Lack of concentration is one of the most frequent complaints heard on a college campus. Concentration: the ability to direct one’s thinking in whatever direction one would intend. We all have the ability to concentrate — sometimes. Think of the times when you were engrossed in a super novel. While playing your guitar or piano. In an especially good game of cards. At a spellbinder of a movie. But at other times your thoughts are scattered, and your mind races from one thing to another. It’s for those times that you need to learn and practice concentration strategies. They involve (1) learning mental self regulation and (2) arranging factors that you can immediately control. Improving concentration is learning a skill. Do not confuse these strategies with medicine. When you take a medicine, it acts on the body without your having to help it. Concentration strategies require practice. You probably will begin to notice some change within a few days. You’ll notice considerable improvement within four to six weeks of training your mind with some of the skills that follow. And that’s a short period of time considering how many years you’ve spent not concentrating as well as you’d like.
Then try any of the Other Mental Strategies that sound promising to you. Give them an honest try — use them for at least three days. If you notice a little change, that suggests that the skill will be valuable and, with continued practice, will greatly improve your concentration. There are also Other Factors You Can Change now in your environment that may be helpful. This deceptively simple strategy is probably the most effective. You’re in class and your attention strays from the lecture to all the homework you have, to a date, to the fact that you’re hungry. You may notice that your mind often wanders (as often as several times a minute at times). Do not try to keep particular thoughts out of your mind. For example, as you sit there, close your eyes and think about anything you want to for the next three minutes except cookies. When you try not to think about something, it keeps coming back. When you find your thoughts wandering, gently let go of that thought and, with your “Be here now,” return to the present.
You might do this hundreds of times a week, if you’re normal. But, you’ll find that the period of time between your straying thoughts gets a little longer every few days. So be patient and keep at it. You’ll see some improvement! This is another strategy that sounds deceptively simple. But it is the basis for concentration because it helps you to maintain your concentration and not give in to distractions. Hold a vibrating tuning fork next to a spider web. The spider will react and come looking for what is vibrating the web. Do it several times and the spider “wises up” and knows there’s no bug and doesn’t come looking. You can learn that. Train yourself not to give in to distractions. When someone enters the room, or when a door slams, do not allow yourself to participate. Rather, keep your concentration on what’s in front of you. Use the “Be here now” technique to help you regain concentration when you do become distracted momentarily.
In lecture classes practice letting people move or cough without having to look at them – just let them “be out there” while you form a tunnel between you and the lecturer. When talking with someone keep your attention on that person, look at his face, and note what is being said. Set aside a specific time each day to think about the things that keep entering your mind and interfering with your concentration. For example, set 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. When your mind is side-tracked into worrying during the day, remind yourself that you have a special time for worrying. Then, let the thought go for the present, and return your focus to your immediate activity. There’s research on this, believe it or not! Persons who use a worry time find themselves worrying 35 percent less of the time within four weeks. That’s a big change! 4. be sure to keep that appointment with yourself at that special time to think on the distracting thoughts of the day. Tallying your mental wanderings. Have a 3 x 5 inch card handy. Draw two lines dividing the card into three sections.