What Causes a Lack of Concentration and How Can You Improve It?

Why are there certain moments when you're not able to maintain concentration? Tiredness or stress are two determining factors. However, there are others that you don't always pay attention to.
What Causes a Lack of Concentration and How Can You Improve It?
Andres Camilo Espinosa Poveda

Written and verified by the psychologist Andres Camilo Espinosa Poveda.

Last update: 22 December, 2022

The ability to stay focused is essential in daily life so a lack of concentration can be a real problem.

Sometimes, you set yourself a task, start working, your ideas flow, your mind stays focused, and you might even finish earlier than expected. At other times, even with the same motivation, your attention doesn’t seem to behave in the same way. You have a hard time staying focused, get distracted easily, don’t move forward, and end the day feeling like you’ve wasted your time.

When a lack of concentration appears occasionally, it can be considered normal. However, if it becomes persistent, it ends up affecting not only your productivity but your motivation and feeling of self-efficacy. Let’s take a look at some of the causes of lack of concentration.

Common causes of lack of concentration

Concentration is the ability to focus and maintain your attention on a specific task, thereby improving your performance, for example, in problem-solving. Maintaining concentration for really long periods of time (sustained attention), at certain times, may require a significant effort. Without this ability, performing tasks of a certain complexity would be impossible.

In this article, we’ll review some common variables or factors that can affect your ability to concentrate, and to which you may well find yourself exposed at certain points in your life.

Tired woman with anthropophobia
Maintaining high levels of concentration produces exhaustion, one of the main causes of lack of concentration.

1. Exhaustion

You often don’t realize it, but staying focused takes a lot of energy, and maintaining attention for a long time can be exhausting.

If in your daily life you have to carry out successive tasks of high complexity without pauses to allow your brain and senses small breaks, your energy will no longer be sufficient. Therefore, you’ll have problems sustaining concentration.

It could also be that you’re not necessarily overloaded with tasks, but aren’t resting enough. For example, if you’re not sleeping well, you’ll quickly reach a state of exhaustion that affects your ability to concentrate.

2. Stress

Personal or work problems can increase your levels of stress beyond a healthy limit. In fact, attention is one of the first cognitive processes to be affected.

Firstly, this is because there’s a wear and tear on your emotional resources that increases discomfort and decreases motivation. Secondly, intrusive thoughts related to problems are generated that interfere when you try to concentrate on something.

3. Bad eating habits

Remember we mentioned earlier that concentration consumes energy? Well, if there isn’t an adequate supply of energy to your body, the deficit will result in a decreased ability to concentrate. As a matter of fact, it’s been observed that, from childhood, an unbalanced diet negatively affects the ability to concentrate in class, and this affectation can last until adulthood.

Although bad eating habits might’ve been with you since childhood, you may not always be aware of their effects. However, they need to be taken into account, not only because of their direct impact on your ability to concentrate but also because, with age, your metabolism slows down. This makes the effects of a poor diet far more evident.

4. Substance use

There’s no need to go as far as substance use disorder, or even the use of psychoactive substances. There are other substances that can be behind concentration problems, even if a state of addiction hasn’t been reached.

For instance, the consumption of alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs directly affects your ability to concentrate while their effects last. However, when consumption is sustained, it can leave sequelae that persist even after there’s no longer any trace of the substance left in your body.

Another example is the consumption of substances such as sugar and caffeine, which affect the functioning of your brain.

Sugar is normally associated with an increase in energy, while caffeine can even improve concentration for a short time. The problem is that when the effects wear off, you can experience a drop in your attention processes. This becomes more dangerous when consumption is constant since the alterations in the functioning of your brain become more stable.

5. The environment

A workspace that constantly demands your attention and where your tasks repeatedly change. Demanding work relationships. An environment full of distracting stimuli, such as tv, cell phones, or people talking nearby. Light and sound conditions that repeatedly overwhelm and engage your senses. These are examples of environmental conditions that negatively affect your ability to concentrate.

When you have to focus your attention on a task, your brain works to ignore irrelevant stimuli and maintain concentration on the challenge you need to solve. It becomes a problem when the demands of your environment are so intense or persistent that they force your brain to pay attention to them, breaking your concentration and forcing you to repeatedly start over.

Worried man working
A stressful and demanding work environment implies a lack of concentration in the long term.

How to improve your concentration

Performing leisure activities that require sustained concentration is a good way to train your concentration. Reading, writing, sports, artistic activities, and even video games involve tasks that require active attention to perform.

If you’ve detected one or more of the causes of the concentration problems we mentioned earlier, here are some tips to help you improve.

  • Organize your sleeping habits. Take active breaks in the daytime and make sure you get enough sleep at night.
  • Follow a balanced diet, and only eat less nutritious foods occasionally.
  • Regulate the consumption of certain substances, such as alcohol, coffee, and sugar. Try to only consume them occasionally, and not as part of your daily routine.
  • Organize your workspaces and establish work schedules. To each task, only dedicate the necessary amount of time, not too much or too little.
  • Establish healthy relationships and identify what causes you stress so you can manage it effectively.
  • Research and practice mindfulness to improve the way you manage your concentration.

If you find that, despite your efforts to improve, your concentration problems persist, seek help from a mental health professional. They’ll be able to assess whether the causes are related to a more complex disorder.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Rebollo, M. & Montiel, S. (2006). Atención y funciones ejecutivas. En Revista de Neurología. Montevideo.
  • Vera, V., Sánchez, N. & Cubas, N. (2021). Estrategias para fortalecer la atención y concentración en estudiantes del nivel secundario. En Universidad Católica de Trujillo. Trujillo.
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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.