Tag Archives: concentration

Autumn & Procrastination

The weather is getting cooler and the crispness of autumn is in the air, making it that bit more difficult to find the motivation to get out of bed and attend lectures or work on assignments…right?

This may be true, but:

  • Attending lectures is still important. Formative Assessment 2 (for year subjects) and Summative Assessments are still coming, don’t waste opportunities to pick up useful hits and tips on how to tackle your assessments because staying home watching netflix seemed like a better idea at the time.

 

  • You’ve paid good money to be here – or your parents / sponsors have. Don’t put pleasure before business, get your money’s worth, attend lectures and seize every opportunity to make what is left of the semester count.

If these two pearls of wisdom are not helping to motivation you, perhaps some ideas on how to deal with procrastination will.

Tips for Beating Autumn Procrastination

Definition: Procrastination - To irrationally put off important tasks.

1. What’s it worth to you?

A major motivator in life, and for students, is how much you value a set goal or task. If you don’t care that much about it, chances are your motivation will be low and the risk of procrastination high.

By “value” we are not only talking about the importance of the goal or task, but also the enjoyment value. Goals  or tasks that are daunting, unpleasant or boring easily demotivate us, and increase the possibility of procrastination setting in.

How can you overcome this particular obstacle?

  • Determine why the goal / task is important. This will require you to be very honest with yourself; is this the assessment that could save a failing grade, even though you hate the subject? By increasing the value of a goal / task in your mind, you may be able to increase your motivation.
  • Determine the cost of the goal / task. What will it cost you in additional time and money if you don’t get a particular task done or don’t achieve your goal? Think in terms of the financial cost of having to pay for a supp. or repeat a subject, or the additional months or years it will add to your time at college.
  • Reward and Punishment.  Or you could keep it simple by rewarding yourself for doing the right thing and punishing yourself for procrastinating.

2. It’s my personality

For some people procrastination is a personality trait they are born with and have little control over – these people are easily distracted, impulsive and tend to have low self-esteem. Does this sound at all familiar?

You may not be able to change your personality, but you can make it work for you by adjusting your surroundings – by creating an environment that supports work and discourages avoidance.

Things you can do to create a work-friendly environment include:

  • Eliminate distractions. Switch off your cell phone; remove the X-box, Playstation, or whatever gaming device you use from the room; switch off the tv; disconnect the WiFi / internet.
  • Don’t stop to think. Procrastination has a sneaky way of disguising itself as a thought process. Don’t be that guy who stops to think about the best way to illustrate a marketing idea and ends up planning the sandwich you want to make for lunch instead.
  • Be prepared. Make sure you have everything you need to hand when you sit down to work, that way you cannot be distracted by searching for your favourite pen or stopping to think about where you saw that quote that perfectly summed up your argument.

3. How do you and eat an elephant?

According to the proverb…one bite at a time.

What does this even mean?! When faced with a really big task or assignment, the big picture can be overwhelming and can reinforce procrastination. Rather than focusing on the huge end result, break the task / assignment up into smaller, manageable, achievable parts.

Another way of dealing with a daunting task is by alternating it with something you enjoy doing. If you work steadily throughout the day, focusing for a good 30 – 60 minutes on the task you don’t enjoy and alternating it with 20 – 30 minutes of something you do enjoy, you will not only make steady progress, but you’ll also have a positive motivator (the task you enjoy doing) to help you keep on track.

4. In search of perfection

Procrastination is some times best friends with another personality trait that goes by the name of “Perfectionist“. For some people every task / assignment has to be perfect – this is not only unrealistic, it is unnecessary and merely feeds the procrastination monster.

When struggling with feelings of procrastination linked to perfectionism, remind yourself that it is more important to complete a task / assignment, than it is for it to be perfect.

5. Time Management and Concentration

These are two skills you can consciously work on to improve and even beat procrastination. To find out more on how to improve your time management and / or concentration, visit these topics on the blog.


References:

Chambers, A. (2015). Seven Steps to Help Conquer Procrastination: A Different Kind of Spring Cleaning (Part 1). Retrieved from: http://www.mobar.org/media-center/news-blog/seven-steps-to-help-conquer-procrastination-part-1/  [Accessed on: 12 September 2016].

Dean, J. (2014). 10 Foolproof Tips for Overcoming Procrastination. Retrieved from:  http://www.spring.org.uk/2014/03/10-foolproof-tips-for-overcoming-procrastination.php  [Accessed on: 12 September 2016].

Dean, J. (2011). How to Fight the Four Pillars of Procrastination. Retrieved from:  http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/09/how-to-fight-the-four-pillars-of-procrastination.php  [Accessed on: 12 September 2016].

