“Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention” – Jim Rohn
A story was told of a boy who came from a poor family and excelled in his academics. When asked to narrate the story of his life how he had arrived to the success platform. He said “things weren’t easy for me as I was growing up. Most of the time no food to eat. I went to school bare-footed. I always came back from school to help my parents in their farming. A lot of things were standing to distract me but I had made-up my mind not to allow anything to shift my focus from where I was going. My watchword was “I must concentrate on my studies without allowing anything to distract me so as to climb the ladder of success to the top.” In a simple language I was concentrating on everything I laid my hands on and it really pave-way for me to the top.”
Concentration means directing one’s attention on whatever one intends. Arnold Palmer noted, “What do I mean by concentration? I mean focusing totally on the business at hand and commanding your body to do exactly what you want it to do” Normal Vincent Peale also said that “when every physical and mental resource is focused, one’s power to solve a problem multiplies” so, as long as you can concentrate and remain somewhat calm, you can normally do very well in your studies. We all have a natural ability to concentrate. Have you noticed how difficult it is to get children’s attention when they are playing? Do you remember the time when you were completely engrossed in an interesting novel, a super film, an exciting match or an exhilarating piece of music? You were concentrating then. At this very moment you are reading these words, you are concentrating.
It helps to know what it is like to concentrate, so that you can get back to that state of being.
When people say that they can’t concentrate, it usually means that they cannot stay focused on one thing for as long as they would like. Most of us experience lapses in concentration every day. We are not usually concerned about it; we may not even notice these lapses in concentration. They only become a problem when we find that we cannot get things done as quickly as we would like, or when they cause us to make mistakes.
You do not concentrate when you allow your environment to distract you, and/or your thoughts and feelings to interruption you. Your thoughts are scattered; your mind jumps from one thing to another like a monkey. It helps to learn and to practice concentration strategies, to harness your monkey mind, so that it works at your will. If you know the causes of your poor concentration, you can learn to control these factors.
Factors That May Cause Poor Concentration
Lack of concentration is one of the frequent complaints among students. Distraction is a major cause of poor concentration. There are two types of distractions: external and internal.
External distractions are related to the physical environment of your study area. Once you have identified these distractions, it is often easy to deal with them. Some of the common external distractions are:
• Noise, conversation
• Inappropriate furniture; inadequate lighting
• Interruption from other people; telephone/mobile phone
• Work: paid or unpaid: housework
• The internet: email
Internal distractions are related to you: your body, your thoughts and your emotions. Some of them can be easily dealt with once they are identified. Others can be managed with practice and/or with a little help. Some of the common internal distractions are:
• Hunger; tiredness; illness
• Lack of motivation; boredom; lack of interest
• Personal worries; stress; anxiety
• Negative thinking
• Lack of organization; dyslexia
Concentration and Your Body
Your ability to concentrate, to study at your optimal level, depends on your entire body being healthy. The pressure of deadliness and expectations may lead you to ignore the needs of your body. However, the more you look after and respect your body, the more your body will do for you.
The body needs adequate nourishment, rest, exercise and sleep.
• Needless to say, a healthy, balanced diet is a must. Take time to enjoy your food; use mealtime to unwind.
• 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.
• A sudden high intake of sugar will cause your blood sugar level to rise and then drop sharply. Consequently, you may feel tired, drowsy and have difficulties in concentrating. Glucose tablets and sugary food are for physical activities; they are not so good for mental work. For snacks, try fruit or nuts.
• 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 an exercise that you enjoy. Regular exercise can improve your concentration
• Your body needs to rest and relax periodically every day. Regular breaks are essential for good concentration and memory (see below on concentration span)
• Regular bedtimes discourage insomnia. If you must cut down on sleep, try to go to bed at your regular time, but get up earlier instead.
• There is some research evidence to support the theory that catnaps promote concentration and memory.
• Do not associate your bed with work by studying on your bed. Your body will get confused as to whether the bed is for work or for relaxing.
Each time when you study, plan to use your body to help you to concentrate.
• 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.
• Ensure that you have adequate, preferably natural, light.
• 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.
• Know and respect your concentration span which will vary from hour to hour and from day to day.
Finally, Ted W. Engstorm remarked “Concentrating on the essentials. We will then be accomplishing the greatest possible results with the effort expended”. If your thoughts and hopes are elsewhere, it is impossible to set your faces steadily toward the work required of you. Concentrate on your studies and you will excel.