Mental Training: Basic Concentration Exercises
When dealing with athletes we constantly talk about maintaining concentration or focus. It’s critical not to be distracted regardless of what that person is trying to concentrate on, but the first step is actually learning how to concentrate.
The purpose of this brief article is to introduce some basic mental training exercises to diminish distractibility.
The following group of exercises are not specific to sports psychology but can used to work on maintaining focus on something for variable periods of time. Unfortunately the mind does tend to wander randomly, which is naturally not conducive to optimal performance regardless of whether it is at work, in the classroom or in the athletic arena.
You may initially look negatively at the simplicity of these exercises but your mind may be easily distracted. With time and practice you will be surprised how much better you can become at staying “on task.”
Don’t get angry or disappointed by the fact your mind wonders from thought to thought.
Just re-focus on the exercise and things will improve over time.
- Place a non-digital clock on a desk. Sit down and relax. The objective is to remain focused on the “seconds” hand. Your job is to make a check mark on a piece of paper every time three seconds pass. Someone else determines the time duration of the exercise without telling you. If you miss a recording you are not allowed to make a correction. As you improve your ability to focus, the time interval (between check marks) and the entire length of the exercise can be increased. Since the duration of the exercise is determined by someone else, the number of check marks is compared to the correct number.
- Try closing your eyes and counting backwards from 100 to zero by three. If at any time you lose your count you return back to 100 and re-start. If this is too easy start with a higher number but keep the decreasing value at three, seven or nine since greater concentration is required than the number two, four or five.
- Place an object in front of you on your desk. It could be an apple, a hockey puck or something entirely different. Focus on it as long as you can. Look at its outline and try to identify any specific features you can find. If at any time a thought, other than that object, enters your mind then you have lost focus and you should re-start.
- Now try the third exercise with your eyes closed. You must draw upon your visualization skills as this is a much more difficult exercise. Anytime your mind’s eye does not see your selected image you must start over.
- Have someone count the number of words in a paragraph in a newspaper or novel. Your job is to read the paragraph and correctly determine the number of words. You may only look at the page and cannot count out loud. Once you have read the paragraph, simply tell the individual beside you what the correct answer is. If you are incorrect, you start over from the beginning. If this is too easy either make your environment more distractible by turning on the television or increase the amount of text to an entire page. This is not easy.
- Draw a grid on a piece of paper with ten rows and ten columns. Place a number between zero and 100 randomly in each square until all numbers have been used. The purpose is to scratch off each number in sequence as fast as you can, starting at zero. This is a fun and commonly used exercise referred to as a “grid number exercise.” There are many variations that you can create and make more difficult as your ability to focus improves. You can also compete against a family member or friend, but must remain silent.
- Another type of exercise is referred to a “Shifting Focus.” One day start by reading a paragraph as in exercise N0.5 above. Summarize what you read verbally in your own words. The next day do the same thing while the television is on. Then try and summarize the paragraph and also what was being discussed on the television. It may take some time until you are capable of doing this well or for extended periods. Once you can do this well then you can add a radio in the background. Read a paragraph in the book and then summarize what was going on in the book, on the television and the radio. It’s not easy.
- The final drill is “pure silence and nothing” exercise. Sit in a quiet place and let your mind go blank. The objective is to relax and not let any thought entire your mind at all. Once a thought enters your mind, get rid of it as fast as possible and re-focus on not letting anything enter your mind.
All of these exercises can help anyone develop better focus and reduce distractibility.
Each exercise can also be made more difficult in time by adding distractions in the background in an effort to derail your concentration. This added focus can help you perform better while you stand in the blue paint but also in other areas of your life, so why not give it a try?