How do I pay attention?
A lot of students struggle with this one.
Paying attention is essential to learning from lectures and presentations, but you need an attention span to get the most out of your reading as well.
Often students will ask me, “But how do I pay attention?”
Or they will say, “I just can’t pay attention.”
If you have difficulties paying attention, don’t despair!
There are some active steps you can take that will help you improve. It will take some effort, I’m afraid; however, the best rewards come from some degree of effort. If you put your mind to it and follow through, you can improve your attention span. (In other words, if you don’t apply the techniques, you won’t see any change.)
First: Stop telling yourself that you can’t pay attention.
Second: Make a commitment to change.
Third: Create a list of places / times in which you need to pay better attention.
Fourth: Use a physical reminder.
Fifth: Ask yourself questions.
Sixth: Get interested.
Seventh: Practise “tuning out” extraneous noises.
Here is a little more on each of the points above.
Stop telling yourself that you cannot pay attention. Negative messages only exacerbate the situation. They don’t provide solutions. You need to be more positive and tell yourself that you can learn to improve. Just because you have limits now does not mean you can never change! Imagine if you just gave up the first time you tried to walk or the first time you tried to talk. You didn’t know how to say words or string them together into sentences. Imagine that you thought to yourself at the time, “Well, I simply cannot speak, so I’ll just keep babbling and grunting.” I know this seems like a silly analogy, but it really isn’t. Give up the lame excuse!
Making a commitment to change will help you stay on track. Write it down somewhere that you can see it – perhaps a sticky note on your computer or iPad (there are electronic sticky notes) or on your wall or notebook. “I will improve my attention span.”
Creating a list of times or places in which you need to boost your ability to pay attention will give you a concrete (perhaps literally) starting point. (If your list is long, you might want to chose one or two places to begin.) For example, many people have no issues paying attention to a video game for hours, so that is not the place to start! You already pay attention. You need to think of arenas in which your attention span is weak – perhaps in chemistry class. That is where you will begin to make change.
Use a physical reminder to “snap” your attention back to the task at hand. For example, place an elastic band on your wrist. When you notice your attention beginning to waver, give your elastic a little “snap.” (If you are in class you’ll need to do this quietly.) It is not intended to hurt – just to remind you that you are off track. Of course, then you have to consciously focus on what you are supposed to be doing. Remember that you are taking action and control.
Another method is to simply place a “tick” on the margin of your notes every time you realize that your attention is getting away from you.
Be brutal with yourself.
Well, not literally, but take a very proactive approach to developing this good habit. It always takes more effort to develop a good habit than to fall into a bad habit; but, once ingrained, you will find yourself following through automatically.
Ask yourself questions. When listening to a lecture, podcast, video, or when reading text – ask yourself questions (remember SQ3R – check that blog/video if not). Asking yourself questions keeps you looking for answers. When you are looking or listening for answers, you are engaged. (Don’t worry you don’t have to buy a ring or get married! It’s not that kind of engagement.)
Remember: You do not need fireworks to stay involved! With a little (or a lot at first) effort, you will surprised how fulfilling having a deeper understanding can be. You will be much more satisfied not only with your performance but also with your ability to discuss topics intelligently as you continue to expand your horizons.
We don’t know what we don’t know. Don’t you want everything you can get out of an education or, for that matter, your life? Increasing your ability to pay attention can help you achieve and excel.
Get interested. When the teacher is talking, force yourself (make a concerted effort) to be interested – even if you aren’t. In other words, fake it until you make it. By making yourself focus even when you think something might be boring, you will begin to rewire your brain. It’s true – particularly if you are young. With effort, you can literally change the connections (synapses) within your brain and the concurrent chemistry that helps you think and respond – or not.
I can change my brain. Yes, you can!
If you take the same approach with parents, friends, even random conversations at parties, and so on, you will soon begin to realize that you are hearing more, incorporating more, and learning more. Now, some of the data might be unimportant, but that can easily be released. (Unless it is a horrible advertising jingle, and then you are doomed for days.)
Practice “tuning out” any noises or activity around you that does not add to your learning experience. Obviously, you will ultimately want to do this in class, but you can start at home if that’s easier. Pick one person to talk to or one activity (dare I say homework) and do only that. No texting, phoning, fidget spinning, singing along with your favourite tunes, or handstands – just focus.
How do I pay attention?
You pay attention. (Are you thinking of making an excuse? Go back to step one.)
Yes, there is a wee cost, but the benefits are well worth it. As with anything else, the more you do it the easier it becomes.
Try these suggestions, and don’t give up even if you fail a few times (or a few hundred times). Keep resetting and genuinely giving yourself a chance to improve.
Be proud of any honest moves forward. You will soon see that the pride of improving yourself is much more valuable than money, candy, or any other material reward.
Let me know how you do.
Tutors help. Seek out a mentor or educational coach that can guide you.
Don’t be shy to take advantage of my free information meeting.
Get in touch, and I will set it up for you.
This week’s video: How Do I Pay Attention?