The Benefits of Meditation for Focus & Concentration

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Hyperfocus" by Chris Bailey. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you find it difficult to sustain focus? How can meditation help you take control of your attention?

Part of the practice of hyperfocus is focusing on a task for a set period of time, which can be hard to do. Meditation and mindfulness can help. They improve the quality of your attention in three ways: training you to focus longer, warding off distractions, and helping you to direct your attention more often.

Learn about the benefits of meditation for focus and concentration.

Meditation for Focus and Concentration

In Step 3 of hyperfocus, you focus on your intended task for a set period of time. This is a surprisingly difficult endeavor you can make easier by following the various strategies you learned in Steps 0 – 2. Bailey also names two daily habits that can make hyperfocusing easier: meditation and mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness improve your ability to hyperfocus because they increase your working memory capacity. Furthermore, they offer several other benefits because they improve the quality of your attention in general.

We’ll discuss three reasons to use meditation for focus and concentration.

In addition to improving your ability to hyperfocus, Bailey argues that meditation and mindfulness improve all three measures of the quality of your attention. You assess the quality of your attention based on how long you can focus in a single sitting, how quickly you return to your original intention after becoming distracted, and how frequently you direct your attention.

#1: Meditation and mindfulness teach you to focus for longer periods of time.

Bailey explains that during both meditation and mindfulness, you focus on information or activities that only occupy a small portion of your working memory. With so much working memory available, your mind wanders a lot.

We can infer that through meditation and mindfulness, you get a lot of practice directing your attention to where you want it to go—whether it’s to a particular task (as in meditation) or to the present moment (as in mindfulness). The more you practice directing your attention, the better you become at controlling where it goes, the less likely you are to get distracted, and the longer you can maintain your focus on a single task. As such, we can conclude that since they let you practice directing your attention, meditation and mindfulness teach you to focus for longer periods of time. 

(Shortform note In this way, using meditation and mindfulness to redirect your attention might be just like any other skill. As psychologist Daniel Goleman notes, every time you redirect your attention, you “strengthen the neural circuitry for focus” and get better at doing it.)

#2: Meditation and mindfulness help you get back on track faster after you become distracted.

We don’t always notice when we’ve become distracted. The longer it takes us to notice that we’ve become distracted, the longer it takes us to return to our original task.

So why do meditation and mindfulness help us get back on track faster? Bailey never makes his reasoning explicit, but we can infer the following: Both meditation and mindfulness are exercises in noticing and redirecting your attention, so when you practice them, you practice noticing your thoughts—which makes you more apt to notice your thoughts in general. The more often you notice what you’re thinking about, the faster you realize that you’ve become distracted, and the faster you refocus on your original intention. In this way, meditation and mindfulness help you get back on track faster after you become distracted.

(Shortform note: In Quiet, author Susan Cain describes how extroverts tend to focus more of their attention on completing their task, while introverts tend to focus more of their attention on reflecting on the task. If introverts reflect more than extroverts do on individual tasks, they may also more generally reflect on their thoughts than extroverts. As such, you may find mindfulness and meditation more effective if you’re an extrovert.)

#3: Meditation and mindfulness increase how often you deliberately direct your attention.

In both meditation and mindfulness, you practice deliberately directing your attention. Bailey argues that this practice spills over into the rest of your life: You start to deliberately direct your attention even when you’re not meditating or intentionally being mindful. In this way, Bailey suggests that meditation and mindfulness increase how often you deliberately direct your attention.

(Shortform note: Bailey never makes explicit why deliberately directing your attention during meditation should make you deliberately direct your attention more frequently in other aspects of your life. Perhaps it’s because if you meditate regularly, you regularly remind yourself to direct your attention and not operate on autopilot—and the more you remind yourself of that, the more you remember to do it.)

The Benefits of Meditation for Focus & Concentration

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Chris Bailey's "Hyperfocus" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Hyperfocus summary :

  • Why it's just as important to learn how to manage your attention, along with your time
  • Why you still feel tired no matter how many breaks you take
  • Strategies for managing your attention for better productivity and creativity

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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