Ever had a staring contest with the same page for an hour and lost? It’s a painful combination of frustration and self-doubt that can bring anyone on the verge of quitting. School, career, important life decisions, all of these rely on your ability to focus, which only adds to the pressure. It’s easy to see why people panic when they’re having a hard time focusing, right?
But why does it happen? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
From a biological point of view, the millions of neurons that make up the human brain send and receive signals as a way to evoke thoughts or body movements. Over time, scientists determined that the area of the brain associated with higher brain functions, such as thought, reasoning, memory, and sensation, was the cerebral cortex.
But this does not really answer your questions, does it? After all, you are still on the same page and about to call it quits. If it’s biological, there must be pills that can help, right? Herbal supplements, coffee, vitamin B6, even ginseng — those are all available options. But before you reach out for something like that, or even something heavier, here’s what you can try to do.
#1. Take a Step Back
Allow yourself to stop for a moment and take a breather from the whole situation. Desperately and angrily trying to regain focus will only get you tired. Needless to say, fatigue is not really going to help you if you’re already having a hard time focusing.
Although modern times made a longer life expectancy possible, that only made more room for stress on a daily basis. As one of the sweetest ironies, stress is mostly caused by excessive focus, since it takes a lot of energy.
So take a step back and assess the situation. Think about which of the “usual suspects” applies to you: fatigue, stress, lack of motivation, or an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
When it comes to being tired, sleep is the obvious solution. On the other hand, undergoing professional treatment is the obvious solution in case of an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. However, stress and lack of motivation are more delicate to deal with — you might need to consider professional help.
In addition, you could also ask them if you suspect that low acetylcholine levels contribute to your difficulty focusing and explore supplements that can help support your cognitive function.
#2. Defocus & Focus
Life is so demanding nowadays that it’s hard to find time to defocus. But that’s exactly what you need to do — and you should pick your favorite pastime activity for it. Whether it’s gaming, watching TV, or scrolling through social media, it’s a good way to ignore the things that you should focus on.
Now, this might seem counterintuitive, but our ability to ignore things is just as important as the ability to focus on them. The harmony between focus and defocus is crucial to maintaining a sharp concentration. Over time, humans suffer a deficit in the suppression process, which is related to the age-related decline of concentration. But many seem to cross the thin line between the needed, healthy, defocus and laziness, due to boredom or lack of interest and motivation.
Therefore, if you are suffering from excessive stress, which is one of the two most likely scenarios, take some time off.
The Importance of Motivation
By detaching for a brief period you can change perspectives, see things more clearly, and take control over the situation at hand. But remember that balance is key! Too much defocus and you might lose interest, fall behind, start having doubts regarding your own abilities, and lose motivation altogether.
All you need to know is that your behavior is activated and shaped by a sum of biological, cognitive, social, and emotional factors. Calling motivation a “complex process” would be an understatement. As such, motivation is detrimental to concentration, as you cannot have one without the other.
Lack of motivation can manifest itself from boredom to depression. Although it is a gradual process, it’s not a slow one. Each day it gets harder and harder to pick-up from where you left off. Before you know it, doubt and low self-esteem will make you question your own ability to accomplish anything. Just like stress, it only grows more dangerous with time, if left unaddressed, becoming the root of most behavior issues, such as the inability to focus.
#3. Regain Control
It might look overwhelming right now, but all you really need is a goal to begin with. Once you get the right one, splitting it into a series of daily-achievable tasks will give you a sense of control over your own life. That is the first and most crucial step in regaining focus and building a long-lasting motivation.
Overall, the most useful thing to do when having a hard time focusing is to take a minute and rationalize the situation, detaching yourself from it in order to get an objective view. Only by doing this will you be able to know which one of the above-mentioned causes applies in your case and which treatment works best. There is a variety of psychological tips, tricks, hacks, or practices to help you improve your focus. But without knowing the root cause, you are shooting blindfolded, in the dark.