1Take a moment to breathe. If you find yourself anxious, distracted, or unable to focus, stop what you are doing and take a few deep, slow breaths. Breathe in through your nostrils, then breathe out slowly through your mouth or nose.
If you can, sit or lie down in a quiet, comfortable place for a few minutes while you do this. Close your eyes and try to concentrate on the sensations of your breathing.
Deep breathing sends more oxygen to your brain and signals your mind and body to relax. This can calm your racing thoughts and make it easier to focus.
2Deal with your physical needs if you can. It’s hard to concentrate and think clearly if you’re physically uncomfortable. Take a moment to mindfully assess how you’re feeling. Close your eyes and make note of any sensations you are experiencing, and do whatever you can to make yourself feel more comfortable. For example:
If you realize that you feel hungry, take a break and have a nutritious snack like a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit.
If you’re cold, turn up the thermostat or put on a sweater.
3Move to a quiet space if you have to. Stop and listen to the noise in your environment for a moment. If there’s a lot of background noise (like people talking, a TV or radio playing, or traffic sounds), then this might be stressing you out and making it harder for you to focus.If you can, go someplace quieter so that you can concentrate on your thoughts.
If you can’t move to a quieter space, you might be able to do things to make your environment less noisy. For example, you could close a window or door that’s letting in noise, turn on a fan or other source of white noise, or listen to quiet music over headphones.
4Make a to-do list. Writing down what you need to do can help you organize your thoughts and develop a clear plan of action. Think about the steps you need to take to complete the task at hand, and write them down. If you’re having trouble focusing because of all the other tasks you need to do, write a more general list for the whole day.
To-do lists not only serve as a guide for your thoughts and actions, but also help you focus by taking your mind off of incomplete jobs that are worrying you and making it hard to concentrate on what you’re doing now.
Make sure to keep your list specific and realistic.Instead of putting something big and vague on your list like “Clean the house,” use smaller and more immediately attainable goals like “Wash the dishes” and “Vacuum the living room.”
Try to put the most important or urgent items at the top of your list.
5Write down your thoughts and feelings. If you’re stressing out or dwelling on things, it can interrupt the flow of your thoughts and make it hard to think clearly. Take a few minutes to jot down what you’re thinking and feeling in a journal, in a computer document, or even on a piece of scratch paper. Getting your thoughts and emotions down on paper can make them feel less overwhelming and help you understand them better.
Writing down what you’re thinking about can help you identify what specific things are worrying or stressing you. This can also be an opportunity to brainstorm immediate actions you can take to put your mind at ease.
Even if you can’t address whatever’s bothering you right now, writing it down can help get it off your mind for a bit so you can concentrate better on the task at hand.
1Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, or 8 to 10 if you’re a teen. Practice good sleeping habits to keep yourself at your sharpest. Being well-rested helps you stay alert and focused. Additionally, your brain synthesizes information that you picked up during the day while you sleep, so a good night’s rest will help you learn and remember things more effectively.To sleep better, make sure you:
Establish a regular bedtime routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day if you can.
Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and comfortable at night.
Avoid using caffeine and other stimulants at least 3 or 4 hours before bedtime.
Turn off all screens (such as your TV, computer, tablet, or smart phone) at least an hour before you go to bed.
Spend at least half an hour unwinding before you go to bed. You might take a hot bath or shower, do some stretches, or read a bit of a relaxing book.
2Eat foods that nourish your brain. Choose a diet that is varied and rich in healthy fats, green vegetables, dietary fiber, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates. These nutrients will not only give you the energy you need to stay alert, but can also improve the health and function of your brain. Try healthy options such as:
Fatty fish, like salmon and trout.
Nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, or chia seeds.
A variety of vegetables, including leafy greens, legumes (like peas and beans), and colorful vegetables like carrots, radishes, and sweet potatoes.
A variety of fruits, such as apples (with the skin on), berries, and citrus fruits.
Healthy carbohydrates, like those found in brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain bread.
3Use caffeine in moderation. Having a little caffeine—like a cup of tea or coffee with breakfast—can help you feel more alert and focused, and may even be good for your brain’s health. Too much, however, can leave you feeling jittery, anxious, and ultimately less focused and clear-headed. It can also make it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep.
While most people have trouble thinking clearly after about 6 cups of coffee, people who are sensitive to caffeine may experience ill effects after drinking just 1 cup. Get to know your own limits, and use caution and common sense when drinking caffeine.
4Do 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This means exercise that is active enough that you might break a sweat or start breathing a little faster. For example, you might try walking at a brisk pace for half an hour, 5 days a week. This kind of exercise can stimulate blood flow to your brain, improve your memory function, and reduce stress and anxiety—all of which lead to clearer thinking.
Other good forms of exercise include swimming, biking, dancing, and playing sports like tennis or squash. Doing household chores that work up a sweat, like mowing the lawn or mopping the floor, also count.
If you aren’t used to exercising, work up to your goal of 150 minutes a week gradually. For example, you might start by walking just 5 or 10 minutes each day, then gradually increasing the amount of time by another 5 to 10 minutes a week.
Even a few minutes of exercise now and then can help you clear your head and feel more energized.
