One of the best concentration exercises I have discovered for a lecture or conversation is to simply repeat the words of the person speaking to me inside my head.
That simple concentration exercise keeps me from preparing my retort, and it also teaches me to listen for the speakers gifts. Taking a moment to repeat their words to myself allows me to see their strengths, and I get lots of good ideas that way.
If I were actually in a a counseling session, I would be preparing to ask my client if I were hearing them accurately, which is a very important part of the process of building trust, and the reflective listening process.
The simple act of repetition in conversation will teach me how fast my concentration wanders.
If you have ever tried a meditative technique using a mantra, you will know that your concentration wanders frequently, but the sound of the mantra will bring you back to the process.
EEG biofeedback or heart rate variability biofeedback are useful tools for concentration exercises because those tools feed back information about either brain wave frequency or time between heart beats, and as we learn from the biofeedback that we can impact those usually subconscious physiological processes, we become more confident in our concentration, and in our ability to impact it.
The most exciting aspect of concentration exercises is that they change the structure of the brain in a helpful way.
Sharon Begley wrote in her very interesting book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain about research which shows that Buddhist meditation can change the structure of the brain.
But perhaps the most interesting concentration exercises I have come across outside of meditative or contemplative traditions is the dual n back task, which I first saw discussed in
Brainfit for Life a very interesting e-book written by Simon Evans, Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan. Evans and Burghardt are actually writing about increasing two recently discovered capacities of the human brain, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, or the growth of new neurons and the incredible plasticity of neurons, which means how neurons reorganize within minutes sometimes after being presented with new information.
It turns out if we take care of the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical activity/exercise, nutrition including antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acid, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences, we can keep our brain working at its most efficient.
The discussion of the dual n back task comes under the novel learning experience pillar, and Evans and Burghardt report that the research shows that users of dual n back demonstrate an increase in fluid intelligence, as measured by IQ tests.
I was very intrigued, and bought a commercial version of the dual n back program, called Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, and tried it out.
I found the task perfect for concentration and short term memory. While not an easy tool to get a quick feel for, it didn't take too long until I was working effectively with the tool, which offers me brief sequences of auditory and visual feedback that I have to remember matches for back two, three, or more trials.
Immediately, I was aware of how fast my concentration shifted, and the dual n back kept me focused for longer and longer periods of time, and I noticed an increased awareness of attention on other tasks, so that if I wandered away, I would get back to task more quickly.
So it appears that research and computers are offering us wonderful tools for concentration exercises that are much more precise than the kinds that we learn using meditative or contemplative tools.
So given my experience with the Mind Sparke, and my experiences with Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback tools, and EEG brainwave biofeedback tools, I decided to look into a couple of other online novel learning experience tools, one designed for Senior Brains, called the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, which was demonstrated in the IMPACT study to improve memory by exercising auditory circuits, and another a tool that you can use online whenever you want, called Lumosity, and both of them were excellent concentration exercises, which I know recommend to clients.
Any effort to exercise concentration today should include practice with the Mind Sparke, Posit Science, and/or Lumosity, in my opinion.
They definitely will help keep your brain fit for life.
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