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A key to improved wellbeing and performance

The Number Grid Exercise

With the development of the 8 factor model of the 4Cs mental toughness concept, we can see more clearly how focus and concentration matter for enhancing (psychological) wellbeing and creating a sense of satisfaction from achieving what is important (both effectively and efficiently.

Why do focus and concentration matter?

It matters most when we are required to do something important to a required (often high) standard and deliver it to a (often demanding) time schedule.

The task (or challenge) can be achieved if we are able to devote our time and energy to it. It can be impossible if we allow ourselves to be distracted and be unable to fully focus attention on the matter at hand. And this attentional drift is easily created in a world that today is full of distractions.

In practice, if we are easily distracted and lose concentration often the progress towards achieving even the simplest task feels like “two steps forward, one step back”. And each time we break off, it requires some effort and attention to refocus to get back on track – which uses up more of our energy and our precious time.

The consequences of this are significant for a number of reasons, including:

  • We can fail to perform
  • We can respond to the stressors and pressures by becoming more anxious, stressed and depressed – with implications for sleep, health etc.

The task itself is often already a source of stress and pressure and an inability to concentrate adds to that.

Can I improve my focus and concentration?

The interesting thing is that it is comparatively straightforward to develop better focus and learn to concentrate for longer. It does require a degree of reflection and openness to learning.

There are obviously things that we can do in our environment which help – eliminate distractions, lock ourselves away, tell others to avoid interrupting us, organise our work so that we have everything we need to complete the task, etc. Basically, avoid the focus thieves.

These focus defence activities require a particular attitude of mind if they are to be optimised. That’s where mental toughness comes in.

There are things we can do in terms of our approach – believing that we can achieve the task, having confidence in our abilities or having the interpersonal confidence to ensure that others do not get in our way or distract us.

There is also managing our emotional responses when setbacks do occur so that we don’t add to the problem. And there is our learning orientation – reflecting on our experiences and exploring ways to improve what we do.

The clearest relationship is perhaps with the Commitment construct and the two factors associated with that – goal orientation and achievement orientation.

Goal orientation describes the extent to which an individual can visualise their goals and like having and working toward goals. Some will almost automatically visualise what needs to be achieved when required to do something. That clarity can be useful. It can provide a sense of purpose. It can be a source of drive and motivation for many but not always.

Achievement orientation describes the extent to which an individual will do what it takes to achieve their goal – their purpose. The driver here may be visualising success and what that feels like – and wanting to experience that sense of satisfaction in reality.

If this describes their mental approach then they are more likely to focus and concentrate.

We can summarise this in the following image:

The MTQPlus psychometric measure is a valid and reliable instrument which can help to assess where we might be mentally tough or mentally sensitive.

These factors describe different aspects of the ”way we think” when things happen around us. This explains to a great extent our behaviour – “the way we act”- enabling us to understand better why we struggle to focus when it matters that we do.

Each of us has a unique profile – important to understand if we are to develop effectively.

How can I improve my focus and concentration?

One component is to understand why we don’t focus or concentrate when needed – and that lies in our mental toughness profile.

There is also a clue in looking at the behaviour of adolescents. They are considered notoriously incapable of concentrating for any length of time. It is estimated that the average attention span of an adolescent in the 21st century is around 8 minutes. This means that, on average, they are unlikely to read this piece in one go!

“Intellectual” activities such as reading, writing, listening etc can be challenging. Adults can also find writing reports, reading and listening to presentations difficult for the same reason.

However, the same adolescents if presented with their favourite video game, can maintain astonishing levels of concentration for hours… Achieving what is a “state of flow”. So, they do know how to focus and concentrate but don’t apply it to everything they do…

In the world of sport, losing concentration can be the difference between winning and losing. As with many skills and qualities, developing this is all about practice and reflection.

AQR International is now developing simple exercises which, together with self-awareness developed through the use of the MTQPlus measure, help individuals to improve their attention spans and through that their wellbeing and their performance.

One example is the Number Grid Exercise… A demonstration version is described below:


This can be completed on any device.

Go to:

When you press start, this will take you to a 10 x 10 grid which is randomly populated with the numbers 0 to 99. Your challenge, starting with the number 0, is to find 0 then 1, then 2 and so on in sequence.

You need to click on each number as you find it to be able to move on to the next number. You have 90 seconds to complete the task. Repeat this 4 or 5 times a day, for at least a week. Initially, you will likely score a modest 10 – 15.

With repeated practice your score will improve often to 30+, doubling your original performance. This shows that you can improve concentration and focus. Now apply this to everything you do.

The improvement arises because reflection enables you to:

1.     Improve your technique.

2.     Set goals and targets and steadily work towards them.

3.     Get to a state of “flow” blocking out distractions even in a crowded noisy setting.

For information about this and about becoming a licensed user of the MTQ suite of measures contact:

The MTQPlus measure is available in 14 languages, accessible to more than 2/3rds of the world’s population.

Completion of the AQR Licensed user training programme is recognised by EMCC and ICF for CPD purposes.

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