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Are you having trouble concentrating when you're reading a book or listening to a lecture? You can take heart in the knowledge that you may be able to increase your attention span. Although there are some medical reasons for being easily distracted, this is not always the case.
Sometimes your attention span length can be improved by non-medical factors. This list of activities might make a big difference in improving your study habits.
Make a List
What does making a list have to do with concentrating? Easy.
We often have trouble paying attention to one thing because our brain wants to drift off to think about something else. When you're supposed to be writing your history paper, for example, your brain may want to start think about playing a game or worrying about a math test that's coming up.
You should get into the habit of making a daily task list, writing down all of the things you need to do (think about) in a particular day. Then prioritize your list, in the order that you prefer to tackle these tasks.
By writing down all the things you need to do (or think about), you gain a sense of control of your day. You don't worry about whatever else you should be doing when you should be focusing on one particular task.
As simple as this exercise may sound, it is actually very effective in helping you to concentrate on one thing at a time.
If you think about it, meditation might seem like the opposite of paying attention. One objective of meditation is to clear the mind, but another element of meditation is inward peace. This means that the act of meditating is actually the act of training the brain to avoid distractions.
While there are many definitions of meditation and much disagreement about what the goals of meditation may be, it is clear that meditation is an effective way to increase focus.
And remember, you don't have to become an expert or obsessive meditator. Just take some time every day to go through a brief meditation exercise. You may start a new, healthy habit.
It seems logical that a lack of sleep affects our performance, but there is science that tells us exactly what happens to our brains when we deprive ourselves of sleep.
Studies show that people who sleep fewer than eight hours a night for a prolonged period of time have slower response systems and more difficulty recalling information. In fact, even minor restrictions in your sleep patterns can affect your academic performance in a bad way.
That is bad news for teens, who like to stay up late to study the night before a test. There is sound science to indicate that you may be doing more harm than good by cramming the night before an exam.
And, if you're a typical teen when it comes to sleep, science also suggests that you should make it a habit to sleep longer hours than you normally do.
Eat Healthier Foods
Are you guilty of indulging a bit too much in tasty junk foods? Let's face it: many people enjoy foods high in fats and sugars. But these foods can be bad news when it comes to staying focused on a single subject or task.
Foods that are high in fat and sugar might give you a temporary burst of energy, but that energy is soon followed by a crash. Once your body burns up the rush of nutrient-deprived, over-processed foods, you will start to feel groggy and lethargic.
Reduce Screen Time
This may be the most unpopular suggestion of all time among young people, but the science is clear. Screen time - or time spent looking at cell phones, televisions, computer screens, and game consoles, has a clear impact on the attention span.
Scientists are just beginning to study the relationship between attention spans and screen times, but one thing is certain: many researchers and education specialists advise parents to limit screen time while they gain a fuller understanding of the effects of bright lights and electronic screens.
Join a Team
At least one study has shown that concentration and academic skills improve for students who participate in team sports. It could be that being active is helpful in the same way that meditation works. Participating in a sport trains your brain to concentrate on specific tasks, and shut out thoughts that interfere with your performance.
Just Be Active
There are also studies that show any amount of physical activity can improve concentration. Simply walking for twenty minutes before reading a book may boost your ability to pay attention longer. This may be a result of relaxing your brain in preparation for the task at hand.
Practice Paying Attention
For many people, a wandering mind is really an undisciplined mind. With practice, you can teach your mind a little discipline. One thing you should try to determine is what is really distracting you.
This exercise can help you determine why your mind wanders as you read, and what you can do to reduce your distractions.
- First, follow the advice at the top of this page, and make a list of all the things that you have to do. Get the easy things out of the way first.
- Next, grab a stopwatch. Most phones are equipped with one.
- Now select a magazine, difficult book, or a newspaper and pick a passage to read that you normally would not read (unless forced).
- Start the stopwatch and begin reading. Try to concentrate, but stop yourself as soon as you feel your mind beginning to wander.
- Write down what it was that distracted you. What did you start to think about? Was it something fun that you could be doing instead, or was it something you are worried about?
- Write down the topic or thought that led you astray. Do this five times and analyze the results. Do you see a pattern?
The more you run through the exercise above, the more you train your brain to stay on track. You are actually being very intentional about giving your brain some good old fashioned discipline!