Attention is key to navigating the world and communicating with it. Also, attention has a limited capacity. This means that we can only process so much information simultaneously. It is, therefore, essential to remove distractions from your task.
Recent research has highlighted the importance of regular meditation, exercise, and sleep to improve executive functioning. This component of attention helps us prioritize what we want and remove unwanted interference.
Dalhousie University’s Klein Lab studies everything attention-related. It involves basic research into how different brain areas affect how people interact with the world and applied research to develop game-like tools for measuring attention in children. I have also reviewed more than 70 studies examining how different lifestyle factors impact engagement.
In the lab, attention is broken down into many components that serve different purposes. Executive functioning, for example, is when you have to concentrate in distracting situations, such as when you’re trying to hold a conversation while your favorite TV program is playing in the background or when you need to deal with impulses, such as resisting the temptation to eat another potato chip.
Executive function monitors distracting thoughts such as daydreaming or getting lost in a daydream. It is affected by several different disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.
According to my review, meditation, regular exercise, and healthy sleeping habits can all help improve executive function. These are some things you can do to increase productivity and decrease impulsivity.
Meditation is a great way to improve executive function. After just five days of 20 minutes of meditation per day, individuals could filter out distractions better. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a superior method for meditation. It didn’t seem to be as long as the primary goal was attentional control (focusing only on a specific thing). Meditation can be achieved by focusing on your breathing and trying to let go of any unwanted thoughts.
A few studies also examined yoga, which has components similar to meditation. Yoga did not improve executive functioning as other techniques focused on attention control. However, yogis experienced an increase in their response speed.
These improvements in attention may not last for long after meditation. However, anyone who wants to improve their executive function should make engagement a part of their daily lives.
It would help to consider how much sleep your body is getting. People often cut back on their sleep to meet work and other social obligations. While some studies did show that a reduced amount of sleep can lead to poor executive functioning, the most common results were worse overall performance. Meditation and exercise had similar effects, but sleep deprivation didn’t affect specific attention components. Instead, it made people less responsive and more likely to make mistakes.
The majority of the sleep research in the review focused on people staying awake for at least 24 hours. This isn’t a good representation of how most people feel about sleep. Future research should examine how sleep quality affects executive functioning. This information is essential for people who work in situations where attention lapses can pose a risk, such as air traffic controllers and those who operate heavy machinery.
Many aspects of cognition are beyond our control. Genetics can have a significant impact on executive functioning abilities. This review shows some things you can do to improve your focus.
If you want to get that extra edge, meditate, raise your heart rate, and go to bed early.
Canada’s government recommends that adults over 18 exercise 150 minutes per week to maintain their health. This is also a critical factor in executive function. This is how I looked at executive function and how it was affected by various factors, such as how much exercise they did, how hard they did it, and what activities they were doing.
People who exercised six hours per week had better executive functioning than those who were sedentary. For two weeks, participants in high-intensity sprint programs showed better executive functioning than those in a control group. They also made fewer errors and had higher scores in terms of executive functioning.
Although treadmill desks and standing desks could improve other aspects of your physical health within four days, the treadmill desks did not provide the same boost in cognition as other high-intensity exercises. You need to increase your heart rate if you want to boost awareness.