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Concentration Exercises for the Modern Mind

Me concentrating to break a chain linked across my chest

Whereas meditation is a process that allows us to quiet our minds, concentration exercises allow us to focus it to a point; if meditation as jumping out of a stream to observe it flowing, concentration is jumping into the stream with a specific destination planned.

Concentration is something that comes with different levels of ease for different people. Some may have incredible skill at concentrating their actions to a goal, whereas others may be better at concentrating their thoughts. Even still, there are those who drift in both areas, failing to concentrate truly on any one purpose, and lacking the motivation to do so.

A sentence I often heard many variations of in high school was “You have so much potential, but you throw it away.

This was because, when I could focus my thoughts into action, I showed incredible mental fortitude for most academic endeavors; the problem was, I couldn’t often focus my thoughts, and often lacked the motivation and passion to learn how.

For those suffering depression, this is vital. You may find that you lack the motivation to concentrate on areas of your life that you otherwise find important, or perhaps that you’re concentrating sharply on internal turmoil and patterns you feel helpless to escape (in which case I’d also recommend you read the meditation article.)

I have learned that thoughts are real forces, and negative thoughts can create a mental blockage, either leading your flow of thoughts to grim conclusions, or stopping the flow of thoughts such that you feel a sense of numbness.

These concentration techniques will give you the tools to clear blockages and focus on the things that you truly wish to focus on.

Visual Imagery

Visualization is a concentration technique that involves focusing not just your thoughts but your senses. For instance, pick up an apple. Observe the apple for a few minutes, archiving the color, texture, shape, lustre, etc.

Now, close your eyes and, without peeking, picture the apple.

What color was the apple? Maybe green, with a few brown flecks on it? Was it bruised? How did the bruise feel in comparison to the rest of the apple? Could it fit in your hand, or was it larger? How long was the stem? Was the stem smooth or twiggy?

Now, without opening your eyes, take a bite of the apple, and think about the flavors. Is the apple sweet? Sour? Tangy? What about the texture? Was it a mushy apple, or crunchy? How did it sound to chew the apple? Was it loud? Rather quiet? How fragrant is the apple now that you’ve bitten into it? Is the smell sweet? Is the apple juicy?

Teaching yourself to focus your senses on the fruit will aid your concentration more than simply thinking about the apple, because, with all your senses engaged, the visual imagery becomes a full body exercise. When you can clearly picture the taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight of the apple without having it in hand, you’ve surely improved your ability to concentrate.

Applying the same concept to other activities, immersing your mind and body into the tasks, may help your concentration for them.

Emotional Focus

One phenomenon that I find interesting is when someone is crying, and they go into a bathroom and stare in the mirror to cry harder. It often puzzled me, but, in retrospect, it makes sense; these people are finding a way to focus their emotions.

Just as our bodies do, our minds value homeostasis – once we’ve found a mindset that current emotions can link to, we try to maintain it. That’s why you may hear a sad person listening to a sorrowful playlist, or someone who’s had a positive vibe throughout the day being really pumped to go out with friends and party.

Emotional focus, however, starts from within. When you’re feeling an emotion, it’s important to process it, why you’re feeling it, and what to do about it. For instance, anger is often stigmatized in American households. Yet, pretending that anger doesn’t exist, or simply stomping it down when it manifests, isn’t healthy management of that emotion, and only serves to invalidate it.

Anger, itself, is valid. What’s important about the anger is discovering its root. Let’s say that you’re angry right now. Who or what has angered you? Are you angry at a global event? Has a friend or family member done something you don’t like? Why has it made you angry? Was there a breach of trust? A feeling of forceful vulnerability? How, then, do you proceed?

Learning how to process this anger is critical, because, though anger is valid, it’s unhealthy to be in a constant flux of rage. Changing your situation, altering your relationship with friends, or perhaps finding some activity or group in your community to help you reestablish your purpose could help relieve that anger.

Now, what if the anger is directed inward? It’s just as important to process that anger, so that you may approach some conclusions to help you clarify and understand it. This isn’t something that must be done alone; having a friend, family member, or therapist to help you process the emotions within can help you to concentrate on doing and being. 

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