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The Science That Powers Focus The Mind

A good way to demonstrate the key issue in this article is with a simple experiment: Read the entire article without interruption. It’s simple in concept, but for most readers, would be difficult in practice. Why?

 

Selective Attention and the Double-Edged Sword of Modern Life

The experiment is hard because it requires a great deal of selective attention: the ability to tune out distractions and stay focused on a task. Even though the article is not long and will take only a few minutes to read, that is more selective attention that most people are capable of.

Reading an article like this in one sitting was something our grandparents did routinely. You may even remember someone from that generation reading a newspaper on a Sunday morning, undisturbed, for an hour or more. Today’s news articles are shorter, yet many of us never read one without interruption, and sometimes we never finish it at all.

Our modern, connected world has provided us with incredible power to stay informed, connected, and entertained. But this comes at a cost: nearly constant distractions. Smartphones ring with calls and ping with text messages; web pages attempt to divert attention with clickbait headlines and flashy ads; and ubiquitous cheap devices provide constant electronic temptation. It all adds up to a barrage of external stimuli that compete for our attention, making it difficult to focus on any task, no matter how important.

We also must deal with constant internal stimuli that can be even more troublesome: distractions that come not from our own brains. Your conscious mind may want to read this article without interruption, but your unconscious mind probably has other ideas. You might be mid-paragraph when suddenly you’ll remember that you needed to do some laundry today, so you’ll stop to go put a load in the wash. Or maybe this will seem all too familiar: “What are we having for dinner tonight? Chicken? No, we had that last night. Let me google for a recipe. That one’s great, but I better see if I have all the ingredients. Nope, time to make a shopping list. Now, when can I squeeze in a trip to the store? Oh no, I forgot about Emily’s ballet lessons! Maybe I can shop between dropoff and pickup. Wait… wasn’t I doing something before this?”

Again, this is much worse now than decades ago because our lives are so complicated, and we have so many demands that pull at us and make selective attention difficult.

The Crisis of Constant Distraction

We pay a heavy price for the external and internal stimuli that assail us. We’re always in touch, but that means always being interrupted. Overstimulation leads to fatigue, which in turn leads to irritation that can cause problems interacting with others. Productivity suffers as we jump from task to task, unable to properly focus on what’s important [1]. Paradoxically, the harder we try to do everything, the less we get done; the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland sums this up nicely: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

Reduced productivity leads to further frustration and distraction, creating a vicious circle that prevents us from achieving both short-term and long-term goals. Constant distraction also reduces creativity, decreases happiness, and increases anxiety [2] while impacting our short-term memory capabilities and critical cognitive functions.

Can Eliminating Distractions Solve the Problem?

One obvious approach to dealing with distractions is to reduce or eliminate them. Many people try “homebrewed” approaches to this, such as turning off smartphone notifications or lowering workplace noise. Scientists have also been looking for safe and viable ways to reduce distraction levels and thus increase our ability to focus.

Unfortunately, eliminating external distractions isn’t always feasible, and even when it is, its effectiveness is limited. Due to various responsibilities, many people cannot afford to isolate themselves. Also, while it is common to think that working in silence will help your brain focus, this sometimes backfires, especially among people who are unaccustomed to too much quiet. Furthermore, while external stimuli can be reduced or avoided, there is no simple solution to dealing with distractions that come from the brain itself.

Using Sound to Create a Balance of Focus

The secret to focusing is not full isolation from external stimuli, but rather stimulating your brain “just enough.” There are even certain types of noises or music that can have positive effects on focus [3] [14]. Many people try “work music” to increase productivity, but not just any music will do. It is best to opt for music to which we are emotionally neutral, as either a positive or negative emotional response can have a detrimental effect on concentration [4].

Advances in sound engineering have also created so-called “streamlined music.” Randomized trials have tested individuals’ mood states before and after listening to the streamlined music of their choice, and participants show significantly better scores after listening to streamlined music [5]. It strongly stimulates creative thinking, focus, and the ability to enter a state of “flow.”

Using Auditory Beat Stimulation to Improve Selective Attention

Another promising technology for improving selective attention is Auditory Beat Stimulation (ABS). This technology stimulates the brain to create a positive impact on mood, memory, attention, and vigilance, and is known to promote the ability to maintain focus for long periods [5].

