A RealWorld Student writes…

My problem is not so much about a lesson like mathematics or something. My problem is concentration. It seems to be impossible for me to get a book and study it. When I get a book, I always find something else to do that is more fun than reading/studying. I wonder, is there anything that can make me study for a period without get distracted or anything? Please help me.

Dear RealWorld Student:

Your predicament isn’t unusual. Many students suffer from a lack of focus when it comes to studying (or anything else that is boring, or just as painful). It’s like going to the dentist; nobody really looks forward to it, but you have to do it anyway (at least if we want to keep our teeth).

The best way I know to get myself to do something I HAVE to do and to stay focused while I’m doing it is to psych myself up ahead of time (BEFORE I do the thing I don’t want to do). Here are 10 simple steps for you to take BEFORE your next study session:

1. Make a list of what you will GAIN if you study and stay focused while studying. This will remind you that you’re studying for a purpose.

2. Make a list of what it will COST you if you don’t study or stay focused while studying. Unfortunately, most people are more motivated by what they will lose rather than what they will gain.

3. Take a minute to visualize (with your eyes closed) every outcome you listed in #2. Internalize the vision by involving as many of your five senses as possible until the pain seems real. Then relax, because it has it happened YET.

4. Eat a light, healthy snack (preferably fruit: apple, orange, or a pear — NO candy or sugar foods or anything heavy), but don’t over do it. Your goal here is to boost your energy, not sabotage it.

5. Take a power nap (15 – 20 minutes) — this eliminates fatigue. I said a nap, not a coma. Set a timer. I think a power nap is one of the best kept secrets to effective studying. I still take them every day.

6. Eliminate all physical distractions (turn off TV, stereo, cell phone, pager, and ringer on your home phone). I don’t care how uncomfortable silence makes you feel, try to get used to it.

7. Find a quiet place where you HAVE to sit up in order to study (no lounge chairs, couches, beds, or recliners). Use common sense. I would even suggest going to place where others are studying (like the library) or even an empty classroom on campus. The more you can simulate school, the better your study session will be.

8. Pull out your list of answers to questions #1 and #2 (and review them carefully, internalizing #2 again).

9. Start studying in shorter sessions (20 – 30 minute sessions) with a 10 to 15 minute break in between sessions (to stretch or walk around), and follow steps 6 thru 10 again). It’s also okay to take another power nap during this break — that’s what I did.

10. Whenever you feel like you’re drifting mentally, review you answers to #1 and #2 again. But this time, write at the top of your paper, your MAIN reason for attending college and WHY this degree is so important to you (i.e., something you can’t live without).

I hope this helps. It sure helped me during some very tough study sessions. Don’t neglect the physical aspect of studying. Make sure you’re not hungry or too full. Make sure you’re well-rested — take a power nap if necessary. Also, mentally reduce your stress level (as important as school is, it’s not the MOST important thing in your life — your mental and emotional health is — so keep everything in perspective). Good luck, and as always, STUDY and live purposefully!

Living Purposefully — Prof. Joe Martin

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