improving concentration

Improving Creativity and Concentration

As I sit writing this, I am in a funk.  I have literally stared at the screen for an hour, bouncing around from idea to idea, finding it difficult to concentrate on any one thing.  Generally I choose blog post themes from a spark of inspiration felt earlier in my week.  This week has been a combination of an abundance of sparks matched with several stressful interactions. In the ebb and flow of focus and distraction, this week has definitely ended with a bit more of the later. 

Rather then spending any more time looking for ways to tie together my jumbled thoughts, I just took a moment, paused, took a breath and asked myself, "What would you do with a client who was experiencing a creative block?"

My answer in session almost always goes something like this:

"Start where you are right now, in this moment. Start with how you are feeling. Begin to take in some of the present moment and I promise the answer will come."

Without fail, bringing ourselves into the present moment makes it more likely to take a deep, breath, settle in and relax a bit.  This magical thing starts to happen when we relax.  Play becomes more possible. Flow happens.  Ideas come. 

Let's break down why this seems to work so well. 

#1 Take A Big Breath - As babies, we breathe so well.  With age, stress and life experiences, our bodies learn and practice breathing patterns more associated with stress. This type of breathing is more shallow and less nourishing for our bodies.  As adults, most of us have to re learn and practice healthy breathing. One version of this is diaphragmatic breathing. This breathe practice provides our brain with a big, nourishing burst of oxygen, increasing it's ability to function and stay focused.

#2 Settle Into The Present Moment - If you've taken the time to take a big breath, you are already one step closer to being more present and in the moment. After the breath comes an opportunity to tune into your thoughts. As you inhale and exhale, you can start to ask yourself some questions in order to understand them better. 

How fast are my thoughts coming? Am I thinking one thing or many things? Are these thoughts helpful or stressful? 

After checking your thoughts, a second step to being in the moment is to look for better thoughts.  You might begin to ask yourself if there is something better you can be thinking or focusing on something that soothes stress or curb negative self talk. The combination of breathing and becoming aware of our thoughts is a practice in mindfulness. When we practice mindfulness, our brain can switch it's energy from the distraction of stress reduction to creative thinking. 

#3 Relax Your Body -  Improving creativity and concentration would not be complete if we left out the body and how it responds to stress. Intuitively, successful people such as Steve Jobs preferred walking to sitting in order to generate creative ideas.  One study from Stanford University noted that participants were more likely to experience divergent thinking (a primary quality in our ability to be creative), while walking, rather than sitting.  In whatever way you can, be it stretching, gentle movement or taking a walk, getting into your body is going to improve your ability to focus and create. 

One fun way to add movement into your daily life is to find movement patterns you enjoy.  With a background in dance therapy, I work with clients in the office to come up with a series of personalized movements that help relieve stress, induce happiness and increase the experience of flow.

If you continue to struggle with getting out of a funk for a month or more, it could be to more intense anxiety or depression. You might consider consulting with a therapist to help you get back into focus.