Other Mental Strategies:
Tallying your mental wanderings. Have a 3 x 5 inch card handy. Draw two lines dividing the card into three sections. Label them “morning,” “afternoon,” and “evening.”
Each time your mind wanders, make a tally in the appropriate section. Keep a card for each day. As your skills build, you’ll see the number of tallies decrease. And that’s exciting!
Rest/Stretch Time . Remember to take short breaks. Lectures are usually 50 minutes long, and that’s about the length of time most people can direct their attention to one task. But, that’s just an average. Your concentration time-span might be less (20-35 minutes) or longer (perhaps 90 minutes).
When you take a break, oxygenate (get more oxygen to your brain)! Get up and walk around the room for a couple of minutes. When we sit for long periods, blood tends to pool in our lower body and legs (because of gravity). Our calves serve as pumps for our blood when we walk, getting blood flowing more evenly throughout the body. As a result, more oxygen is carried to the brain and you are more alert.
Change Topics. Many students aid their concentration by changing the subject they are studying every one to two hours. You pay more attention to something that’s different. And you can give yourself that variety by changing the subject you study regularly.
Incentives and Rewards. Give yourself a reward when you’ve completed a task. The task might be small, such as stay with a difficult assignment until you’ve finished. An appropriate reward might be a walk around the block, a glass of water, or reading the day’s cartoon in the newspaper..
For those special projects such as term papers, design projects, or long book reviews, set up a special incentive. Upon completion, plan to give yourself a special pizza, movie, or an evening of TV.
Incentives and rewards can be overdone. Use them for the especially difficult assignment or longer projects. When you do use them, make the rewards something you ordinarily would not give yourself.
Increasing Your Activity Level. Your concentration wanders more easily if you just read an assignment straight through. Instead, take the heading for each section and turn it into a question. For this section, that would be, “How can I increase my activity level while studying?” Then study that section to answer that question. Do this routinely. The questions give us a focus for each section and increase our involvement.
Also, as you study an assignment, make a list of questions you can bring to class. Listen to the lecture for answers to those questions.
Shift position in your seat every so often. Don’t sit there frozen in one position. The move will help keep the blood circulating, sending more oxygen to your brain and helping you remain alert.
Skydivers, rock climbers, tightrope walkers, and lion tamers don’t have trouble concentrating! You probably haven’t done any of those. But, think back to some time in your life when you had that calm, total concentration. Close your eyes and recreate that time. Visualize it, if you can. Feel how you felt at that time. Now, when you begin studying tonight, recapture that focused attention and see how long you can hold it. Does it feel as if that might work? If so, begin all your study sessions with the feeling and see how long you can maintain it. With practice, your concentration will get better and better.