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Staying focused and paying attention are basic skills necessary to excel and stay productive in study and at work. But we all have those moments when our mind starts to wander and all of a sudden we find ourselves scrolling non-stop through any social network instead of doing that pending research work.

According to a Microsoft study, humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. A goldfish can hold its attention for 9 seconds. That of the human being begins to decrease after 8 seconds. This shouldn’t surprise us considering the information overload we currently have.

In this regard, a recent survey conducted by the University of California estimates that we are bombarded with 34 gb of information per day. This is twice as much as it was 30 years ago. “The internet has made us very fragmented in the way we work,” says Harriet Griffey, a journalist and author of The Art of Concentration. The author further states “The digital generation considers constant interruptions to be normal and these days we expect to multitask, which spreads concentration and can be counterproductive.”

Continuous Partial Care

Continuous partial care, or CPA, is a phrase coined by former Apple and Microsoft consulting firm Linda Stone. By adopting always active behavior, anywhere and at any time, we are in a constant state of alertness in relation to the world but never lending 100% to anything in particular. In the short term, we adapt well to these demands, but in the long term, stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, create a state of psychological alertness that is always looking for stimuli, causing a feeling of addiction temporarily mitigated when registering.

It’s different from multitasking. The two are differentiated by the impulse that motivates them. When we multitask, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. We often do things that are automatic, that require very little cognitive processing. We give equal priority to much of what we do when we multitask to be more efficient and more productive.

To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention continuously. It is motivated by the desire to be an alert node in the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to search for opportunities effectively and optimize the best opportunities, activities and contacts at any time. It’s being busy, being connected, being recognized, and having importance.

Attention and Multitasking

With our heavy use of digital media, you could say we’ve taken multitasking to new heights, but we’re not really multitasking; rather, we are rapidly switching between different activities. Adrenaline and cortisol are designed to help us through these bursts of intense activity. But in the long run cortisol can eliminate feel-good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain, affecting our sleep and heart rate and making us feel nervous.

It would seem then that this physiological adaptation, fostered by our behavior, is a predominant reason for the low concentration that so many people suffer. But this is, paradoxically, good news, as it gives us back the potential to change our behavior and regain brain function and cognitive health that has been disrupted by our digitally enhanced lives.

Simply put, better concentration makes life easier and less stressful. Making this change means reflecting on what we’re doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implementing steps toward behavior change that will improve our chances of focusing better. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about our use of social media, which is increasingly urgent for the sake of our cognitive and mental health.

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How to practice attention and concentration

We cannot go from a state of distraction to one of concentration, in the same way that most of us cannot fall asleep the moment our head hits the pillow. It takes a little time and with practice it becomes easier to achieve. It takes a little time and, with practice, becomes easier to achieve.

The 5 More Rule

This is a simple way to be able to concentrate better. It goes like this: whenever you feel like quitting smoking or any other distracting activity, you should only do five more. This can be five more minutes of reading, five more exercises, which will extend your focus. The rule pushes you a little beyond the point of frustration and helps you develop mental focus. It is a form of training as well as being a way to achieve something.

Stay still

Sitting still would seem like an easy thing to accomplish. But it’s harder than it sounds. It is similar to meditation. In this case, however, simply put yourself in a comfortable and supported position, sit still and do nothing for five minutes. Use it as a break between activities. Of course, if you already practice meditation, combine this with mindful breathing.

Take the environment into consideration

Your personal work environment plays an important role in your ability to concentrate. The more comfortable and welcoming your surroundings, the easier it will be for you to stay there and concentrate.

Here are some ideas to improve your physical environment:

Make sure you’re comfortable: Start by making sure your chair and desk are at the right height so you can work comfortably. If your chair is too high or your desk too low, you will feel uncomfortable and tempted to use this as an excuse to get up and walk away.

Put pictures: Seeing a natural scene or observing wildlife can help improve concentration. If you can place images in your study area, choose landscapes or natural images that you enjoy. This can help you focus, especially if you can view the images from your desktop.

Avoid distractions as much as possible – listening to music can help, especially if it’s instrumental music. Some people even use “white noise” apps, which produce a constant, distraction-free sound, such as ocean waves or falling rain. This constant background noise can drown out other noises, helping you focus better and ignore distractions.

Nutrition

Follow some simple nutritional tips:

Drink water: Many of us don’t think about drinking water while we’re studying. However, dehydration can make us feel tired, irritable, sluggish, or even sick. When our brain doesn’t have enough fluid, it can’t function at peak performance. Staying hydrated is an easy way to help improve your concentration during the day.

Breakfast: Start your day with a healthy breakfast. It’s much harder to concentrate when you’re hungry, so eat a full meal before you go to school. It can also help your concentration throughout the day by keeping healthy snacks at your desk. Almonds, whole grain cookies, fresh fruits, and vegetables are good choices.

Get up and move: If you’re like many people, you probably don’t move enough. Research has shown that walking regularly can help increase your concentration during the day.

Focus

Constant distractions, and the low productivity associated with these distractions, have become so common that doctors have even given it a name: Attention Deficit Trait, or ADT. Follow some of these guidelines to help focus your mind:

Spend time dealing with worries: Many of us have trouble concentrating during the day because we constantly worry about other things. If you find yourself distracted by worries, write them down so you don’t need to keep them in mind. Then, schedule time to address these issues.

Focus on one task at a time: It can be much harder to focus if you take minibreaks to answer emails, send text messages, or receive quick phone calls. Some researchers believe it can take us up to 15 minutes to regain full focus after a distraction.

Close your email inbox and Whatsapp: If you’re studying at home, close the door to your place of study or put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign to let people know you need to focus.

Switch between high and low attention tasks: This can give your brain a break after a lot of concentration. For example, if you spend two hours working on a high-difficulty exercise, you’ll probably feel tired afterwards. You can recharge your energy by working on a low-attention task, such as passing a few notes before returning to exercise.

Prioritizing: Having too much to do can be a distraction, and this sometimes leads to procrastination. Or, you can quickly jump from one task to another, creating the illusion of work, but in reality, you’re not accomplishing much. If you’re not sure which tasks to start or which are most important, take 10 or 15 minutes to prioritize your to-do list.

Final Considerations

Take short breaks: we may be masters at focusing, but eventually we will need a break. Our minds can struggle to focus intensely on tasks for eight hours a day. This is where it may be best to divide work into one-hour segments, with a 5- to 10-minute break between tasks. This short break will allow your mind to rest before you concentrate.

Make your tasks more difficult when you are more alert: this will help you maximize your concentration. Promise yourself a reward: For example, set a rule that if you focus intensely for 45 minutes on a task, you can take a break to have a cup of coffee when you’re done.

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Bibliographic References

Barragán, E. (2007). 1er Consenso latinoamericano sobre el trastorno por déficit de atención e hiperactividad. Grupo de expertos nacionales para el estudio del trastorno por déficit de atención e hiperactividad. México: Genpetdha

Campion, J. (1987I “Los sistemas conjuntos: el psicólogo, la familia y la escuela”. En: El niño en su contexto. La teoría de los sistemas familiares en psicología de la educación. Argentina: Paidos.

Condemarín, M., Gorostegui, M. y Milicic, N. (2005). Déficit Atencional: Estrategias para el diagnóstico y la intervención psicoeducativa. Chile: Editorial Planeta Chilena.

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