5 exercises to build your mental endurance
On a scale of epic novel to TikTok video, how would you rate your attention span?
If you’ve just been distracted by a shiny object and stopped reading, we’ll mark you down as “short”.
While many of us spend a lot of time working on our physical endurance, we may be neglecting our mental staying power.
So once you’ve ticked off today’s workout, we have 5 exercises to build your mental endurance. These techniques will help to improve the length and depth of your focus – because the two go hand in hand.
Why is it so hard to focus?
It may seem obvious, but interruptions disrupt concentration. And with phones in our hands, smartwatches on our wrists, and all manner of devices surrounding us, there are more opportunities for interruption than ever.
In a study of UK adults, 50 percent admitted that, despite their best efforts, they often can’t stop checking their smartphones when they should be focusing on other things.
It’s the collision of the way we are wired with our modern, connected world. Most of us need (or at least want) these devices – but we’d also love it if they’d stop distracting us from the stuff that really matters in our lives.
Focus is physically and mentally impossible without the body budget to support it. Make sure you’re nailing the essentials – sleep, exercise, good food – before you hit the panic button over your dwindling attention span.
What is your boredom trying to tell you?
A lot of what we consider to be an inability to focus is actually discomfort with the feeling of boredom.
For instance, when you’re working on a difficult project or a repetitive task and you get the urge to do something else, you’re seeking stimulation because it’s boring. (You’re reading this in another tab to avoid that spreadsheet you should be filling out, aren’t you?)
Neuroscientist James Danckert calls boredom a ‘warning signal’ that we don’t feel a sense of purpose about what we are doing.
Next time you feel the urge to reach for your phone, take it as a chance to reflect: Why is this thing I’m doing boring me? How can I find purpose in what I’m doing? Do I need to change something?
5 ways to get your brain back in the game
Let’s take a look at 5 ways to build your mental endurance – so you can give the things that matter the attention they deserve.
1. Pick one thing
The first step to growing your ability to focus is to pick one thing at a time to concentrate on.
Studies have shown that true multitasking is not possible. What most of us call ‘multitasking’ is really just switching between different tasks very quickly. And research has shown that this task-hopping can eat up to 40 percent of your working time and result in poorer performance in each task.
Find out what’s driving your desire to multitask, and how to fix it, in our blog.
Picking one task, and either working on it until completion or for a dedicated period is not just the ideal way to work, but also the ideal way to relax. (For instance, don’t watch TV and scroll on your social feed at the same time.)
If you’re not sure how to prioritize, try these tactics:
- Eat the frog: Pick the hardest, least appealing thing you have to do and do it first.
- Batch clocking: Split your day into chunks of time dedicated to different types of work, for instance, emails and phone calls, planning and preparation, writing, accounts and finances, physical tasks, filing, or cleaning.
- Pareto principle: Focus on the 20 percent of tasks that yield 80 percent of the results. This means identifying the most impactful tasks and prioritizing them.
- The 1-3-5 rule: Set one big task, three medium tasks and five small tasks for the day.
2. Go for a walk with no headphones
When was the last time you left the house without your music or podcasts blasting? It’s not always a bad thing, but listening to audio on your headphones means you aren’t paying much attention to the world around you.
By walking without distraction (and without noise cancellation), you engage all of your senses and train your ability to maintain attention on what is happening around you – even if it is not overly exciting.
This is great training if you struggle to pay attention in meetings, lectures, or other environments where you’re expected to take in information without necessarily engaging or interacting.
3. Do a deep listen
Pick an album from an artist you love, or choose from one of those lists of all-time classics, and get comfortable on the couch. Hit play. Close your eyes. Listen
Use your ears like you use your eyes, taking in all the details of the music.
This deep listening is a form of sonic meditation. By engaging with music like this you’re training your brain to maintain focus over longer periods – enhancing your mental stamina. You’ll also be linking sustained focus with rewards in your mind, by listening to something you enjoy.
4. Take hand-written notes
When you take notes, you signal to your brain that it’s time to pay attention. Sure, you can probably type faster, but writing by hand forces you to be selective with important information and digest it properly.
This applies whether you’re in a meeting, talking to the insurance company over the phone, or in the research phase of a project.
Alexz embraces the power of pen and paper for focus gold.
A study has found that you remember more, and learn more effectively, this way. Plus, by making concentration rewarding, you create a positive feedback loop that can enhance your focus even further.
5. Mindfulness meditation
If you go digging for techniques that build mental endurance, you’ll find that many are ultimately just various forms of mindfulness. And meditation is the go-to mindfulness tool you can access anytime, anywhere – no fancy tools necessary.
Did you know that one study found just 5 days of mindfulness and meditation practice can lead to better results on tests that measure attention and mental control?
If you’re keen to try meditation for focus and mental endurance, make sure it’s the kind that encourages awareness – like this breathing meditation.
If you’re ready to give your mind a workout, discover more ways to tap into your mental power with Centr:
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