Concentration: We all have the ability to concentrate. Think of the times when you have total concentration: when you are engrossed in a novel, when you are watching a good movie, when you are playing an instrument.
But other times your thoughts are scattered and your mind races from one thought to another. It’s for those times that you need to learn and practice concentration strategies. They involve (1) learning mental self-regulation and (2) identifying and arranging factors that you can immediately control.
Improving concentration is learning a skill.
Learning a skill takes practice…whether it is learning you shorthand Theory, trying to get faster on your machine, or simply putting together your briefs for the next day.
Concentration strategies take practice. You will notice a considerable improvement within four to six weeks of training your mind with some of the skills that follow — a short period of time considering how many years you’ve spent not concentrating as well as you’d like. You should notice that the techniques have a chance of working almost immediately.
Begin practicing these 3 techiniques: (1) Be Here Now (2) The Spider Technique (3) Worry Time.
Be Here Now — This deceptively simple strategy is probably the most effective. When you notice your thoughts wandering astray, say to yourself “Be here now” and gently bring your attention back to where you want it.
For example: You are in class and your attention strays from the lesson onto the homework you have, your plans for the weekend, or the fact that you are hungry. At this point say to yourself: “Be here now” and then focus back on the class and maintain your attention there as long as possible.
When it wanders again, repeat “Be here now” and gently bring your attention back.You may notice that your mind often wanders (as often as several times a minute at times). Each time just say… “Be here now” and refocus. Do not try to keep particular thoughts out of your mind. For example: as you sit there, close your eyes and think about anything you want to for the next three minutes.
The Spider Technique — This is another strategy that sounds deceptively simple. But it is the basis for concentration because it helps you to maintain your concentration and not give in to distractions.
If you hold a vibrating tuning fork next to a spider web, the spider will react and come looking for what is vibrating the web. If you do it several times and the spider “wises up” and knows there’s no bug and doesn’t come looking.
You can learn that. Train yourself not to give in to distractions. When someone enters the room, or when a door slams, do not allow yourself to get distracted. Rather, keep your concentration on what’s in front of you. If you find yourself becoming distracted, refer to the “Be here now” technique to help you regain concentraion.
Practice this in a variety of settings, such as:
~While in class practice letting people move or cough without having to look at them – just let them “be out there” while you form a tunnel between you and the instructor.
~When talking with someone keep your attention on that person, look at his face, and note what is being said. Let the rest of the world just be “out there.”
Worry or Think Time — Set aside a specific time each day to think about the things that keep entering your mind and interfering with your concentration. For example, set 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. as your worry/think time. When your mind is side-tracked into worrying during the day, remind yourself that you have a special time for worrying. Then, let the thought go for the present, and return your focus to your immediate activity.
There’s research on this, believe it or not! People who use a worry time find themselves worrying 35 percent less of the time within four weeks. That’s a big change!
The important steps are:
(1) Set a specific time each day for your time
(2) When you become aware of a distracting thought, remind yourself that you have a special time to think about them
(3) Let the thought go, perhaps with “Be here now”
(4) Be sure to keep that appointment with yourself at that special time to think on the distracting thoughts of the day.
Other Mental Strategies:
Rest/Stretch Time – Remember to take short breaks. The amount of time most people can direct their attention to one task is usually 50 minutes. But that is just an average. Your concentration time-span might be less or more.
When it is break time – use this time to oxygenate (get more oxygen to your brain), get up and walk around for a couple of minutes. When we sit for long periods of time, blood tends to gather in our lower body and legs (because of gravity). Our calves serve as pumps for our blood when we walk and that allows more blood to evenly flow throughout the body. As a result, more oxygen is carried to the brain and you are more alert.
Increasing Your Activity Level – Shift positions in your seat every so often. Don’t sit there frozen in one position. The move will help keep the blood circulatin, sending more oxygen to your brain and helping you remain alert.
Think back to some time in your life when you had that calm, total concentration. Close your eyes and recreate that time. Visualize it, if you can. Feel how you felt at that time. Now, when you begin studying, recapture that focused attention and see how long you can hold it. Does it feel as if that might work? If so, begin all your study sessions with the feeling and see how long you can maintain it. With practice, your concentration will get better and better.
Factors You Can Control Now – Chart your energy levels – When is your energy level at its highest? When are your low energy times? Do your homework and practice at your high energy times.
Most students put off homework until later in the night when they are more fatigued. It is more difficult to concentrate when you are tired.
Lighting - Make sure you have adequate light. It is essential to keeping your attention focused on your stenography. So your eyes don’t tire, use indirect lights (to avoid glare) and ones that don’t flicker.
Seating - Sit on a chair that is not overly comfortable.
Turn your phone on silent – Yes, you might miss a call. But developing your concentration skills in important. It will be useful for the remainder of your life. Keep in mind you won’t have your cell phone in a court room when you are working.
Background Music – Research on productivity with music versus without music is inconclusive. If you think you need music, choose some with no lyrics and with relatively monotonous melodies. Perhaps try “white noise” - it will mask out environmental noises and helps minimize distractions.
In summary, the rewards for improving your concentration can be priceless. You’ll be delighted at your ability to recall information given in class. You’ll find yourself accomplishing more in the same period of time. Best of all, concentration skills help your self confidence because you will realize how much more is possible when you can give your total attention.
Prepared with the material provided by the Counseling Services of Kansas State University.