“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”— Simone Weil, French philosopher
The ever increasing speed, volume, and accessibility of information available at our fingertips can make it difficult to stay focused on anything in particular. But undivided attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give to the people and pursuits we care about most. Here are a few tips to improve focus when it counts:
1. Do one thing, not two.
Multiple screens, constant stream of social media, and relentless notifications — these conditions work against focus.
Try this: Ask your kid to write down the alphabet as quickly as they can for 15 seconds. Then, ask them to do the same thing while singing “Happy Birthday” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Which was easier?
2. Rest the mind.
Paradoxically, giving the mind periods to rest, wander, and freely associate helps when it’s time to narrow focus on a specific task.
Try this: Take a brain break to doodle, color, take a walk, or dance to a favorite tune. The key is not what you do, the key is in relaxing focus and opening awareness to nothing in particular.
3. Use attention hacks.
Free up your attention to focus on what matters in the moment by taking some of the load off of the mind. Make a to-do list, use a planner, set a timer, or break down tasks into smaller parts. Focus only on the next small step ahead.
Try this: Set a timer for short bursts of focus. Try experimenting with 1, 3, 5, or 10 minute periods of intense focus, depending on the task and age.
4. Play hard.
Aerobic exercise helps improve focus by getting the heart rate up and giving the body a shot of dopamine.
Try this: Take a break from narrowly focusing by doing a short burst of heart-pounding activity, such as a run, jumping on a trampoline, or doing some jumping jacks. Play a game of “Red Light, Green Light” to exercise the body and attention.
5. Be in nature.
Studies have shown that time in nature supports attention and focus in children.
Try this: Build in daily time in nature for your family. Consider walking to school, visiting a neighborhood park, or working in the garden.
6. Cultivate mindfulness.
Mindfulness is essentially learning how to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. A regular mindfulness practice helps us become more present to the task at hand and focus more deeply.
Try this: For a simple mindfulness practice, become still, close your eyes, and ask, “What do I hear in my surroundings right now?” See our lesson on Mindfulness for more ideas.
7. Make it fun.
If you have to focus on something you don’t enjoy but need to do, commit to it and then do something else you enjoy afterward — with complete focus on both tasks.
Try this: Before doing a chore say, “I want to play that game as well. Let’s focus on cleaning the living room and then we’ll focus on playing it together when we’re done.”
What we focus on grows. In a world of endless distractions, offering the gift of our focused attention to what we love will lead us to deeper meaning and purpose in life.