Surprising Myths About Focus and Concentration
Focus is a very important asset for writers, artists and all other creators. Without being able to enter the zone, it’s very hard to produce awesome work which you will enjoy crafting at the same time.
This is why many people start chasing focus as this mystical concept that’s like manna from heaven. We see it all the time, in movies like:
→ Limitless, a story about a struggling writer who comes across a pill that tap into his potential to achieve 100% focus:
→ Sherlock, the evergreen genius detective who uses his impressive cognitive abilities to solve the unsolvable:
→ Good Will Hunting, the math wonderboy who is well-versed in logic, economics and, for some reason, amateur art interpretation:
→ And of course, the magnificent Dr.House who knows every disease, symptom and cure off the top of his head:
But, is it really possible to be that good at remembering stuff, focusing and finding solutions just from the sea of information you have in your head?
Experts have conflicting opinions.
The age-old question of whether human memory has limited capacity, and if so, how much we can actually remember is not easy to answer.
The brain’s exact storage capacity for memories is difficult to calculate. First, we do not know how to measure the size of a memory. Second, certain memories involve more details and thus take up more space; other memories are forgotten and thus free up space.Scientific American
The same source shows that professor Paul Reber of Northwestern University claims that the human brain has the capacity to store 2.5 petabytes of data, an equivalent of 3,000,000 hours of TV shows.
Then, there’s the amazing Guinness World Record holder for most random objects memorized: Nischal Narayanam. He managed to memorize 225 random objects in just 12 minutes.
At the same time, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding our ability to focus, concentrate and memorize things. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones:
1.You can Force Yourself to Focus
The most simple proof that focusing is hardly done deliberately is when you’re on a tight deadline and you tell yourself: come on, focus, focus, focus! And lo and behold: you’re more distracted than ever.
Forcing yourself to focus might actually achieve the opposite effect. Just like any other subconscious activity, it’s very hard to have a direct impact over it, no matter what productivity gurus say.
Instead of trying to force yourself to concentrate, you should pinpoint and identify the exact variables that make you more or less focused. Are you more focused after a great meal or does it make you groggy? Do you function better in the morning, afternoon or the evening?
These factors vary from one person to another, so it’s important to get to know your brain and body to know what triggers focus and in-the-zone working.
2. Lack of Focus is not a Health Symptom
Another common misconception is that a lack of focus has to do with distraction, daydreaming, foggy brain, cognitive weakness or a bunch of other possibilities.
However, weak focusing abilities are actually a common symptom for several illnesses, such as:
- thyroid issues
- anemia and iron deficiency
- hormone disbalances
- depression and anxiety
- Cushing syndrome
…and many more. So, before blaming your lack of focus to poor self-control, make sure that your issues aren’t actually medical-based.
3. Your Focus and Concentration are Best in the Morning
Our culture is absolutely obsessed with praising the magic of mornings: any productivity coach will tell you that it’s best to get a jump-start as early as possible.
There is even a movement of thousands of people forcing themselves to wake up at 5AM to achieve better results, increase their productivity and be more focused.
This works for morning birds, but it can be absolutely useless for people who peak in energy in late morning, afternoon, evening or night. Having low energy levels in the morning is also not something you should fight against, it’s simply how your body works.
Don’t force yourself to work hard in the morning if you don’t feel right about it. Instead, identify the time(s) of the day when you feel most focused and energetic and do your work then.
4. It’s Easier to Focus in a Quiet Environment
This myth is similar to the “humans work best in the morning” one.
Again, some people thrive in quiet environments and that’s simply not up for debate. If you like absolute silence and that enables you to focus at your best, go for it.
However, we are all different and our top-focus environments might wildly vary.
For example, I remember my sister always used to study with music on blast. I never understood how that works, but she consistently achieved great results at school. To explain why she studies like this, she just said that “silence is boring and creeps her out”.
I’m not the working-in-absolute-silence type, either. Even though I can’t imagine focusing with the music on max volume like my sister did, I like having some murmur in the background, especially TV dialogue or conversations in the other room.
5. Deadlines Trigger Focus and Productivity
Many writers say that nothing makes them focus better than a rapidly-approaching deadline. This is not exactly focus, at least not in the healthy sense of the word.
It’s an undeniable fact that when a deadline approaches, stress levels rise. This triggers a reaction in your body and brain: your organism starts producing more cortisol (so-called stress hormone). Here are just some of the things that happen to your body when additional cortisol is produced:
- headaches and migraines
- rapid heartbeat
- high blood pressure
- muscle weakness
- weight gain
It’s obvious that you shouldn’t aim to get yourself in this state of being to become more focused. Focus doesn’t have to be and isn’t a synonym for stress.
6. Caffeine Makes You More Focused
Ask 10 people how they feel about coffee and the effects of caffeine on their performance and, most likely, 9 of them will say that coffee is their productivity juice.
However, what coffee does to your brain is not exactly the focus that you should aim for. Coffee is a stimulant that reduces drowsiness and makes you more alert.
In one of our previous paragraphs, we mentioned that a lack of focus might be due to medical reasons. An interesting piece of medical advice is that you should actually reduce your caffeine intake if you’re experiencing a lack of focus or a foggy brain.
In the long term, drinking less coffee will increase your capacity to focus and concentrate. It will also lessen your tolerance to caffeine, so you can actually achieve the same effects without drinking it as much.
7. Breaks will Break your Focus
Another piece of wrong advice is: set apart specific times when you’re working. When you work, you work. Don’t stop with your work to take a break – if you do, all the focus goes down the drain.
This misconception is not only deepened by life coaches and productivity advisers, but it has become so embedded in our worklife that we take it at face value as a true fact.
Just look at our workday structures: in most companies and corporations, you will get a single half-hour or an hour break and that’s it. You’re not expected to take smaller breaks during the day, even if you feel absolutely distracted and unfocused.
The truth is that you actually need breaks to concentrate. Without giving your brain its precious rest time, you will not get the same benefits from its up-time. Try this in the form of the so-called Pomodoro Method.
8. You Can’t Fight Distractions
We can often hear the phrase that we are living in an age of distraction. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the point where we go and lay in our beds at night, we are bombarded with messages, e-mails, social media, advertisement, content, entertainment and notifications of all kinds.
For modern humans, this is an undeniable fact – and you shouldn’t be finding ways of escaping distractions. Rather, you should learn how to function and concentrate even when these distractions are there.
Distractions shouldn’t be perceived as focus killers. Eliminating distractions doesn’t automatically imply a build-up of laser focus.
Why? Just think about it. When you apply all these advice like from the image above and sit in a distraction-free space, if you’re unfocused, you will still remain unfocused.
Also consider the opposite situation. Think about a time when you were completely in the zone, with sharp flow and great concentration. Did Facebook messages or e-mails bother you enough to break your stride? Probably not.
These two scenarios are proof that elimination of distractions is not a magical recipe to get into a space where you’re relaxed and focused.
TIP: Don’t fight distractions, but notice them.
Instead of looking at modern-world distractions as your archenemies, accept them for what they are. Don’t chase them away or try to ignore them, but notice what actually breaks your flow and what doesn’t bother you as much.
To do this, you can keep a small notebook next to you while you’re working. Everytime you feel distracted by something, write it down. Received a social media notification? Write down social media. Got a text from your sibling? Write down text messages.
After you do this for a couple of work sessions, you will start seeing patterns emerge: which events distract you often and significantly, and which ones only distract you for a short while.
You can use this information to later map out those distraction sources that you really should aim to eliminate.