So you want to learn about improving concentration? If you are like me, until I did a bit of research, you thought that the key to improved concentration was gritting your teeth and squinting your eyes at the topic you want to concentrate on.
The key to improving concentration is actually relaxation, which opens the higher perceptual centers of the brain.
In fact, there is evidence from brain wave biofeedback work done by Barry Sterman,Ph.D., that increased productivity is actually a function of a brain moving between beta brain waves associated with focused external awareness and cycling at 15-42 cycles per second and alpha brain waves associated with relaxed external focus cycling at 8-15 cycles per second.
What that means is that brains that know how to move between work and rest styles of attention quickly are able to handle very stressful situations, like simulated combat pilot training, more effectively than brains that stay stuck in the beta attentional state.
So the required rest period for improving concentration can be very brief, but it does have to happen.
If you think about a workout for your bicep, you flex the muscle only 8-12 times per set, and then relax between repititions and you may only do one set of curls per workout.
The growth of the muscle comes across time, but the stress on the muscle is very brief.
Same principle for improving concentration, and since concentration happens in the brain, I think improving concentration should begin with a workout for your brain.
After all, the brain map for your bicep and your concentration both reside there, and if you want to take a look at an excellent source of information for your brain workout, then please take a look at Brainfit for Life written by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan.
Luckily for us, they leave the jargon in the laboratory, and write very succinctly for us improving concentration junkies, so we know what the pillars of brain fitness are, and how to make sure our brain is really ready to focus more clearly. Evans and Burghardt spend some time discussing the dual n back task in their book, and if you want to improve your concentration using the dual n back as a novel learning experience, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised.
But first a bit about the pillars of brain fitness, and taking care of them is a prerequisite for improving concentration.
The pillars of brain fitness are physical activity/exercise, nutrition including lots of antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experience.
When I taking care of the pillars I am increasing a couple of very important capacities of the human brain, neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells, and neuroplasticity, which is making it possible for neurons to connect in new ways, forming new networks, and that is actually why I concentrate, to learn new material.
The most important pillar for improving brain fitness and improving concentration is the physical activity or exercise pillar, and that is where Evans and Burghardt start.
For a clear understanding of the physical exercise, nutrition, and sleep pillars, please read their book.
The last two pillars, stress management and novel learning experience are the two pillars most germane to our improving concentration topic.
The novel learning pillar means that for increased neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, I need to challenge my brain with new learning, and the experts say that the best kind of learning is the learning my brain undergoes when it learns a new language or musical instrument, because of the increasing levels of complexity and chance for positive feedback.
But if you want neuroplasticity, and neurogenesis, and improved concentration, but do not have time to learn a new language or instrument, what should you do, because Evans and Burghardt are quite specific about the kind of learning required.
They do discuss research about the dual n back task, which has been shown to increase IQ or at least what is called fluid intelligence.
Doing the dual n back is addictive, once you get the hang of it, and it will teach you very rapidly how fast your attention wanders, and train you to stay focused while on task, like when you are flexing your bicep in a workout.
The commercial version of the dual n back practices are about 1/2 hour long, and the initial training is a practice per day for 19 days. Each trial will present the auditory and visual stimulus to you and give you time to respond, and provides increasing challenge level as you progress.
Just like a physical workout, then you need maintenance sessions to keep the neurons in the brain map of increased concentration well connected.
There are some other great computerized brain fitness programs out there which will help with improving your concentration, and once you have done that, it will be easier for you to reveal your inner rock star as you learn the guitar.
If you are my age, that means you will look like Bowser of Sha Na Na doing infomercials.