EP10: Solving concentration problems

Hello and welcome to the auto didactic podcast. This is Season 1 Episode 10 If you’re a long-time listener, welcome back to the show. And if you’re joining us for the first time, welcome aboard. As always, I just want to say that I enjoy getting feedback for the show. So if you have any feedback, feel free to email me at rick@autodidactic.info, and you can request topics or give feedback or give your experience.

Today we’re going to talk about concentration. Now, when you study, concentration is very important, and it’s something that you may have in abundance or something that you might not have, but it is definitely something that can be acquired.

So what is Concentration? Concentration is focusing your attention on what you’re doing, and concentration is an important in just about everything, especially reading or listening or studying. It’s very difficult to say what concentration is, but it’s very easy to explain what it isn’t.

For example, if you’re reading a chapter in your textbook, you’re concentrating only as long as you’re thinking of nothing else, as soon as you start to think about how many pages you have left to read or what time you’re gonna eat dinner or a soon as you start to think about something else then you’ve been distracted and you’re not concentrating.

So if you think about the fact that you should be concentrating, that means you’ve actually lost your concentration. So, for example, if you were in some sort, of course, or watching a YouTube video and you become interested in something that’s happening outside your window or behind you or other people talking, then you’ve lost your concentration. And you’ve probably missed some of the points that the person was trying to make.

Being distracted interferes with your ability to focus, and in each of the sort of examples I’ve given you are actually concentrating on something. The problem is, you just were concentrating on something other than what you wanted to be. Now the difficulty with concentration is a pretty common place for most people on.

I think basically, there three types of concentration and improving your concentration is something that’s very important if you’re going to become an autodidactic. Studies say that there are three levels of concentration.

So as you’re reading your text assignments. Time yourself for 20 minutes, and each time you think of something else or look up from what you’re doing, put a tick mark in the margin of your book. You’ll find out that you probably weren’t concentrating at the level that you should have been. And at some points during the 20 minute period, you’ll have noticed that you were more focused on the material than other times. If you look back at the tick marks that you made in your books, you can see where you were starting to lose concentration. And typically, most people find that these are in the early parts of the study section or the section, which you’re studying.

Why is that? Basically, most people are less distracted toward the end of the 20 minute period. Let’s take a little look at how concentration works. You have what they call light concentration, moderate concentration and deep concentration. A light concentration is typically when you first sit down and you first start a task. So at this stage it lasts, probably for the first five or 10 minutes of your activity on. Then, as you get settled into reading or studying or whatever it is you’re doing, you can see that in the first few minutes you’re not really as focused as you should be, and you wiggle about in the chair or you pull your hair or you start twiddling a pencil or doing something.

So when you’re in light concentration mode, you’re easily distracted. So if somebody starts talking behind you or you see people walking around outside or whatever or some noise occurs, you may find yourself thinking about other things, and you typically don’t accomplish much in a light concentration phase.

Now, after that first five or six minutes, you start to move into a moderate concentration mode, and at this point you begin to seriously pay attention to what you’re doing on the task that you’re doing or what you’re reading, etcetera. Now you may find that you’re actually interested in in this material on what you’re doing, and at this stage you’ll find that you’re not as easily distracted as you were before. So although you might lose your concentration at this point if somebody actually speaks directly to you or knocks on the door or whatever, typically you’re going to stay focused on what you’re doing, and then at some point you might move into deep concentration.

And this means you’re completely engrossed in what you’re doing reading, studying, etcetera and you aren’t thinking about anything except what you’re doing. It’s this. This is the sort of phase where you jump when somebody comes up behind you and touches your arm because you’re so sort of engrossed in what you’re doing that you didn’t even notice the person. Enter the room or say your name when you’re in deep concentration. You’re not really aware of doors opening, clock’s ticking, other sounds that you may have found distracting. And this is the stage of concentration where you’re working the most effectively and you’re gonna have the highest comprehension.

This is the mode that you want to get into, and this is where you’re gonna learn the most and complete the most amount of work.

How do you get into a deep concentration? Concentration typically is a cycle, and you might be thinking that it’s easy to get to a high level of concentration. You know you work for 10 or 15 minutes and then buying you’re in deep concentration, but it really doesn’t work like that. What typically tends to happen is you’ll be able to work up into deep concentration for 40 minutes of say in our study session. Typically, the first few minutes is not really any good to you. And unfortunately, some people never actually get into deep concentration. They flip back and forth between light and moderate because they’re more or less constantly distracted.

