Trouble Focusing and Concentrating…

I’ve been noticing that I’ve been having terrible trouble focusing and concentrating on everything, especially reading, writing and speaking. When I read I find myself scanning too much and missing points completely. It’s like the way I used to intentionally read back in college when I had to digest hundreds of pages in a night. Now it’s out of control and I’ll read something only to discover that I’ve missed the entire point of the article.

Writing is almost painful. Every sentence is a struggle, and I find myself constantly using the wrong words as well as making too many typing mistakes. Sentences don’t flow the way they should, and my paragraphs don’t really work together very well.

While speaking I often lose my train of thought or get muddled. In business meetings occasionally someone will try to save me by saying something like “in other words, you suggest…” I’m trying to speak less in meetings, and to outline what I’m going to say first on paper. Still, I have to be careful; I’m a contractor and can be fired at any time.

My mind feels like it is constantly racing – like its “idle” is set way too high. In Buddhism it’s called “monkey mind” but in my mind it’s more like an entire troop of monkeys.

I have some ideas what may be behind this that I will explore over the coming months. It shouldn’t be cancer because it doesn’t run in the family. I’m still sober (7 years+), but I have gained some weight over the winter. Hopefully the return of the sun in Spring as well as more outdoor exercise will help. But until then this is pretty freakin’ hellish.

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28 Comments

  1. ligneus:

    Could be you need a break, I find the same thing happening to me simply because there aren’t enough minutes in the day. Then again I was never really up to snuff writing and speaking in the first place. There is also I believe a condition I call Internet Induced ADD brought on by overload of information. In the meantime it wouldn’t hurt to get your doc to check it out. Hope it passes for you soon.

  2. Jack Snyder:

    Scott,

    I suffer from the EXACT same thing. I’m six years older than you and I believe it started for me when I was around your age. Other than being age-related, I don’t know what it is. My dad suffered the same thing. I get things done and can stay on-track but it is more difficult and I’m very forgetful at times. Its quite frustrating.

  3. ligneus:

    So how old are you guys? I’m coming up 72 and my memory is awful compared to what it used to be, otherwise I was never really smart enough to start with to notice much difference if deterioration has occurred!

  4. Scott Kirwin:

    Ligneus
    I’m 41 with an 11 yr old in the house so you can add his age to mine to get my “mental” age…
    Other than that I feel like I’m in my 20s. Until you I’m around a real 20 something and they don’t get my references to the 1970’s.

    This also explains my fear of Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee – both of whom remind me of Jimmy Carter.

  5. Jack Snyder:

    I’ll be 48 next month. I also feel young, as though I’m in my thirties but my memory is getting poor. Just a couple months ago I missed jury duty because I didn’t put it on my calendar. It used to be I could remember everything I had to do whether I put it on my calendar or not.

  6. ligneus:

    Hmm, I guess the forties are when it starts, eyesight and memory not quite what they were, but also it seems life becomes increasingly complicated, too much to do, too much to think about and energy levels a little less to handle it all. Add to and partly because of all that our sleep isn’t quite as sound as when younger and it too becomes part of the circle of distraction that we slide into. So from my simple working man’s viewpoint, it pares down to a few simple rules, don’t eat too much, just take smaller portions, eat what’s on the plate and don’t take seconds. Exercise, mainly walking but a little weight training isn’t bad as well, do it so regularly that you miss it if you don’t do it one day. Both of which aid the third rule which is the most difficult because in some ways can’t be controlled, sleep. I mention that because too often people don’t consider it when other problems crop up so I don’t have any particular thing I could say in how to sleep well other than regular bedtime and getting up time are important. I still sleep well but I often have dreams that I’m at work which is awful to dream about all night then have to get up to go to work! Worse, I do house renovations, and often in the dream everything on the job will be going wrong, particularly a recurrent dream, the roof will be leaking with water pouring in everywhere. Yes I’m sure some analysis could be done on that but I don’t have time to worry about it.
    Sorry to ramble and I don’t know if it makes any sense but there you go.

  7. Scott Kirwin:

    Ligneus
    Well I hope to live to be as old as you – and even older. I’ve already put in an order for grandchildren to the 11 year old – just after he’s in his 20s.

