How to be able to concentrate without distractions

“Who is everywhere is nowhere,” wrote Seneca. A phrase that seems to fit perfectly on concentration, because if the mind is too wandering we end up concluding little or nothing. Focusing is the exact opposite of multitasking, because it means focus attention on only one activity at a timechanneling energy, commitment and dedication into what we do and want.

“When we concentrate, several things happen in the brain, all of which are equally important to the end result,” he explains Fabio Paglierisenior researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the National Research Council of Rome and author of the book To focus. Paying attention in a noisy world (Il Mulino, 12 €). «The areas most involved are the cortical ones, in practice the most external and wrinkled part of the brain. And this is not surprising, given the close link between concentration and other faculties performed by these areas, such as attention and executive control ». In simple terms, specific brain circuits are activated and new connections are formed between neurons, the so-called synapseson which new information can flow and consolidate.

The environment counts

When it comes to concentration, willpower certainly counts, but up to a certain point. Thinking that this ability is a natural talent, which some enjoy while others lack, is not scientifically founded. “This does not mean that there cannot be congenital disturbances of concentration”, the expert points out, “but even on this diagnostic excesses and hasty medicalization must be avoided: before labeling a child or an adult as suffering from attention deficit or hyperactivity, it is advisable to make sure that the diagnosis is founded, necessary and useful, first excluding alternative explanations and hearing the opinion of various experts, even with different disciplinary contributions and complementary “.

Rather, and this applies to everyone, the characteristics of the context in which we find ourselves count: «Even the most strong-willed person in the world would struggle to concentrate in the center of a crowded and noisy area. It is no coincidence that human beings have always carefully planned places in which to carry out activities that require concentration: from medieval monasteries to modern studies, the idea remains that of “setting the world” in an adequate way », says Paglieri.

What disturbs the most

And even if what distracts us is subjective, since it depends above all on personal interests, some general characteristics can be identified. “A stimulus is more likely to divert our attention if its processing passes through the same channel and activates processes that we are already using for the main task we would like to focus on,” explains the expert.

For example, if we are writing a document on the PC (which requires a complete control of our visual attention), another such distraction – such as the TV on – is particularly annoying. It can be less harmful listening to musicas long as we select songs (for example classic or in any case not very “shouted”) that do not impose themselves on our attention (like a heavy metal background).

8 seconds? It depends!

Obviously, a state of intense concentration cannot be sustained indefinitely: some studies say that we manage to keep it for an average of 8 secondsless than a goldfish can do, but in reality there is no universal threshold that applies to everyone and in any situation.

“In general, one must avoid imposing a priori limits or maximum times on one’s ability to concentrate: often our cognitive abilities are capable of positively surprising us”.

And what does it matter what we eat? No. «Of course, a healthy diet improves psychophysical balance with positive repercussions on all cognitive faculties, but from here to thinking that there are” concentration diets “is a long step. A discourse that applies, even more so, to the numerous “concentration drugs” that are becoming more and more widespread. Except in rare cases of overt disease and ascertained by multidisciplinary teams of experts, such “remedies” should be avoided. Engaging with dedication in a task does not have pharmacological shortcuts or biochemical crutches », Paglieri points out.

It serves to make more

But why is it so important to be able to focus properly? “Because it significantly improves the quality of results in the activity to which it is dedicated, whatever it is,” replies the expert.

It also shapes the brain to this type of routine: those who spend their lives hanging out from one short superficial pastime to another, without ever really engaging in anyone, create a sort of mental habit that will be increasingly difficult to escape, while putting dedication trains concentration in sight of tests and future goals. And this applies from an early age and whatever the task, including games, hobbies and entertainment.

“Cultivating the concentration skills of the new generations can be one of the best investments from a socio-economic point of view”, concludes Paglieri.

The horse’s move

Emergency advice: if we really can’t concentrate on what we have to do, let’s stop wasting time and devote ourselves to something else but always with passion, putting all the concentration that we were unable to employ in the initial task.

«It is then a question of seeing if we can return to the starting commitment for the time and effort it requires: if we do it, the” horse move “I just suggested has allowed us to overcome an apparent setback; if, on the other hand, the ability to concentrate on the initial task continues to disappear, then we could have a more serious problem, but it would be difficult for us to have a different outcome by remaining vegetating on the first obstacle », says Paglieri. Q

his somewhat anarchic strategy makes sense for two reasons: the first is that concentration trains those who practice it, regardless of the object, so doing X well increases the chances of succeeding with Y as well; the second reason concerns the overall balance of our individual and social life.

«Wasting time is always a crime, the gravity of which does not depend on what we should have accomplished: the energies wasted pretending to study or work are no more justifiable than doing anything else. What matters is the quality of our commitment, even before the object to which we dedicate it. In short, the motto is: “whatever you do, do it well” », concludes the expert.


The extra advice

If we had to choose a working partner blindly, between a distracted student and a determined sportsman, we opt for the latter: knowing how to concentrate on any one thing is a more precious talent than not wasting time on the “right thing”.