Todd, D. (2012). Overcoming Procrastination: Tips for Overcoming the Bane of all College Students. Retrieved from:  http://www.collegeview.com/articles/article/overcoming-procrastination [Accessed on: 12 September 2016].

Strategies & Exercises to Help Improve Your Concentration

Concentration is not an instinctive ability, rather it is a skill that can be learned and, with practice, improved on.

Improving and maintaining a healthy concentration level is dependent on a combination of four inter-related elements – if any of these four elements is missing or ignored, concentration will be effected:

  • mental challenges
  • emotional involvement
  • physical exercise
  • healthy eating

Mental Challenges

Below are two exercises you can practice to help improve your concentration:

1. Sustained concentration on a simple task
  • Start with a simple relaxation exercise – breathe in for a count of four and exhale for a count of four, whilst doing this relax your body starting with your feet and slowly working your way up to your jaw muscles and eyes.
  • With your eyes closed, picture a flower (or any simple object you can concentrate on) – examine the flower in detail, look at it up close and then from far away – continue this focused concentration on your chosen object for 2 – 3 minutes. When the time is up, open your eyes and reflect on how you concentrated: what did it feel like? Was it easy or did you struggle to stay focused on your object? Why?

  • The aim is for you to include a sustained concentration exercise in your daily schedule. Just 5 minutes of practice a day will make a difference in your ability to concentrate at will and sustain your focus over increasingly longer periods of time.

For more sustained concentration exercises, visit the Mindfulness Exercises post available on this blog.

2. Challenging your current intellectual level
  • If you get bored when studying it is possible that the material you are studying is too easy and you need to start incorporating challenges by learning and reading beyond what has been prescribed to you for a particular subject. Go to the library or surf the web for books, articles and sites on the subject that will provide you with broader, more challenging information.
  • If you get stressed when studying it is possible that the material may be too difficult, and this makes you shut down. Draw up a set of specific study goals for your study sessions, they could include: reading one chapter of a prescribed textbook, or answering a set number of questions, or brainstorming ideas for an upcoming assignment.

 

Emotional Involvement

You cannot concentrate on your studies unless you have personal commitment or interest in the subject. External motivators, such as the money you hope to make in the future or graduating with distinction, are not viable forms of commitment and motivation. Rather focus on learning about and enjoying the subject. Find out how a particular topic is personally relevant to you and what it is that you aim to do with your studies once you are done.

Negative emotions, especially stress, detract from concentration. Stress management strategies will help with this and may include things such as: mental relaxation exercises, physical exercise and hobbies.

The environment you study in greatly effects your ability to concentrate. You need to find a study time and place that allows you to fully concentrate on the topic at hand, rather than the distraction of what is going on around you.

Physical Exercise

A fundamental way of enhancing concentration is to get enough exercise every day. Find physical activities that fit with your lifestyle: walking instead of driving to the shops, jogging with a friend, taking the dog for a walk. Exercise brings variety into your life and enhances your mind’s ability to sustain focus.

Active learning is also a great concentration enhancer. Rather than just sitting passively at a desk, walk around the room whilst testing yourself, talk out loud about a section you’ve just covered, write something about the topic you’ve just read, place a cushion or stuffed toy in the corner of the room and teach it what you’ve just covered in a particular chapter.

Healthy Eating

A healthy diet is linked to improved concentration, academic ability, better sleep and general health and well-being.

Avoid:

  • artificial colourants
  • artificial flavourants
  • antioxidant preservatives

These are all found in processed foods, such as: pies, fish fingers, packet soup, 2 minute noodle flavour packets, processed meats (e.g. polony), potato crisps and fizzy drinks.

A single protein (e.g. a boiled egg or a slice of cheese the size of your index finger) and complex carbohydrates (e.g. an apple, a pear, a serving of oats, a serving of low fat yoghurt) breakfast will boost your concentration for up to three hours.

Regular, healthy snacks every two to three hours e.g. sugar free peanut butter, a tuna sandwich, home made unsalted popcorn, plain biltong, cheese or unsalted nuts help to maintain concentration.

Supplements can be taken to raise Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) levels, which are linked to concentration and brain function:

  • Omega 3 and 6  – fatty fish oil found in unflavoured cod liver oil, cold pressed salmon oil capsules and flaxseed oil, contain Omega 3 and 6.
  • Multivitamin and mineral supplements – assist with the metabolism of the fatty acids but must be free of synthetic colourants and flavourants. Some multivitamins include EFAs but usually not enough and so must be supplemented.  Supplements and vitamins can be expensive, however an increasing number of supermarkets and pharmacy chains are producing and selling their own brand of quality supplements and multivitamins at affordable prices.

 


References:

Improve Your Concentration. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_78.htm. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].

Patterson, B. (n.d.). How Tutors Can Help Tutees Improve their Concentration. Retrieved from: https://hawaii.hawaii.edu/node/487. [Accessed on: 20 March 2017].