  8. Dean Esmay:

    There are vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can cause this sort of problem. I’d look into supplements if I were you.

  9. Jack:

    Scott, I responded to this on Dean’s World (Ron’s post).

    If you think it’s worth the read and can muddle through it, my points are up there.

  10. Scott Kirwin:

    Dean
    I’ll have to check that out. Living a more healthy lifestyle… It sure isn’t me.

  11. Sharon:

    I have the same thing, I just turned 50, and I’ve been getting this weird stuff, I thought, as part of peri-menopause. Obviously, that isn’t your problem. But my symptoms are exactly like yours, except I also get migraines, too. My doctor doesn’t seem to think it’s anything to worry about, but I do worry, since my grandfather had Alzheimer’s and I am very paranoid about getting it.
    I have the lack of focus, short term memory is shot, I waste unbelievable amounts of time being non-productive at work, and don’t get a heck of a lot accomplished at home either. I always have way too many things going on, not enough time to do them, and end up working long hours with not enough results. I thought it might actually be burnout and stress, but my sister-in-law says it’s because Americans eat too much sugar and not enough vegetables. She’s from China and she’s right, of course. For her it is absolutely normal to eat vegetables at every meal, including breakfast, to limit protein to a small handful for the day, to go for not one but two walks every day, and do half an hour of tai chi every night. I, on the other hand, work sixty hours a week, am too tired to cook healthy food by the time I get home, eat all the wrong foods and don’t exercise. I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that my fuzziness is related to lack of movement.
    Sorry, I know this was long, I just got excited when I saw someone else with the same symptoms. Thanks for listening.

  12. Scott Kirwin:

    Sharon
    Glad you find this post. I’ve improved significantly since writing it, and I too exercise more since the weather has gotten nicer.

    I would seriously recommend talking to a cognitive psychologist about this. I saw somewhere that Americans do 30 hours of activity in 24 hours, and I’m pretty sure it has to do with multitasking and stress. Cognitive psychologists are really hands-on change-your-behavior type people. Some life coaches may help too.

    Good luck and keep me posted on what happens to you.

  13. Bo Sundin:

    I have the same problem, I find my mind wanders because I overthink and can’t stay thinking about one subject and that’s why I lose track of things. I go into a trance-like state sometimes because there’s just too much happening with my thought process or externally. Can’t remember things because I’m too busy thinking about other things, can’t read because I get too easily side-tracked by thoughts. etc

    But I just turned 23 so who knows…

  14. Jim Dunn:

    I too have these same symptoms. I have the most trouble with reading. I start to read a paragraph and find myself skipping ahead to quickly and miss what I am supposed to be reading. Focusing on one subject is difficult at times cause I am easily distracted. Has anyone found the miracle pill I should be taking? I am only 38 yrs old. Thank you.

  15. Scott Kirwin:

    Jim
    I still suffer from this and haven’t found a pill to take yet.

  16. jack:

    does anyone have any idea what this is? I have this too and it is concerning. I can’t help but scan word and I can’t focus at all. And my eye hand coordination is really bad too and it used to be great. And sometimes it feels like my eyes are shaking in my head. and my hands shake a bit too sometimes. any clue?

  17. Robb:

    I too suffer from the traits that everyone has mentioned. What we all have is some level of the dreaded Attention Deficit Disorder disease. Yea, it’s a royal PITA and it can re-surface at anytime in your life. I’ve been to therapy on and off for years and I’m 59. There is no cure for it but one can work on diminishing it’s affects on your life. What works for me is to isolate particular problems and then to write cheat sheets on how to step yourself through that problem in a successful approach. I also do crossword puzzles. I would like to hear how others deal with their problems because ignoring them leads to failure.

  18. Scott Kirwin:

    Robb
    I’ve taken up Sudoku and don’t write possibilities down in the corners the way you’re supposed to. Instead I try to keep them in my memory.
    That seems to help, as does keeping distractions to a minimum (phones, TVs, radio etc).

  19. Spacey:

    This site came up during my search “can not concentrate” or something like that, I don’t remember.

