From our 17 years of experience training in the I Am Gifted! school holiday programmes as well as workshops in hundreds of schools in Singapore, we believe we have discovered the number one struggle of students today – They can’t stay focused.
Students will tell us, “You know what? I struggle with focusing. I just, I can’t focus. Every single time I sit down and study, I spend more time looking at my phone or I spend more time playing with my cat than I do focusing on what I’m supposed to do.”
And it is not just students that are facing this problem. More and more of us, as human beings, are losing our attention span. Did you know that attention span of human beings right now is on average at seven seconds? Seven seconds long. That’s how much we can actually focus. It’s terrible because goldfish have an attention span of eight seconds. This is ridiculous.
Part of the reason is because of the way the world works now. We have the internet, YouTube, Instagram, Whats-app Messenger and the list goes on. We receive notifications and messages popping up on our mobile devices all the time. There are distractions everywhere! If you distract yourself on YouTube while watching a YouTube video, there’ll be an ad that distracts you from the video inside the video!
Right now what we’re struggling with is how to focus, how to be mindful on focusing.
So, here are the 5 steps we can follow through to gain an increased amount of focus:
1. Focus in Short Bursts
If what we are doing is really struggling with focusing, then we will want to start practicing focusing! Completely focusing, in short bursts. How long is a burst? Roughly about 20 to 25 minutes.
Now, this applies to grownups, as well. If you struggle with doing a piece of work because you always get distracted, then dedicate yourself to just sitting down and focusing for no more than 20 to 25 minutes. You keep telling that to yourself, “You know what? This is just 20 minutes. It’s just 25 minutes. ” Keep repeating that to yourself to encourage yourself to sit down, actually get work done. You can motivate yourself by saying, “You know what? After these 20 minutes or after these 25 minutes, I will get a break. I want to go get a cup of coffee. I’m going to relax a little bit”. So you want to take a short break of about five minutes or so, and then come back and then sit down and focus again.
This is a technique called the ‘Pomodoro’ technique. It is really powerful because it allows us to break up our attention span into focused units where we sit down and have a burst of intense focus.
2. Stay Away from all Distraction
The secret to staying focused for a prolonged period of time is to remove all distractions. And yes, we mean what we say – all distractions.
You cannot have anything that distracts you around you. Make sure they are out of reach, out of sight and especially if they might buzz or make a noise while you are focusing, we do not want to be able to hear them. Do not allow your phone, your pet dog or any other distractions to get to you when you are focusing. Eliminating all distractions allows you to focus 100% on the task at hand.
What we are doing here is actually messing with your mind now. See, our brain is always choosing between what we like, what we don’t like. What we don’t like is considered pain in our mind, and what we do like is considered pleasure.
So our phone, for example, is a huge pleasure source. Every time you unlock your phone, you have a new experience. Someone has tagged you in a photo, sent you a message or maybe sent you a post or a video that was funny. You’ve got a nice reaction out of that. So your phone is just constant barrage of pleasure-inducing stimuli.
What we want to do is to eliminate that, because the task we’re supposed to do, that needs intense focus, more often than not, is considered in our mind to be quite painful. And if you have something that’s really pleasurable there with you, your brain will always gravitate towards the pleasure.
So now that you understand the science behind that, what you want to know is removing this pleasure will allow you to focus on what you have to do. And again, remind yourself it is only a short burst of 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Work According to your Strengths
If you’re really good at something, chances are you enjoy doing it because you’re really good at it. Let’s say you are struggling with memorizing something. And if you are a creative person, and is very musically inclined, perhaps you can write a song about what you want to remember. The bottom-line is, to tap into that strength of ours and mix it with that memorization. Similarly, if you are artistically inclined, likes to draw, then perhaps turn what you want to memorize into a comic.
There are so many different ways for us to use our strengths in order to make our task more pleasurable. Discover what your strengths are and find a way to use it to make your task more pleasurable and hence increase your focus.
4. Know your Goal
Focus on what you want, what you hope to achieve and what you’re going for in the long run. If this is about your studies. Then think about what you want to do after school. Which tertiary education institution would you like to go to? What course is you interested in applying to? Are you planning to go to university? And if you are, which university?
Or career. What do you want to do to start making money? Is there something you can start doing now or do you want to wait it out till after your education?
5. Asking, and really digging deep, for the WHY
If your goal is to be a computer programmer, for example, why? If it is to become a game designer, why? Or a banker, why?
It is a very important task to reflect on why we really want these goals. If we do not know why we want it, we are going to lose steam and motivation really fast. This why is the whole reason why we get out of bed in the morning; it is what will give you this laser light focus on something that matters.
When doing this, you have to always dig as deep as possible – Never accept the first answer. In other words, if the question is “Why do you want to be a game designer?” And the answer was say, “Oh, because I like it,” or “Because it makes me happy”, go a little bit deeper. “Why does it make you happy? What is it about game design that you really, truly enjoy? Where do you see yourself in the whole game designing world? If money wasn’t an issue, how far would you take the whole game-designing adventure of yours? Where would you go?” Really think about why you want this, what drives and really motivates you.
Once you get a really good answer to this question of why you are going to get someone who is really motivated to do whatever you have to do to get those goals to materialize in the real world. With that kind of motivation, comes an incredible amount of focus.
Go ahead, test these are the five steps out and get ready to be amazed by how much focus you can gain just in every step of the way.
Aman Ahamid, Trainer
I Am Gifted! Programmes