Module 71 - How to help yourself develop concentration and focus using 'Trigger and Reward' Technique?
Personal Development, Leadership, Motivation Blog Series
Lack of concentration and real-life distractions around us
Lack of concentration when learning about a particular subject or listening to a speaker on the stage could often have a negative outcome in terms of information absorption and retention. It is also very easy to lose concentration when various distractions are present, such as: people talking, loud noises, etc. So, how do you stay focused with various distractions being present around you?
Can concentration and focus be improved?
Sure, it may sound much easier said than done, however, concentration can be improved even if you find it difficult to remain focused on one thing for longer than few seconds or minutes. It all boils down to developing a new habit to stay focused and concentrated or re-writing an existing one already created in your brain long time ago.
Habit creation through triggers and rewards
The process of habit creation is explained in great detail in very interesting book written by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. One of the techniques explained in the book is using triggers and rewards to help establish new habit and record it in your brain to be used in the future. So, before I go into application of this technique to help improve concentration, let’s quickly review what is trigger and reward when it comes to habit creation.
Trigger essentially can be anything that triggers an action in your brain. For example, trigger can be an alarm going off in the morning, which triggers an action to get out of your bed, or tooth brush sitting on top of your bathroom sink counter, triggering an action to brush your teeth. Triggers can be visual, like in the example with the toothbrush – seeing the toothbrush triggers an action to act, or audible – such as in the example with alarm clock, where hearing a familiar sound trigger an action.
Reward is exactly what you think it is - receiving a reward of any kind after the expected action has been taken and completed. This could be going out to a nice dinner after successfully completing an important project, drinking a delicious protein shake after finishing a workout session. Essentially, a reward is what you want and/or receive upon completion of a specific task or activity.
How do triggers and rewards help in creating new habits or overwrite existing ones?
In order for us to know, or for our brain to know that we need to take action of any kind, we need to come in contact with a trigger and activate a specific action. When we get into our car, seat belt indicator and/or sound indicator are telling us to put our seatbelt on, this triggers us to physically take a seatbelt and buckle it in. If there were no visual and/or sound indicators informing us to buckle, would we still do so every time we get inside of our car? Hopefully we still would, however, the likelihood of us forgetting without any reminder is relatively high. That is why triggers are important to trigger actions in our brain.
Without rewards our desire to take an action is much lower, if at all present. For example, when studying for an exam, you expect to make a very good grade after taking a test. Your reward in this example is high mark for the test score, that what you want and expect. When everything goes as expected and high mark is received, you are much more likely to study hard again for the next test in order to feel great after scoring high and proudly presenting your score to others. Rewards are different for everyone. What motivates one person to take action may not be something that is viewed as motivational by someone else. That’s why when developing a new habit, you should find something that motivates you to go through with task at hand.
How can trigger and reward technique help to improve concentration and focus long-term?
Now that we’ve reviewed what is considered to be a trigger and reward and why they are important in helping to develop new habits, transferring this technique to help improve concentration and focus should be a very simple task. All you need is to determine what your trigger and reward is going to be or to create new.
Little later I’ll share few examples of triggers and rewards that work for me to help me stay concentrated and focus when needed. Once again, triggers and rewards that work for me may not work for you, that is why you should experiment and find what works for you. More importantly, the reward selected must be realistic, available, and motivational in order to have a strong desire to take action and do so repeatedly long-term, until the habit becomes something that you do without thinking.
Here are some examples of triggers and rewards, that are unique to me, to concentrate and focus.
Writing: 10am on Saturdays – trigger is to go to the library to spend time to write and putting my thoughts on paper. Reward – is to go home at 5pm and spend time with my family. There are few hours that I have to write, due to working full time M-F. Library allows me to focus in quiet environment and concentrate on my work.
Training/Development: When I enter conference room or auditorium to attend training or personal development material, my obvious trigger is entering the designated room/space and seeing a presenter. This trigger prompts me to take out my notebook and being taking notes. My rewards are: information received during the session which will help me to learn and expand my knowledge base, and notebook full of notes to refer back on and share with other when appropriate.
Now you just need to find new or recognize existing triggers which can serve as reminder to take action of concentrating and focusing, and assign appropriate reward(s) to motivate you and follow through with task at hand.
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