    I have the same issues and am pleased to hear that I am not alone. I remember describing to mom in my teens (currently 46) how my mind tends to work. I said, mom, it is like every thought rests on a kernel of popcorn in the fryin’ pan. By the time I try to latch to one of those thoughts, the kernel pops and away the thought goes with the popcorn, flying about.

    What works for me? Cycling, running or walking. First, I have never been a runner (jogger) or cyclist, but feel I must do it for calmness, clear thinking and a better mood. For me, I have to run until I get the so called second wind, where I overcome what I consider my threshold (about 25 minutes into my run). By then my legs are numb; I start to feel a weird sensation (tingling throughout the body), the chemical release (endorphins); I can feel it in my head, my mind becomes clear. For the next fews days, I am pretty resistant to things that caused adrenalin spikes, distractions, emotional swings. My ability to concentrate and focus increases dramatically. If I don’t sense those effects while exercising, chances are I won’t get the fix I need to focus.

    I’ve tried various meds and nothing has worked for better for me than the exercise. By the way, today I left work a little early because I was challenged at the most simplest of task. I was just overwhelmed. I went home and did a bike ride. Emotionally I am feeling much better. I hadn’t run or exercised in the 3 weeks and before I knew what hit me, I was mentally dysfunctional and getting depressed.

    I sure hopes this helps someone.

  20. SS:

    Wow you guys describe exactly how I feel. Mind wanders, lose my train of thought, forget what I was saying, have trouble holding a conversation, trouble reading (read the same line over and over and just can’t process it). Writing is a bitch too it takes me a long time to get the words out and right. I’m only in my mid 30s and quite active but don’t feel I have full control of my head lately.

  21. Renee:

    Scott and Sharon, I feel like you’ve written my thoughts exactly. I’m going on 49 and I’m here at my desk eating lunch and worried about focus AGAIN - which brought me to this page. I’ve been exercising daily as well as eating right (dieting) and still nothing. In a few days I will be visiting the family doctor. Wish me luck!

  22. Scott Kirwin:

    Good luck, Renee. I have found a tad bit of relief from meditation, but my mind races so much that even sitting still for 30 minutes is a challenge. It’s still a fight after all these years.

  23. black cat:

    All of you angels i’ll call you; have described the hell that has been my entire life. I suffered these conditions in my teens, and thought that I had overcome them in my 20,s. Well the joke was on me, while I was riding high on the proverbial hog, I came crashing down toward the end of my twenties. My doc chalked it up to anxiety and I was put on a regimen of Paxil medication. I do NOT recommend paxil because while it may work at a certain dosage, it seems that like caffeine or alcohol that the body adapts and before you know it you need more of it. I have been trying to get off of it but you can’t just quit, you have to cycle out of it, and the way life has treated me lately it just wasn’t wise. I came across this page doing a search for “lack of concentration” because I am in a mandatory high productivity job and my performance has steadily been plummeting, I love to read but can’t focus on it, like to write, but there’s too much to write(kinda like this post) I used to think I was overworked until I took a 3wk vaca in which my gf and I went on a cruise. Yet i’m back at work and worried that my job may be at stake for my low productivity. I am concerned that something might be medically wrong, but one of my kids is a special needs kid God bless him, and I would rather use the money towards his health. I have fallen off the workout wagon because my kids, and my work take so much of my time. Trying to start again. Maybe councelling, or maybe suppliments would be a wise move. If I didn’t know better i’d sware there is a demon hanging around me sabbotaging everything I do, touch, or think. Hence the name black cat. Haha. I’ll pray for you guys and gals. No one said life would be easy I suppose. Great post

  24. Scott Kirwin:

    Hang in there Black Cat. And talk to your doctor about Paxil. There are other drugs out there that might be better for you, but you’ll need to gradually – very gradually – move off paxil. BUT ONLY UNDER A DOCTOR’S SUPERVISION. Good luck.

