Welcome back to a new school year! Anxiety and fear remain giants in the center of a global season of our healthcare crisis. Whether navigating the uncertainty of jobs still available and the economic decline or how widespread and deadly the novel coronavirus can be, people are spending their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are currently doing. The research states that most people spend 47% of their day thinking about anything else other than their tasks at hand.
Mind-wandering behavior can look like this: You wake up with a clear plan of attack for the day, and what feels like a moment, you find yourself back in your living room at home. Perhaps 9 to 10 hours of the day passed during the interim, but you only accomplished a few of your priorities on the list. Most likely, you are unable to remember what exactly happened in the day. Many are operating on autopilot rather than experiencing their day.
To add to the scene of being on autopilot, we have entered into the “attention economy” in which our ability to maintain focus and concentration has become just as important as executive functioning skills as time management and planning ahead along with technical competency at a job. Many are finding that focus and concentration can be particularly difficult due to this emerging trend of the current information and digital age.
Checking screens, clearing inboxes, exchanging text messages, and sending emails all while someone is presenting or sharing can be very commonplace. Many wear this prowess of multitasking like a personal badge of honor.
Multitasking might help in attacking the various tasks on a to-do list, but it also can promote more mistakes in hastiness, miss out on important information and signal cues for the task/assignment, and also diminishes the ability to retain information in our working memory - which in turn negatively affects creativity and problem-solving. In an always-on world, the human brain’s capacity to focus will require the self-control to weave through distractions and ultimately learn to become more focused, productive, and creative.
Here are some important steps in your path toward concentration and 11 strategies to stay focused this new school year:
Soothe your frenzy.
In many ways, frenzy is viewed as an emotional state of being moderately (a bit) to wildly (a lot) out of control. Usually, it is underscored with associated emotions as anger, sadness, anxiety, and other related shades of emotions. According to the latest in the medical community, emotions are processed within the amygdala - the small almond-shaped structure of our brain that responds powerfully to negative emotions usually signaled as threats. When the amygdala becomes activated by negative emotions, it hinders the brain’s ability to creatively solve problems and sustain enough attention to work through them. According to the functional brain imaging, positive emotions for individuals do the exact opposite and allow for them to experience an open door to more strategic and creative thoughts.
What can you do?
In the course of any given day, noted psychology researcher from the University of North Carolina, Barbara Fredrickson, highlighted that it takes a 3:1 “positivity ratio” of balance between positive and negative emotions to have an inner focus. Check out the positivity ratio calculator and determine your own score and where you may need to improve. Notably, people are seen to soothe their emotional frenzy through the activities of sleep, meditation, and exercise. With self-awareness and noting your own emotional patterns can help with this process to a 3:1 positivity ratio as well. Whatever can trigger a negative forecast of emotions can be overcome with these life activities.
Stop the train.
Like with many of the steam-engine locomotives of the 19th century, our brains are constantly scanning both our internal and external environments even while we remain focused on a particular task. It becomes extremely challenging to apply the brakes to a complete stop and minimize distracting thoughts. They seem to always exist in a train of wayward emotions, thoughts, interruptions and even sounds. Thankfully, the human brain has been designed to attack a random thought, hold from acting on an unnecessary action, and cease from being derailed by an instinctual emotion.
What can you do?
Use this as a model, adapted from American philosopher and researcher Eugene T. Gendlin, to augment your self-awareness:
This increases your body awareness. Any practice to engage you to look inward to develop focus will become beneficial in order to increase our efficiency in making better decisions and demonstrate creative problem-solving.
Change the scene.
It helps to shift our attention to a new problem or focus on an alternative task. This means not spending any mental energy on the previous task for a time. Giving yourself a brain break can replenish the depleted energy needed to return to the former task where attention was once lost.
What can you do?
Shift your focus from your stream of thoughts to your body. Go for a bike ride, walk outdoors, climb your stairwell, practice some breathing exercises, implement some calisthenic stretches. Physical movement allows for the brain to keep thinking about the most recent and past tasks, and a physical break will allow for a new idea to emerge. For every hour of work, it is recommended to schedule at least a 5-minute physical break.
The message is clear: If you desire to experience the benefits of a focused lifestyle in our digital shift, you have to put in the time to practice minimizing your distractions. It is necessary to turn off the phone, put away the screens, and simply practice being for at least ten minutes in your day. Do this to prevent yourself from resorting to autopilot and relapsing into behaviors of procrastination.
Developing a value for high-quality inner focus and concentration within your work environment will yield great outcomes for the new school year ahead!