Every time you’re distracted, you move back to a lesser stage of concentration. So if you’re in deep concentration, you get distracted urine sort of moderate, and then if you’re in moderate, you go back to light. What you need to do is keep interruptions very short if they happen or not at all. And you need to do this until you get deep into the material. This might take you. You no longer than five or 10 minutes to do. But you’re still gonna have to move through these two other steps of light and moderate before you could get into deep or heavy concentration. And this is gonna take you a while.

So you’re gonna need to study in places where you’re not interrupted as much where you’re you’re gonna be able to basically concentrate for longer periods and your your ability to concentrate. It’s gonna vary from task to task and depends on what you study in the text and things on the time what you’re doing, it etcetera. One of the things you definitely don’t want to be doing is studying in a noisy or distracting area where there’s loads of people and you should actually try and study at the same time each day because you just get into a habit of studying. Most people, as I said, have concentration problems. But most people don’t actually have problems concentrating, which sounds a bit weird, but people have the ability to concentrate. No problem. They just have problems getting into concentration.

So there’s three kinds of problems that are typically found. There’s difficulty focusing at will like you know immediately when you want to. There’s a difficulty sustaining that focus over a longer period of time, and there’s a different difficulty in limiting the focus toe one task at a time. So let’s discuss the first one focusing it will. So have you ever noticed that you have difficulty concentrating when somebody starts lecturing or when you start to the video you may find yourself looking around or thinking about you know, when you’re when you’re gonna be able to get thio whatever you’re doing next. But you basically have trouble focusing all your attention on the task at hand, and this is focusing at will, being able to turn your attention on and off like a light switch. Now some people can concentrate immediately. Others find it difficult.

Many people have developed techniques to focus their attention on the task at hand. You picture yourself of that critical minute when you’re gonna make your move, and you go through some sort of ritual to calm yourself or focus your attention. People that play sports ballplayers, bowlers, tennis players, runners, etcetera have strategies to focus their attention. Many people use self talk to focus yourself, so you might say things like, Okay, pay attention. I’m gonna do this. Some people give themselves a little pep talk. You know, pay attention. I need to do this. I need to concentrate, etcetera. Some people have sort of a totem, you know. They put a pen or highlighter in front of them, and they, you know, they know that they’re going to start studying or they have ah, particular place where they study and they associate their concentration with that area, so these sorts of things help them to focus their will.

The other problem that people have is sustaining that concentration once you actually start, as we discussed previously, the concentration is a cycle, so it’s not as easy as it sounds just to keep in that mode. And some people have difficulty maintaining concentration. Regardless of the task, Some people can focus for long, long, long periods without ever becoming distracted. Why is there this difference? Well, the difficulty of the task level, the person’s interest in the material, their motivation can all be factors in what is the ability to sustain this focus? The final type of problem is, uh, limiting your focus toe one task at a time.

Now, a lot of people think that it’s good to multitask, but most of the time this isn’t a good idea, especially when you’re studying or trying to learn something, you need to focus your attention on the task at hand without being distracted by, you know, another uh, text that you need to review or another thing that needs to do but happen or something else on your to do list. Various strategies around this include, you know, having a good study environment that helps you avoid distractions.

Strategies for setting goals and time management and prioritization will all help you. When you find yourself thinking of other things staring out a window or being distracted, you may have difficulty focusing at will, sustaining your focus or limiting your focus on one task. The rial cause of most problems for concentration are simply a lack of attention, lack of interest or lack of motivation. The two main signs of poor concentration are external internal distractions. Distraction is anything that divert your attention from the task at hand. So external distractions or things like doorbells or people walking past etcetera, internal distractions or things that you’re thinking about or you’re worrying about, or you know, something that pops into your head while you’re while you’re working.

Common internal distractions, air sort of anxieties, personal worries, indecision, etcetera. You probably find that it’s really easy to concentrate when you’re interested in what you’re doing. So when you’re focused on something that you’re doing, like a hobby or or whatever you find it easy to let the time slip away. You’re very focused on what you’re doing. Your level of interest in this particular course from the material that you’re studying, maybe part of the problem with A without having a high level of interest. It’s easy to get distracted, especially when you’re surrounded by distractions. I like the motivation is another cause If you really don’t care about what you’re studying or you have no motivation to complete on, learn what you need to learn, then you’re really not going to see the relevance, uh, toe what you’re trying to study or or what your you’ve assigned yourself to do on. It’s hard to exert.