  25. Bryan:

    In kindergarten I was the smartest kid in class (good at figuring things out and working with my hands). In first grade I knew I had a problem when memory was needed. From then on, I always had a problem with memory, focus, and recall. It has always caused me to have poor self confidence. Sometimes worse than other times. I remember one time reading and rereading a line in the newspaper and not being able to absorb what it was saying. That was the worst and I was still in HS at the time. I’m 54 now and have been the plant manager for a 44 employee factory for 10 years now. Everyone knows I have a bad memory. I sometimes have trouble quickly recalling names of employees or with details of issues I should know about. I got this job because they know I’m smart and a good problem solver. I’m also an inventor and currently have a signed royalty agreement with another company that will allow me to retire by the end of this year. But when playing cards the guys will talk about what just happened in the last hand and I barely recall anything about it! Never really talked with a doctor about it.. Don’t like taking pills unless the side effects are negligible. We don’t have a family history of mental illness (even in old age) but I see similar traits in my Mom and sister though not as bad. I also have trouble following written instruction for assembling a new product I may have purchased or following a recipe (read and re-read!). Recently, I was driving in a new town and following GPS instruction to “turn left” I turned left at her command, ignoring the fact that the light had changed to red! Thank God I didn’t hit anyone but it is all related to whatever I have. I do feel this is correctable and will definitely work on it when I’m done working 50+ hours/week. Good luck to all!

  26. Scott Kirwin:

    Bryan
    Thanks for your story.

    A few days ago I was on the phone with my 90 year old mother. I was telling her about a recent event in my son’s life but couldn’t remember the words “field trip.” I kept “uhm”-ing and “aw-ing” but couldn’t come up with the words. Eventually my mother finished my sentence for me – and she is twice my age.

    I was reading a piece by one of my favorite writers, Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens has cancer and is in the process of losing his voice. He wrote about how important voice is for a writer, and that he felt his writing would suffer once he lost it completely. But that’s not the case with me; the words come much faster to me when I write than when I speak – and when I do get stuck I can always hit Google to help me find the words I’m looking for.

    But I am no Hitchens; I’d be happy to write a single sentence as good as anything he has written.

  27. Killian:

    Hi There,

    Im 23 and have the same symptoms as described above,

    I think that it is all linked to anxiety, the racing mind, lack of concentration etc…

    There are lots of good websites with advice about overcoming anxiety and I am told that councelling helps alot (although I haven’t been yet)

    All will be ok.

  28. fritz:

    I’m pretty sure, from reading most of the beginnings of some of the posts, that I’m not alone in what I’m going to say. It’s definately been hell over the last 25 years of my life. I am 34 now and noticed my concentration and focus problems when I was in 5th grade. It’s plauged me to this day and continues to wreak havoc daily. For instance, I’ve been trying to get my college degree now for almost 17 years and I can’t seem to do it! I start off strong and within a month maybe 2, I’m done! I can’t concentrate. I’ve changed degree programs, probably 12 times and gone to 5 different schools and same outcome. I seem to find any excuse to get out of it or find myself wondering off while reading and realize I just read a whole page and was thinking of something totally different, then I have to start over and even though I don’t know what I just read, the thought of having to re-read something turns me off, so I go find something else to do and can’t reengauge. In fact, the reason you are reading my post right now, is because of exactly what I was just saying; I’m supposed to be reading my college material that I was supposed to do 3 weeks ago, but can’t seem to concentrate and finish or retain it.
    I have the same problems at work too. I’m an IT guy and I can remember every IP address from 5 years ago that I used to have on all of my machines at work (I seem to be pretty good at remembering numbers), but I can’t remember someone’s name I met 5 minutes ago. I can sit down and play legos or video games with my son for HOURS!!, but can guarantee that if I’m in a meeting, talking on the phone, or watching TV for more than 10 minutes, you can GUARANTEE I’m in Disney World! It’s not that I’m bored, because sometimes it’s a good topic or show that I like; it’s just that I don’t think I’m getting to affect the outcome, so I don’t see the point in listening. That’s obviously not what I’m thinking at the time, this is monday morning quarterback talking here, but I just loose focus and start thinking of other things and when I come to….I’m lost.
    I tried Straterra, but it only helped me sleep. I tried aderall, but I was in my first deployment to a combat zone, so I can’t honestly say that I took every opportunity to test it out on a regular or somewhat consistant basis, I only had 30 days worth and it took me 3 months to take it…..so I couldn’t accurately evaluate it’s results.
    Anyone have any suggestions, other than try everything in smaller encrements, take a break or see a phsychotrist?

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