We often hear these words from students, “I can’t concentrate.” “My mind wanders when I try to study.” “Teach us how to concentrate in our studies?” My immediate advice to them is, “Wherever you are, be there. When you work, work. When you play, play, when you study, study. You can’t shoot two birds at the same time. Both will escape. Don’t two things into one.” Studying without concentration is like trying to fill a bucket with water when the bucket has a hole in its bottom. It doesn’t work.
What is Concentration?
Concentration is the ability to direct one’s thinking in whatever direction one would intend. It is the capacity to work intensely at a task to the exclusion of every other demand on your attention. For many students, this is the most difficult part of becoming a good student. They lack the capacity to concentrate for more than a few minutes before something else claims their attention and the mind wanders from the task at hand. TV and Video Games are major culprits.
We all have the ability to concentrate — sometimes. Think of the times when you were engrossed in a suspense novel, while playing your guitar or piano, in an especially good game of cards, or watching an action-packed movie. Total concentration!
But at other times your thoughts are scattered, and your mind races from one thing to another. It’s for those times that you need to learn and practice concentration strategies.
Improving concentration is learning a skill. Learning a skill takes practice… whether it is shooting baskets, dancing, typing, writing, or concentrating. Do not confuse these strategies with medicine. When you take a medicine, it acts on the body without your having to help it.
Concentration strategies require practice. Skydivers, rock climbers, tightrope walkers, and lion tamers don’t have trouble concentrating! Because they have already acquired it through practice.
What interferes with concentration? Mainly there are the distractions. Distraction is the diversion of attention of an individual or group from the chosen object of attention onto the source of distraction. Distraction may be caused by one of the following: lack of ability to pay attention; lack of interest in the material; greater interest in something other than the object of attention; or the great intensity, novelty or attractiveness of something other than the object of attention.
Distractions come from both external sources or internal sources. The list of external distractions include:
- uncomfortable chair
- study surface that is too high or too low
- street noise
- poor light (too dim or too bright)
- too hot or too cold
- reminders of others things you need to do or would rather do (e.g., letters to write or magazines to read),
- conversation from people at nearby tables
- friends interrupting you
- telephone/Mobile calls etc.
Internal distractions could be of physical origin or stress-related origin. Internal distractions of physical origin are lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, illness, physical injury, physical urges etc. Internal distractions of stress-related origin are relationship problems, friction with family or friends, worry about money, anxiety, fantasies etc.
Fear of failure is another reason for poor concentration. Often the thought of failing an exam or assignment starts to take more time than the actual study and this in turn adds to your worry.
Another major reason for lack of concentration is vagueness, confusion, and fuzzy-mindedness about what you are supposed to do and in what order and for what reason. Only about 3 percent of students or for that matter even adults have clear, written, goals. It’s hard to concentrate when you do not have a clear, firm, well-defined goal.
How can you improve your Concentration?
- Avoid eating a big meal before a study session. Too much food will send your body into a ‘rest’ mode. On the other hand, don’t starve yourself either. Frequent small meals are best.
- Study according to your body-clock. Are you sharpest in the morning or at the evening? Schedule your most difficult materials when you are mentally at your best, and schedule the easier ones when you are mentally less efficient.
- Drink plenty of water during a study session, especially when you feel sluggish. Caffeine may help you to stay awake, but it can increase your anxiety – use it in moderation.
- Choose a chair that supports your back. It should be comfortable, but not too comfortable. Just like an athlete during a performance, your body should be relaxed, so that all your energy goes to where it matters – your brain.
- Have everything you need on the desk. Put away what you do not need for the study session. Seeing reminders of other assessments or domestic bills may increase your anxiety and distract you.
- It is important to take a break before you feel tired and lose your concentration completely. Regular breaks at least once an hour helps to sustain your concentration. If the work is not going too well and you have difficulties in concentrating, you may need a long break and go back to it later
- Know and respect your concentration span which will vary from hour to hour and from day to day. When you sit for long periods, gravity draws the blood to the lower part of your body. When you take a break, take a few deep breaths and get more oxygen to your brain: try walking around and doing some light stretching for a few minutes. It will help to release tension in your body, and help your circulation.
- Study at the same time and at the same place, devoted to study only. This helps you to associate the time and place with studying and concentrating. You will find that you get into a habit of studying as soon as you sit down.
In conclusion, I can assure you that the rewards for improving your concentration can be priceless. You’ll be delighted at your ability to recall information given in the class or in the text book. You’ll find yourself accomplishing more in the same period of time. It can even boost your self confidence and attitude and will experience the joy of learning.