You know that extra willpower to get it done, you really need to have a motivation and and find out, you know, why am I doing this? Why am I trying to learn this? You know what is my motivation and keep that motivation of mind. It will help you improve your concentration. If you’re motivated to succeed, these problems can be marked. Is AIM (Attention, interest and motivation).

And they’re the real reasons that distractions interrupt you. Internal distractions are difficult to put away. It’s very difficult to not worry about personal problems or think about what you have to do later, or if you’re feeling hungry or tired, you know is another common distraction. You need to make sure that you try and solve these types of problems before you sit down to study, you know, have a snack. Eat something before you start. Try and make sure you’re getting proper sleep and things so that you’re not tired, and you need to make sure that you’ve got the right attitude towards what you’re doing so that you’re motivated, that you know what you want to do and you’re ready to do it. There’s a lot of people have concentration problems when they’re reading assignments, unlike the person speaking or varying the pitch of their voice or the tone or the changing environment around them. These folks can keep you from being distracted and can keep you interested in what’s happening. But if you’re lying in bed reading a textbook, well, you know it can affect your ability to concentrate. If you try and read late at night, you’re gonna experience more difficulty staying focused because you’re tired.

Concentration actually requires effort, so it’s hard to make that effort if you’re tired and you have difficulty maintaining concentration when you’re reading for long periods of time without a break. Okay, So how do we improve concentration? How do we go about making the concentration better? Well, by now, you realize that concentration is pretty common for everybody. And although it makes you feel a bit better to know you’re not the only person who has this problem. It doesn’t actually help you.

Look at ways to fix our concentration strategies. There’s various motivational and organizational strategies we can use to improve concentration. And probably the most helpful ones are a positive attitude. A general interest in the task in hand, goal settings and scheduling yourself. You know, your study periods.

So you need to develop a positive attitude towards what you’re gonna what you’re gonna do. You need too. Want to do the study you need to see it is relevant and valuable and important. So before you even begin to do all of this stuff, have to think about how it benefits you, right? And, answer the question of why you want to do this and then have some self belief. You know, you can do this assignment. It’s not a problem. You have successfully completed things before and you’ll successfully complete.

If you’re having any self doubts or frustration, they’ll interfere with your concentration. You need to have a positive attitude, and then you need to be interested in the task If you’re not already interested and you’re gonna have a lot of difficulty in doing, uh, this task If you need to read a two part data sheet on, uh, microprocessors or something, then you’re gonna need to be interested in that. In order to sustain your focus, you’re gonna need ways to find to make this material interesting on dso that you can generate an interest in what you’re doing.

Now, one way is to preview the thing before you read, so you have a good idea of what you’re going to go through. You know, we’ve talked about this before where you review the chapters. You look at the headings, you sort of have a good idea of what’s gonna happen before you start to read. And in order to increase your motivation, you start to ask some questions from the headlines on the headers so that you are looking to answer these questions as you’re reading along so that that gets you more motivation and more interest in the topic because you’re actually searching for answers at this point.

Another thing that you might try is to break up, break up this task into smaller chunks so that you don’t have to read eight Chapter Section one of this book. You break it into smaller chapters or half a chapter so that you’re basically doing one task at a time, and you’re taking your way through it so it won’t matter as much if you’re distracted midway through if you’re only midway through a relatively small section. The other thing you might try is if you’re not particularly interested in this particular topic and you have another topic what you are interested in, you can try flipping between them so that you know you force yourself to do 20 minutes of mathematics in order to read 20 minutes of history book.

Now you can use goal setting strategies, so set a clear specific goal to help you concentrate. So if you know what you need to accomplish, then you can limit your focus to that tasks of it again. If we go back to asking questions, you’re focusing on answering your own questions rather than just reading the text. But having a clear purpose in mind can help you limit the distractions that you run into on time. Management strategies are very important, you know. Have a to do list. Have a reverse revision, spreadsheet, that sort of thing. To develop a steady schedule study schedule for yourself each day. Then you need to create a positive environment. You need to be able to reduce the number of external distractions on.

The easiest way to do that is just just eliminate them by going and hiding away somewhere where you’re not gonna be distracted. You can avoid most external distractions by closing yourself off or getting yourself alone somewhere. Find yourself a nice, quiet study place. Limit your distractions. So even in your study place, you can put your desk against the wall. Eso you can’t look out the window. Turn off emails, etcetera. Use your desk to study, you know, Don’t use it for everything else. Don’t eat your dinner there. You know it’s just for studying and don’t get a comfy chair to study in. Get something that’s not too comfortable that basically keeps you awake. Never study while you’re lying in bed, because basically, you fall asleep. Um, you can try and turn off your phone, or at least screen your phone calls. Turn off radios, televisions, radio, etcetera. If you need something sort of white noise, you can use soft, familiar music or because even APS you can download that have sort of a sound of falling rain. Etcetera.

