Exercises to Assess & Increase Focus


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  • The Gaze-Attention Assessment
  • Gaze-Attention Exercises

“Attentional muscles” in your brain can become “weaker”or more limited due to constant stimulation and task changing. For example, even when you are looking at a screen, it’s refreshing 60 times a second. 

So, even if you are focusing on one task on your screen, your attentional resources are being “drained”. In addition, we are in the Information Age, where constant distractions and streams of information are competing for our attention.

Typically, we are attempting to accomplish a task through our eyes. These common day-to-day tasks include:

  • Looking on a TV or computer screen
  • Looking at someone while conversing
  • Focusing on a work-related task
  • Scrolling through social media and emails

There are many ways to train your attention, which include consistent exercise, mindfulness and meditation, breathwork, and quality sleep. But what about incorporating this concept of attention through the visual system into exercises that you can do right now for yourself or your client?

1 | The Gaze-Attention Assessment

Let’s first assess how easily you get distracted.

  • Have your partner hold up a finger (ideally, draw a dot on their finger)
  • Keep your environment silent (only visual distractions right now)
  • Have your partner start the timer
  • Stare at the dot intensely
  • Say stop when you get distracted and your partner will stop the timer
  • Repeat 3+ times and take the average time

This distraction could be caused by something in the background, in your peripherals, your partner’s movements etc. This can also be described as the slight feeling of not wanting to look at the dot anymore.

The average of the group we experimented on was: 

15 seconds (8 – 33 seconds)

This will give you a good idea of where you or your client stands as far as attention. Please note, that this is not a clinical or reliable measure of “attention span” but rather subjectively interpreted distractibility. This can give simple insight to a client’s distractibility during a task or exercise, which allows the coach (or yourself) to pay more attention to controlling attention and filtering distractions.

2 | Gaze-Attention Exercises

If a client is hyperfocused, we need to get them to focus while paying attention to other stimuli (divided attention). So how can we exercise this “attentional muscle”?

  • Draw a dot or letter on an object (ideally a small ball)
  • Have your partner hold the ball in a fixed location
  • Keep your environment silent (only visual distractions right now)
  • Have your partner start the timer
  • Stare at the dot intensely while performing alternating lunges
  • Do this for 60 seconds
  • Repeat for 2-5 sets

If you break your focus, just come back to it as soon as possible (as done in anchored attention-based mindfulness).

3 | Adding Additional or Random Movement(s)

  • Have your partner move the object around while you stare at it
  • Incorporate a movement such as lunges, squats, pushups, or a string of them together
  • Keep your environment silent (only visual distractions right now)
  • Have your partner start the timer
  • Stare at the dot intensely while performing any selected movement, or series of movements
  • Do this for 60 seconds
  • Repeat

4 | Adding Distraction(s)

  • Have your partner move the object around while you stare at it
  • Incorporate a movement such as lunges or squats
  • Add “noise or visual pollution” to your environment (bad music, talking, clapping)
  • Have your partner start the timer
  • Stare at the dot intensely while performing your selected movement
  • Do this for 60 seconds
  • Repeat

Take things a step further

Everyone is different and needs different exercises and stimulus depending on their cognitive deficits or goals. As their cognitive abilities increase (as ideally monitored by a computerized neuropsychological battery), you can add more stimuli or challenge them with different stimuli. 

  • Visual stimuli
  • Proprioceptive stimuli
  • Environmental stimuli
  • Audible stimuli

Examples: 

  • Adding tasks such as tossing a ball at them to catch as they stare at the ball.
  • Pushing them in different directions so they have to balance while focusing on the dot and performing an exercise (referred to as a “warding pattern”)
  • Adding reaction time tasks.
  • Performing dual task exercises with your partner simultaneously.

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