Your brainwaves are linked to your state of being and mind, and EEGs show considerable changes in brainwaves under the influence of beat stimulation. Lower frequencies, such as delta and theta, are associated with sleep and profound relaxation, but also with feelings of sluggishness. Higher frequency brainwaves, such as alpha, beta, and gamma, are dominant when you are alert and “present.” Alpha waves are associated with clarity of mind and relaxation, beta waves are involved in problem-solving, and gamma waves are active during higher-level mental activities such as brainstorming.

A body of research confirms that ABS has a substantial effect on specific frequency bands, namely alpha [5] [7] and gamma waves [8]. ABS can alter functional connectivity between brain regions [9], which is of utmost importance in effectively performing cognitive tasks such as learning and decision-making. Increasing the activity of these particular frequencies puts the brain in a state of mind that can be classified as “deep focus,” which is beneficial to studying and performing complex tasks more quickly while demanding a lower cognitive load [5] [7] [8].

Beat stimulation can help the brain to achieve phase synchronicity, also known as entrainment. When our brain waves sync at a particular frequency, this can modulate our state of mind and considerably improve memory and focus. During entrainment, your brain feels less stress while being able to do more than usual [10]. For instance, a 15-minute auditory beat stimulation session twice a day will considerably increase your ability to recall long lists of words, an excellent marker of improved memory [11]. ABS can thus decrease cognitive load and make it easier to perform more complex tasks.

Additional Benefits of Auditory Beat Stimulation

This technology doesn’t just help us execute tasks more effectively; it has a host of extra benefits. For example, after exposure to ABS, people experience the onset of what is called a state of “relaxed alertness,” [12] which is the optimal state for learning [13]. In this state, people are very comfortable dealing with very demanding tasks, experiencing reduced stress and anxiety and what might be termed “relaxed alertness” due to enhanced confidence when dealing with tasks.

ABS can also help our minds put the outside world “on hold” while we’re working. When the brain is exposed to the right amount of auditory stimulation, it enters a state called “habituation,” where you become accustomed to stimuli and therefore no longer distracted by them [19]. Listening to a combination of streamlined music and ABS permits better focus for longer periods of time while avoiding unnecessary distractions.

The prolonged periods of high focus that ABS promotes can also help people enter a state called “flow” [20]. This is an optimal state of concentration where productivity is extremely high, and work can feel almost effortless.

The Potential for Auditory Beat Stimulation to Improve Mental Health

A large body of research also suggests that ABS can act as a therapeutic procedure for conditions such as ADHD and its symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity [14]. After only nine 20-minute ABS sessions, people with ADHD can experience fewer problems associated with inattention [15].

The complexity of modern life has contributed to anxiety becoming an epidemic, increasing steadily in prevalence over the past 80 years [16]. Anxiety has a profound and debilitating impact on our ability to focus [17]. In addition to its serious direct impacts, anxiety reduces productivity, which increases stress, creating another vicious circle.

After just one short session of “alpha music”—music embedded with ABS technology designed to move the brain toward the alpha state associated with calmness and deep focus—subjects reported a dramatic reduction in feelings of stress and an increased sense of physical relaxation [13]. Beat stimulation can also be of great assistance before specific anxiety-triggering events. For instance, a group of patients with pre-operative anxiety that listened to an ABS recording reported a 26.3% decrease in anxiety scores [18].

Increasing numbers of research projects suggest that combining ABS and streamlined music could combat issues like poor concentration and anxiety in a safer and non-invasive manner, allowing people to enter a state of calm and relaxed concentration when needed.

The Future of Auditory Beat Stimulation is Now!

The good news is that even though ABS technology has been heavily studied by researchers for years, it’s not just theory in a lab. Carefully crafted recordings, such as the ones produced by Focus the Mind, can help you put auditory beat stimulation to work for you right now. You can use ABS designed around alpha and gamma waves to help you concentrate on difficult tasks, study complex subjects, and enhance your creativity. And when ABS and streamlined music are combined, the result is something you have to hear to believe…

 

 

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