Why Is It So Hard To Stay Focused?

Why Is It So Hard To Stay Focused?

Following on from our previous blog in which we examined Studio Fright, now we turn to one of the hurdles which can be an important contributor to anxiety - our ability to stay focused. We all know the feeling - we are in the midst of a movement we know well yet suddenly we find we are way behind the beat or we have missed a bit out. Yes, a nano-second of mind wandering and we've gone wrong. Staying completely focused on a single sequence is a challenge many dancers face. So why is it so hard to stay focused?  

We are all living in an era defined by constant distractions and it's becoming increasingly evident that our ability to focus on learning and doing one thing at a time is eroding, especially as we age. The relentless march of technology, the proliferation of social media, and the demands of modern life are making it more challenging than ever to cultivate deep, sustained concentration.

Depending on your vintage, you may remember a time before the digital age where we somehow managed to work and socialise with only landlines, handwritten diaries and our memories to rely on. It seems like the dark ages now. If you are of that age you will probably remember reading more, listening to a small collection of records over and over again until you knew the words off by heart, getting your news from the radio or TV. Looking back it feels like there was less 'noise' coming at us in those days.

Whilst the digital age has undoubtedly brought about numerous conveniences, it has also given rise to a paradox: an abundance of information at our fingertips, yet a scarcity of attention to truly absorb and apply it. We are living in an age where the internet keeps us constantly connected, making it increasingly difficult to separate ourselves from the digital onslaught. The result is a world that bombards us with an incessant stream of notifications, messages, and updates, fragmenting our attention and making it difficult to focus on learning or accomplishing tasks.

Multitasking, once hailed as a valuable skill mainly possessed by busy women, has proven to be a double-edged sword. Now everyone is multitasking and while it may seem like we are juggling tasks efficiently, research suggests that it often leads to decreased productivity and a lack of depth in our understanding. As we age, the ability to manage multiple tasks simultaneously tends to decline, making it even more important to focus on one task at a time. However, our ingrained habit of multitasking can be difficult to break, hindering our capacity to learn and do things well.

As we age the challenges of maintaining focus become more pronounced. Cognitive processes like memory, attention, and problem-solving naturally change over time. The decline in certain cognitive functions can make it even more challenging to concentrate on learning and doing tasks. As we grow older, we tend to accumulate more responsibilities, from work and family commitments to health concerns. All of these factors can compound the difficulties of sustaining our focus as we try to stretch ourselves every which way.

Deep learning, the process of absorbing information at a profound level, requires extended periods of uninterrupted attention. Sadly, we're often unable to devote such time and concentration to almost anything. This has significant consequences for our ability to learn new skills, acquire knowledge, and solve complex problems as we age. We become surface-level learners, skimming through vast amounts of information but rarely delving deep into a subject.

The erosion of focus doesn't just affect our intellectual pursuits; it also takes a toll on our mental health. The constant state of distraction and the pressure to multitask can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression. As we age, our capacity to manage stress becomes more critical, and our dwindling ability to focus only exacerbates these issues.

The good news is that our brains are remarkably adaptable, and with intention and practice, we can retrain ourselves to regain skills which allow us to concentrate on one thing at a time.

We have examined the concept of brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity in a previous blog  The Dance of the Mind  This the foundation for retraining our brains to focus. It's the brain's ability to reorganise itself, form new neural connections, and adapt to changes. Contrary to the old belief that the brain's structure remains fixed after a certain age, research shows that thankfully the brain retains its malleability throughout our lives.

This means that we have the power to reshape our neural pathways and rewire our brains for better focus, provided we employ the right strategies and remain committed to the process.


As anyone who dances knows, all dance is a discipline where mind and body work in unison. It's not just about executing the movements but understanding and embodying them. We need to be able to recognise the connection between our mind and body, and how they work together. For those of us who struggle to maintain focus, or to learn new moves, here are some tried and tested suggestions to try out in class;

Mindful Practice: Start by paying close attention to your body as you practice. Focus on how each muscle engages, how your weight shifts, and how your balance is maintained.

Visualisation: Mental imagery is a powerful tool for dancers. Picture yourself performing the movements flawlessly, which can help enhance your muscle memory and execution.

Break It Down: Like eating an elephant, learning a ballet sequence is best done one piece at a time.  Break it down into smaller parts and focus on mastering each section before combining them. If you are watching a video of a sequence or move, slow it down to half speed so you can really see the detail.

Set Specific Goals: If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, try setting a defined,  clear, achievable goal for your ballet session. Having a target to aim for enhances your concentration. For example, focus on the steps and keep arms neutral or hand on hip at the barre. Don't be frightened to talk to your ballet teacher who may have some suggestions to help.

Repetition: Practice is the cornerstone of learning ballet. Repetition not only hones your skills but also deepens your focus as you work to refine your movements. Just practising a single step or short sequence every day will have you amazed at the improvement next time you try it in the studio. Going over steps in your minds eye is also very effective in teaching your brain to learn them even if you're not actually doing them. 

Breathe!: How often do you get to the end of an exercise and realise that you’ve been holding your breath? Practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing to stay grounded and centred especially when nerves or fatigue threaten your focus. Remember that the inhale and exhale also helps with artistic interpretation. 

Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself and accept that mistakes are part of the process. As adults who like ballet, we do tend to a certain personality type that enjoys getting things right, so being kind to ourselves can free us from the fear of failure and keep us focused on nailing that sequence.

Mindfulness Meditation: Regular mindfulness meditation is a fantastic tool for life in general, so it’s no surprise that it can help to better manage studio fright / performance anxiety by enabling us to stay present, whether it’s in class or on the stage. If, like so many of us, you have tried meditation in the past and failed, perhaps this might be an opportunity to try again. Ironically the internet provides a limitless amount of free and paid guided meditation courses. YouTube is a good place to start and a search for 'Mindfulness Meditation' offers something for everyone.

Learn from Peers: Connecting with fellow dancers and exchanging experiences is incredibly supportive. Discovering that we’re not the only one struggling to master or remember steps can make it less stressful next time, and when we're not stressed, we’re in a much better place to learn and get our moves right. After class coffees are a great way to support and be supported by fellow dancers.


As adult dancers, especially as beginners, it can be incredibly hard to leave our lives at the studio door and give our ballet class 100% focus. However, talk to adult dancers and many will say that it is exactly this ‘other world’ that ballet offers which draws them in. Time out from our daily lives can be like a meditation itself. Training our minds to be free to focus on just one thing at a time is a wonderful way not just to improve our ballet experience, but also to savour time dancing.

Happy Dancing xoxo

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