Many seem to think students should be good at concentrating just because it’s important. But you can’t expect someone to be good at math, or soccer, or the piano just because you ordered it. However, there is a specific pathway for your brain to learn these skills. And these six tactics will help:
1. You can transcend your environment. When you really need to cram for tomorrow’s exam but you keep getting distracted by unwanted interruptions (siblings, parents, friends, etc…), or the librarian’s shushing, or the chilly temperature, just call on your mind to move to another more pleasant or useful topic. After all, you are not a thermometer, obliged to rise when it’s hot and drop when it’s cold. You are not programmed to be irritated by interruptions. You have the freedom to choose to think about something cheerful instead: “I’m glad I took good notes to study from.” Or “This is an interesting book.”
2. You can strive for constructive acceptance. There’s another way to handle those disagreeable things that tempt your focus away from your study. Instead of experiencing them in a negative way, you accept them in a constructive way. “I’m glad the librarian tries to make this a good learning environment. I’m glad my family/friends need me.” Accept that this is your study situation, acknowledge that it is not making study impossible and get back to the books.
3. You can visualize the ideal. If constructive acceptance is hard to come by, then try its opposite (almost): Visualize the ideal versus the real. The reality is you are sitting in a cold room surrounded by annoyances that make it hard for you to concentrate. What’s the ideal? It might be visualizing yourself steadily making your way through the text, page by page, jotting down key points, and finally reaching the end. Or visualizing your test coming back with a high grade. I promise you, you cannot remain annoyed by your surroundings when you are visualizing perfection.
4. You can give yourself positive affirmations. Try telling yourself something positive to replace the negatives that keep entering your mind. “I can get through this. I like studying. I like knowing that it’s all up to me.” Yes, at first it might sound a bit silly – it did to me when I started doing it. But stay with it long enough for it to develop meaning and utility. You’re striving for two things: to program your subconscious with a positive conscious thought and to give yourself an adrenaline rush. You know about Pavlov and his dogs, right? The thought can create a physical change.
5. You can try a powerful psychological counterpunch. There’s a great technique that does with your mind what the great boxers do with their punches. When a counterproductive thought like, “I can’t stand this cramming – I’m going to bed.” threatens your focus, you throw up a mental counter-punch: “You won’t sleep well if you quit now.” And then you immediately follow it with your own best punch: “You’ll feel great in the morning if you stick with it now!”
6. You can change your internal “chip.” The human brain is like a computer memory chip. Once a pattern has been embedded into that chip, you can’t just will it to change. You have to replace it with a new one. If you have a negative habit, cultivate one to replace it. If you approach cramming with fear, replace it with good cheer. Open the book with a smile. When your concentration is interrupted, chuckle and put on headphones. If your pattern has you constantly checking to see how much more you have to study, instead check to see how much you’ve finished.
Try these techniques, see which ones work best for you, and enjoy your studies!
Edward G. Brown is a father of two, the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and co-founder of the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and Cohen Brown Management Group. For more information, please visit, www.timebanditsolution.com and connect with Mr. Brown on Twitter, @EdwardGBrown.