The art of concentration

Focus: Dorothy Victor enumerates some simple and effective techniques that students can follow to increase their concentration

The art of concentration

Today’s students are appreciated for their intuitive intelligence and tech-savviness. Academic curriculum of the new millennium has hardly any resemblance to the ones that prevailed in the ‘80s or even the ‘90s. With each passing decade, more syllabus, larger content and broader subjects are added. Children are packed off to schools at a much younger age than their previous generations were and they spend longer and extended hours at learning and gaining knowledge. This scenario, we would expect, will pave the way for erudite, focused and attentive children.

Sadly, the reality is quite ironical. What we see today are students who are distracted, disturbed and unfocused. Juggling between studies and varied activities and caught in a world of excesses, including information and its easy availability, our present-day students are living in a world of distraction. Having the Internet at their fingertips is keeping our students perennially interrupted from serious, continuous work. According to a study, distractions, particularly of the kind that cell phones elicit, could cause the IQ of students to drop by ten points.

Here are some simple and effective techniques that students can follow to increase their concentration, which in turn will stimulate the growth of new cells in the brain.

The stop technique

Students are constantly fighting distractions — both internal and external. Internal distractions such as daydreaming and letting the mind wander into other areas during study time takes the focus away from the lesson one is trying to learn. External distractions such as talkative classmates and family members, noises in the environment and cell phones often come in the way of concentrated learning. Getting distracted is no doubt a reflex application.

However, focusing on something is a deliberate action, one that can be trained by the mind. One way of training the mind to focus is by giving the “stop” command to the mind. Studies have proved that when distractions come in the way of focus, saying “stop” to bring back attention works well, with the mind to make a retreat from thoughts and distractions that are barriers to concentration.

Using blinkers
Distractions for most part are not just about the mind wondering but also involves the wandering attention of our vision. It is common for students to look around during study time and to take in all the colours and dimensions of the surroundings, which triggers thoughts that take away the focus of the mind. It is here that using something as blinkers work effectively. Cupping hands around the sides of the face, so that only the book in front is visible eliminates the sights of the surroundings that pose as distractions. Studies confirm that students can enhance their attention span by this ‘blinkers’ method.

‘Five more’ rule
Sam Horn, in his book Conzentrate: Get Focused and Pay Attention, writes about the “Five More Rule” to boost concentration. The rule involves stretching the mind to do just “five more” of the task on hand when the mind is tempted to give up on the task. To put it simply when on the verge of losing focus, the rule emphasises that just five more pages or five more maths problems, be done. This way students can fortify their focus and learn to work at their studies for longer hours with full attention.

Outline start-stop
Losing focus is often the result of lack of planning and purpose with students. Studies suggest that assigning start-stop parameters will help in better focus and productivity with studies. Where a clear-cut time is given, chances are that the brain stays focused with the task on hand and is compelled to finish it successfully with deliberate attention.

Best focus-style
Every student has his or her unique likes and dislikes with regard to study. Some find it easy to concentrate when they see the material they are learning in visuals such as diagrams, illustrations and videos. Students falling in this category should be encouraged to take notes and draw mindmaps, highlight text in different colours and make use of visual media.

For others, auditory learning tools draw their attention better. These students could use a tape recorder (instead of taking notes), read the text aloud to themselves, discuss ideas with others and make up jingles and mnemonics as a memory aid.

There are still others who concentrate best through a hands-on approach. Such students could move around while concentrating on new lessons, use models to understand subjects better, concentrate in bursts, take frequent breaks and to try skim-reading before reading in detail. Whatever category the student falls in, the art of concentration is, like any other art, a skill, and thus has to be learnt and practised, in order to master it.

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