Try and study when where you’re at is the most quiet. So if you’re studying at home, when your family members or asleep or outside, um, try and consider going to maybe a library or somewhere quiet If you can’t get any quiet time at home, try and just reduce or remove all distractions in order to get your place. Get yourself into a place where you could go into deep concentration. Now again, everybody says multitasking is great, but really multitasking is not great for study. You need to focus on what you’re doing. You can’t be, you know, studying mathematics While watching football on television. You might think that you’re able to but you just can’t because you’re concentrating on neither thing. If you’re trying to listen to your, you know, respond to text messages on your phone while you’re studying, it’s just not gonna work. Don’t do it. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize all your distractions.

Try not to focus yourself internally, so don’t think about you know the things you could be doing or should be doing or want to be doing. Uh, that’s not the time to be focusing on that. Focus on what you’re doing. Task at hand. And when you find yourself drifting off and thinking about something else, pull yourself back and the more often you pull yourself back and focus, the easier it will be for you to focus later. So one of the better ways to keep distractions from actually getting to you in the first place is to generate a high level involvement using active learning strategies. You may understand video tutoring better if you’re writing notes at the same time. If you’re physically actively writing notes, um, or you know you may have other um, strategies for, I don’t know, looking for grammatical errors and sentences, etcetera. So all of these sort of active strategies to get you involved and focus your attention on the task.

The other problem that you may have is that your you prefer one type of activity over another. So, for example, you may prefer to watch video tutorials rather than read text, which is fine. But you need to be able to make sure that when you’re doing a an activity that you don’t particularly like so much that you’re focusing and concentrating on that as well. Now, one of the things we said earlier was to put a check mark or a tick mark in the book. Every time you’ve got distracted Onda at the end of the study session, you can count the number of interruptions. One of the things that you can do with this is you can use this as a monitor to see if you’re improving your concentration. The way that you do that is, you basically put a tick mark or something in the margin of your study book or in your notes.

If you’re in a lecture hall or you’re watching a video or whatever, each time you get distracted and then what, you’re gonna try and do is make a commitment to reduce the number of ticks and distractions in order to force yourself to concentrate when you notice that you’re distracted or day dreaming or thinking about something else and you’re putting that tick in the in the margin or in your notes or whatever, then have a think about what actually caused you or triggered you to lose your concentration. And if you can pinpoint the cause of your distraction than your step closer to coming up with a solution.

So, for example, if you if you’re studying and you over the course of two or three days, you notice that you’re always constantly distracted by the the postman putting post through the letter box, it might not be, you know, a good idea to stop the postman from delivering your post, but you can at least try and schedule your study time after the postman has been, for example, or if you know, approximately the time that they’re going to show up. Schedule a study break, then, rather than having it being forced upon you many benefits to improve concentration, and obviously the most obvious one is that you’re making better use of your time, and you’re actually studying more but improves concentration while studying has another benefit, which is, Actually, it improves your concentration the rest of the time, bringing your attention back on point. Every time it goes off, you’re training yourself to become more focused and more aware of what you’re doing and better able to fix your concentration at will on a particular thing.

This is something that a lot of people who meditate have found that their ability to meditate and to focus on one thing allows them much, much better ability to get in the flow of something and focus and concentrate. Monitor your distractions so you can hold yourself accountable and try and figure out what is causing these distractions or lack of concentration. So you can try and come up with some sort of improvement method or system or something that will help you do it. And if you’re putting in the time but not getting much done, then you probably have a concentration problem, and you and you need to work on fixing your concentration problem.

I hope you enjoyed this weeks podcast, and I hope you have found something to take away and improve your studying and improve your concentration.

Next week in next week’s podcast, I want to cover off something that you might have been wondering, which is has an auto didactic. You don’t have a teacher or professor or someone showing you what to learn. And, of course, you yourself don’t actually know yet about this subject in full. So how do you go about creating your own self directed learning plan or curriculum for yourself? Next week? We’ll cover off some of those topics just to try and cover what it is you should try and look for when you first start out and how you plan create an Evolve, a learning plan that helps you become a lifelong learner and also to cover the topic that you’re interested in. So that’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the podcast. And, as always, if you have any feedback, please email me at rick@autodidactic.info. Uh, with any questions, feedback, anything you want to discuss. Thank you very much.

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