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Mental concentration typically refers to the ability to focus on certain tasks without becoming distracted. Some tasks and activities, such as washing the dishes or dancing to music, require very little mental focus. Major tasks — things like writing a paper for school, studying for exams, or performing work duties — can require a significant amount of mental concentration, though. Numerous factors can interfere with the ability to focus on a task, including stress, boredom, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition.
Stress can significantly impair mental concentration, as the mind finds it difficult to focus on a specific task when worries about other issues are constantly weighing on it. For example, if a student is currently doing poorly in a class and a specific paper can mean the difference between passing and failing, the pressure to write a flawless paper can make it difficult to concentrate on the subject. Any number of issues can cause stress in a person’s life, from money difficulties to a fight with a friend. Those suffering from stress can help improve mental focus by forcing themselves to take a break from worrying just until their task is complete. By acknowledging the source of the stress and giving themselves permission to worry again later, they may be better able to compartmentalize and perform their necessary tasks.
Getting an adequate amount of sleep is vital to maintaining good mental concentration. Most medical researchers recommend about eight hours of sleep each night for adults, and ten hours for children or teenagers. Even mild sleep deprivation can cause difficulties focusing, and extreme sleep deprivation can lead to dangerous mistakes. For example, studies indicate that driving while very tired is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.
Food is one of the basic requirements for sustaining human life, and good nutrition plays a major role in ensuring proper mental concentration. If a person is not taking in an adequate amount of nutrition, the body’s survival mechanism forces him to focus on filling that need, pushing all other thoughts to the back of the mind. Research also indicates that certain foods can help increase mental focus, especially fruits and vegetables rich in brain-protecting antioxidants.
The amount of enjoyment gained from a particular task can also play a large role in determining the level of mental concentration. A task that is not mentally engaging can make focusing difficult, as the mind wanders to more interesting thoughts. Examples of this can be found in school settings, when children who do not feel challenged by material become bored and, in turn, start failing the class because they cannot focus on the subject.
Just about any internal or external factor can influence mental concentration. While some factors may be overcome by proper sleep, nutrition, and changing tactics to enhance focus, others may be more difficult to cope with. Those who are experiences extreme difficulties in concentration should speak to a physician to ensure that there isn’t a more serious underlying cause.