“Concentrate, concentrate!” says the magician. Our attention is focused on what he wants us to look at and the magic trick occurs. We stop seeing what makes the magic possible and only see what it wants us to see: we focus on the glove, the card, the hat and not on what makes the trick possible.
When we learn, where do we focus? Are we paying attention to the details? Do we focus on “the trick” or can we appreciate the whole context? Do we find it difficult to concentrate when studying?
When we study, attention allows us to direct our mental life and actions towards achieving our goals. But to concentrate, our mind needs to inhibit the stimuli that it considers irrelevant. That’s what the executive attentional network does.
How to focus on what is important? Today we are immersed in an overstimulation of attention demands. We are in an infoxicado world, with excess information. Our minds seem to have developed the need to always be “on”, to receive hundreds of pieces of information every day that cannot be given time. Without delving into anything, we jump from one thing to another.
It is the result of a world, a society, where completeness (need to be in everything, see the latest) is given more importance than relevance (the most important). It seems that the concentration has it bad to fit in this context, and more when it comes to studying.
Completeness vs. Relevance
In addition to external pressure and overstimulation, we ourselves subject ourselves to performance inertia, as the South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han invites us to think :
“In reality, what makes people sick is not the excess of responsibility and initiative, but the imperative of performance, as a new mandate of the late-modern work society.”
The society of tiredness .
We feel the need to be present in the networks, to be in the latest and cover everything recent. And that is practically impossible today. We end up dispersing our attention and losing the ability to see what really matters.
It seems that the situation is not optimal for us to concentrate. But there are ways to get it.
- Let’s start with curiosity
From neuroeducation we know that the most direct way to arouse attention, an essential mechanism for learning, is to arouse curiosity . And this is so because human beings are curious by nature.
If something arouses our curiosity , we will surely be attentive and focused on that novelty. It will really capture our desire to know, to investigate, to explore, to deepen, to study and learn.
- Be aware and decide
Concentrating is also deciding what we want to dedicate our attention to, focus our gaze. Therefore, becoming aware is a relevant step for concentration.
For example, if we have to study or do a complex task, deciding not to pay attention to anything or anyone for 60 minutes can be a good strategy. That guarantees to be only pending of the proposed objective during a determined time.
If what is being done really motivates us, we are flowing, time no longer counts. When you are flowing there is no distraction worth or need to determine times.
- Moments of nothing with movement
Taking breaks to do some physical activity for at least 10 minutes can help to refocus on studying. If physical activity is regular (mainly aerobic exercise) we will be managing to promote neuroplasticity and neurogenesis in the hippocampus, facilitating long-term memory and more efficient learning.
In addition, this exercise not only provides oxygen to the brain, optimizing its functioning, but also generates a response from the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine that are involved in attention processes.
- Pay attention to our emotional state
There are many factors that influence attentional processes and concentration. For example, as we know that attention is closely related to the level of activation, fatigue, lack of sleep and intense emotions, having slept well and having emotional well-being facilitate concentration. Perhaps a little meditation can help us concentrate better.
- library effect
Our brain is a social brain: sometimes studying with others helps us to concentrate, we get in tune with others.
If we can do it in spaces designed for it, like libraries, perfect. If not, we can create spaces to share the concentration with other people, whether face-to-face or virtual (meetings to study).
- bridges of the future
Our brain likes to learn what it understands will be useful for the future. To focus, we can think about the benefits that what we are studying will have for the future. Projecting that future will help us motivate ourselves to study in the present.
Author Bio: Anna Fores Miravalles is Professor Faculty of Education at the University of Barcelona