Fresh. Fit. Focused.: On focus

Melissa Schmitz, Staff Writer

Last week I touched upon some things you can do to actively block out distractions and increase your focus. This week I will look at being mindful in one’s  focus.

The best way to start is to remove the temptation of whatever distracts you. You may find it effective to think about the energy it takes to perform high-level cognitive tasks. If you’re doing things like checking your texts, that still takes energy. So think about whether you would be okay with wasting that energy on a transient conversation versus studying for that big test coming up, and perhaps that will give you a jump-start.

Of course, just convincing yourself of that is not enough, because distractions are non-negotiable. You can’t just decide to not get distracted by distractions. That’s why they’re distractions. So as obvious as it sounds, shut off your phone and use an app like SelfControl to prevent you from going on Facebook and Twitter for “just five minutes.” And just think about it… if you can get that studying done now there’s plenty of time tonight to socialize, right?

As the old saying goes, timing is everything. But perhaps something you didn’t realize is that  once you start something, there tends to be an energetic loop that commences, making it harder to stop that action. This can be good or bad. For example, you may get started doing some calculus problem sets and keep going because you’ve gained momentum. Conversely, you may open your email and see messages from your friends. Once you know they’re there it’s a lot harder to ignore them.

There are ways to get around this, though. If you can make the good habit of stopping the bad habits early, you can maintain enough focus to get back to what you’re doing before those bad habits take over. For example, you may want to try getting up and pacing. Moving about will get your blood pumping, carrying glucose around your body to energize your studying.

But maybe all of this isn’t enough for you. Perhaps you prefer to learn through quantitative means. If that’s the case, I have some data for you to digest. In researching this article, I found excerpts from a book by Dr. David Rock. In them, he mentions the following statistics. Office distractions average 2.1 hours a day. It takes an average of 11 minutes to get distracted when working and, if you do manage to regain your focus afterward, it will take an average of 25 minutes to do so.  The average person also tends to switch between activities every 3 minutes. This change in focus takes a toll on your energy as anything else does, lessening your ability to understand, recall, memorize, decide, and eliminate distracting habits all things you don’t want to conserve if you’re trying to study for your religion exam. Not to mention, distractions can cause you to forget ideas and lose valuable insight on what you’re doing, so don’t waste these precious products of the mind and make the effort to stay focused.

The best way to practice awareness is to be observant of the now, which can be difficult when you distract yourself with a morning browse on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Vine, etc. In fact, you just can’t do it. So don’t start your day with this overwhelming load of information and start with something that requires a focused and quiet mind. If you need to think, tackle those thinking tasks first and save the “interesting” tasks, such as checking notifications, for later.

More on this next week. Get excited!