened to, something you need to buy… in short, you think about everything except the fact that you’re walking.
In full consciousness, you ignore all these things to focus only on your walking. Focus all your attention on your movements, on the air you feel on our face and on your surroundings. Bring your attention back to the present.
You can practice full consciousness with walking but also with all your daily activities.
When you drive, when you cook, when you do sports, when you clean, when you eat, when you take a shower…
The idea is not to get carried away by your thoughts and concentrate on the present moment.
Full consciousness allows us to exercise our concentration while slowing down the frantic rhythm that we are used to living in everyday life.
Active listening is somewhat similar to the idea of full consciousness in the sense that when you are talking to someone, you need to be fully present to listen to what they are saying to you. You should not think about anything else while they are talking to you, and you should not prepare your response while waiting for them to finish speaking. Just concentrate on what they are saying. You are in full engagement.
The advantage of this exercise is that it improves not only your concentration but also your communication. Your interlocutors will feel much more listened to and will enjoy talking with you.