Our concentration is under pressure

Our concentration is suffering

Our ability to concentrate has been put under great pressure by modern society where we are constantly disturbed. It can have a direct impact on how well we thrive, both at work and at home. I hope you find this blog post inspiring and that you get some good and constructive take-aways.

Take-aways from this article:

  • We’re depending our how well we can process knowledge
  • System 1 and system 2
  • A real-life example
  • How routines can make you a high-performer
  • Emotions and feelings
  • Negative self-talk
  • What you can do to stay focused


We depend on how well we process knowledge

When talking about the brain, the terminology system 1 and system 2 is frequently used to explain how we act in everyday life. The terminology also gives a good explanation of how most of the actions we take are done without giving much thought to them.

But when it comes to the processing of knowledge that most of us work with today in the sense that we have some professional experience combined with what life otherwise has taught us through time. Then we use this knowledge and experience to work out a situation or task that we have been assigned to solve.

System 1 and system 2

For those who are a bit curious I want to explain the idea of system 1 and system 2 further in the next sections, but you are welcome to read the rest of the article without this part.

We generally process our knowledge in the prefrontal cortex and it is the degree to which you use your prefrontal cortex to reflect on a given situation or task that decides whether you use system 1 or system 2 to process the knowledge.

The prefrontal cortex physically takes up 25% of your brain and when it comes to processing knowledge, it has a very poor ability to do so over a long period of time. In contrast, it is excellent at solving complex problems. An example from the book “Your Brain at Work” explains that the prefrontal cortex can process what corresponds to approx. a cubic meter of knowledge – but only for a brief moment at a time. In comparison, the remaining part of the brain can process knowledge that corresponds to the Milky Way. Therefore, it can be said that the motor behind is significantly larger in the remaining part of the brain.

Imagine that every thought that you get runs in a circular motion, where we are first exposed to some information that we then process and compare with past experiences and then we perform an action that can either be proactive or reactive.

System 2 is crucial for good performance – and a very important fact is that we can teach system 1 how system 2 should react in a given situation.

The Formula 1 driver

A good example is the Formula 1 driver who can drive 300 km/h while giving a message to his team manager through thee radio. He can do this because he only uses system 2 to maneuver the car and system 1 to communicate with his manager. For most people it would be an impossible task to deal with these to task at once, but the Formula 1 driver has incorporated these routines so thoroughly in his brain that driving a racing car does not require reflection on his part.

The building of system 2 does not come automatically, it is something they have been working on for a number of years, and they work hard with visualization that helps the driver ensure that they have a clear picture of what, when and how the driver should react and how the things should work.


Why routines can make you a good performer

It is an incredibly powerful tool to work with routines in your everyday life, because once the routine has become part of your daily habits, you are drawing on a resource the size of the Milky Way (system 1).

It is also important to note that there is also a large gap between when a reflection is processed 100% in system 1 or 2, because it should be seen as a tight transition between using both systems. The really heavy and complex decisions that are made in system 2 involve large parts of the prefrontal cortex and it uses the upper part of the prefrontal cortex which starts a top-down reflection where we can take a thought, evaluate it and look at it from different perspectives, but we cannot do that for longer periods of time and we also cannot process two thought at the same time.

The emotional feelings

In addition to the ability to view a situation form a different perspective, the prefrontal cortex also has an incredibly important function in managing our emotional feelings in a given situation. Here it acts as brake pads where our emotions are regulated for example when we are put in an unexpected bad situation. For example, you might feel the urge to tell a colleague or your manager that “they should go to h…”. However, fortunately it is an ability that most of us possesses to a considerable degree.

Negative self-talk occurs more often when we are tired

When we get tired, which can happen when we expose ourselves to too many impressions through social media, replying to too many e-mails or by go many meetings, then something we all have in common is that our thoughts can start to become negative: “you could be more comfortable with the harness” and “you’re not performing good enough”. Here it is system 2 that is at stake and if you’re not mentally trained and rested, then you may catch yourself using negative self-talk more frequently, but if you are mentally rested and trained, then you can explain and rationalize the negative self-talk and prevent it.

If we are tired it can be hard to shut down the negative self-talk and here cognitive training, the constructive pause and mental health processes are a very efficient tools to become a focused high-performer.