Method 3Method 3 of 4:Staying Focused and Organized
1Use a planner or app to organize your time. Get a paper planner or use an app like Clear or Google Calendar to schedule specific times to do the things you need to do. When you’re busy, having a bunch of unresolved tasks and obligations looming over you can make it hard to think straight. Keeping your time organized and having a plan for approaching each task will help you think more clearly and feel less overwhelmed.
In addition to setting aside time for specific tasks (such as studying or paying your bills), make sure you also account for obligations that are already part of your schedule (such as going to work or classes).
Set aside time for fun stuff, too! Scheduling a little relaxation or leisure time into your day can also help you feel less stressed and, therefore, think more clearly. Even 15 minutes of downtime here and there can help.
2Break big tasks down into manageable pieces. If a big job feels insurmountable and you’re not sure where to start, try pulling it apart into bite-sized chunks. Having a few small tasks to do instead of one huge one can give you more focus and help you see what you need to do more clearly.
For example, if you’re studying for a language exam, you’re unlikely to absorb much by trying to cram all the information from the last 3 chapters of the textbook into your brain at once. Try starting with something specific, like a review of past-tense verb forms.
3Limit your access to digital distractions. If you’re trying to focus on a task that requires a lot of thought, put away your phone and avoid the temptation to mess around on the internet. These distractions can interrupt the flow of your thinking and make it hard to concentrate.
If you’re having trouble keeping away from distracting websites, try using an app like Freedom to temporarily block your access.
You can also turn off notifications on your phone if they tend to be distracting.
4Find a quiet and comfortable workspace. Look for a spot where you can sit comfortably and will not be distracted by things like noisy conversations, loud music, or heavy foot traffic. Try to find a space that is well-lit and not too hot or too cold. It’s hard to think clearly when you are uncomfortable and distracted.
If you live or work around other people, let them know that you need undisturbed time to concentrate.
If you’re unable to get away from noise, try getting some noise-canceling headphones and listening to quiet music.
Keeping your workspace neat and organized can also help you feel more focused and less distracted.
5Take 20-minute breaks from work every 1.5 to 2 hours. Avoid spending too much time on a task at once, or you will soon find your mind wandering and your thoughts going in circles. To keep your thinking sharp and clear, take brief breaks every couple of hours to let your mind and body recuperate.
You can use these breaks to stretch your legs, eat a healthy snack, or even put your head down for a tiny power nap.
6Use active relaxation techniques. When you take a break from working or thinking about the task at hand, try visualizing a calming scene. You might picture yourself lying on the beach or sitting in a boat in the middle of a peaceful lake. Imagine the sights, sounds, sensations, and smells you might experience during your imaginary vacation, like the feeling of a cool breeze on your skin or the scent of autumn leaves in the air.
This technique can help you feel more deeply relaxed while also keeping your mind actively engaged. When you return from your mental break, you may find it easier to think clearly and concentrate on what you are doing.
Method 4Method 4 of 4:Building Your Mental Muscles
1Practice expressing your thoughts clearly and concisely. You can train your brain to process information more clearly and efficiently by mentally editing the things you say, write, and think. Cut out filler, repetition, and vague words and phrases, and try to rephrase your thoughts as clearly and concretely as possible.
For example, if you’re writing an essay, try writing each sentence briefly and simply. Instead of writing, “In this paper, I will argue that you can maximize your cognitive and neurological potential by consuming healthful, nutritious, and beneficial nutrients,” try something like, “Eating nutritious foods can help your brain work better.”
This also applies to things you read or hear. For example, if you read a wordy passage in a book, take a few moments to try to mentally edit it down to 1 or 2 sentences that express the key point(s) of the passage.
2Observe an object for 5 minutes, then write down your thoughts about it. Pick any object and examine it closely for a few minutes. Then, spend about 10 minutes writing down every observation you can think of. Doing this kind of exercise will not only help you become more observant, but will also get you into the habit of clearly expressing—and thinking about—the things you observe.
Start by writing down your concrete observations. For example, how big is the object? What color is it? What kind of texture(s) does it have?
Next, start writing down things that the object suggests to you. Does it remind you of anything? Does it evoke a feeling? What uses can you think of for it?
3Question your own beliefs and assumptions. Take time to consider they way you think, feel, and react to things. Ask yourself critical questions, like “Where did this thought or belief come from? Do I have any evidence to support it?” or “Why am I feeling or reacting this way?” Thinking critically about where your thoughts and feelings come from can help you gain self-awareness and clarity of thought.
For example, maybe you assume that you would not be good at baseball because you believe you are not athletic. Ask yourself where the idea that you are “not athletic” comes from. Is it something somebody told you once? Is it based on an experience you had trying to play a sport earlier in your life? Has anything changed about you or your situation since then?
4Examine information from others critically. In addition to questioning your own beliefs and assumptions, it’s important to look at information you get from outside sources with a critical eye. Before you accept something you read, see in the news or online, or hear from another person—even if they seem like an authoritative source—consider:
Does this information make sense?
Does your source provide any evidence to support this information?
Are you able to find other credible sources that support this information?
Is the source obviously biased in any way?
5Challenge yourself by learning new things. Trying new things—especially if they are a bit challenging for you—is a great way to keep your brain sharp and build new mental connections. Get outside your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done before. For example, you might:
Take a class in a subject you’ve never studied before.
Try a new creative hobby, like painting, sculpting, or writing.
Challenge yourself with a DIY building or home improvement project.