Concentration: Misconceptions & Tips for Improvement

We’ve all experienced difficulty concentrating at some point or another, but when it becomes a daily struggle, it’s time to start looking at things a little closer.

Misconceptions About Concentration

There are two main misconceptions about concentration:

1. “Good” students can concentrate for hours at a time.

Not true. The average concentration span for a student reading a textbook is around 20 minutes. This means that as a student you should be aiming for a 20 – 30 minute study  / work session before taking a 5 minute break in order to refresh and refocus.

There is the misconception that long hours of sustained concentration result in high productivity. Instead studies have shown that extended time at a desk or with a textbook reduces productivity, and regular short breaks are needed to re-energize and regain focus.

2.  Some people naturally concentrate better than others. 

Again, not true. Concentration is not an instinctive ability, but rather it is a skill that can be learned and with practice student can get better at it.

Attention vs. Distractions

Attention (or concentration) and distraction are opposite ends of the same continuum. Studies show that it can take between 15 to 20 minutes for a person to regain their full attention on a task after having been distracted.

Anthony Funnell, in his article on distraction in an “attention economy” (2016), writes that there are five ways for dealing with distractions:

  1. Getting distracted isn’t the issue. You can’t avoid distraction. Rather, what matters is how you respond to the distraction. Do you get caught up in it and neglect what you were originally focused on; or do you acknowledge the distraction with the intention of addressing it only once you are done with what you are currently doing?
  2. Avoid multi-tasking. By working on a variety of tasks simultaneously, you are in fact doing each poorly than if you were focused on one at a time. Even if you are focused on a single task but you stop to check your phone every few minutes, your concentration and focus are poor, making productivity low.
  3. Don’t think of paying attention as a battle or a negative task. A negative attitude about concentration will not help in improving it. As soon as something is viewed in a negative light, it is difficult to change one’s opinion of it. The same with distractions, by asking yourself “what is important at this moment?” and bringing your attention back to the primary focus, a different type of effort is engaged compared to pushing and fighting with one’s attention and distractions.
  4. Analyse your personal online behaviour. Be aware of the instinctive need for gratification. Cell phones and social media provide us with instant gratification and so easily distract us. The reward of reading a message, swiping left or right boarders on addictive and wins over other tasks almost every time.

How to Improve Concentration

How often have you found yourself reading and re-reading the same section of a textbook, simply because your mind keeps wandering off? Below you’ll find a variety of strategies to help improve your concentration and reduce distractions.

Nutrition & Exercise
  • Drink water – It may sound odd but what many people don’t realize is dehydration causes you to feel tired, sluggish and irritable – all things that impact on your ability to concentrate. Staying hydrated is a simple way of improving your concentration.
  • Move around – Sitting at a desk for hours on end is counter-productive especially for one’s concentration. Take regular, short breaks, getting up and moving around to help refresh your mind and focus. Why not go to the kitchen to get a glass of water?
  • Eat – It’s difficult to concentrate when you’re hungry. Eating regular meals, with healthy snacks in between, can boost your ability to concentrate.
Environment

The environment in which you work or study plays a role in your ability to focus and concentrate. By creating a comfortable environment the more likely you are to remain in it and stay focused.

  • Desk and chair – Your bed and couch are associated with relaxation and leisure, they are not conducive to a focused, work orientated state of mind. Find yourself a desk (or table) and comfortable chair in a quiet, low traffic area.
  • Distractions – Shut out noise and distractions as much as possible. This may mean putting your phone on silent, switching off all apps, or even leaving it in another room. Listening to instrumental music may also be helpful – avoid listening to your favourite band and being distracted by singing along to the songs.
  • Traffic – Try not to set up your study area in a high traffic environment – somewhere where people are always walking past, stopping to talk, or where others gather to socialize, like the lounge.
Mind Set
  • Don’t multi-task – Focus on one task at a time. By changing your focus every few minutes to check your phone, send a message etc. you are lowering both your focus and productivity.
  • Prioritize – Having too much to do results in distraction which in turn causes procrastination. If you find you have a number of tasks due but you aren’t sure where to start or what to focus on, take a few minutes to draw up a To-Do List and then prioritize the tasks on that list in order of importance. You can find more information on Time Management and To-Do Lists here.
  • Switch between high and low attention tasks – After an extended period of concentration, such as working on a particularly intricate design, give your brain a break by doing something less intense for a good 10 – 15 minutes, such as filing your lecture notes, or revising your To-Do List. This allows you to recharge your energy and refresh your focus.
  • Distracting thoughts and worry – You may find that your concentration is disrupted by constant worrying or distracting thoughts – an approaching submission date, for example. One way of dealing with this is to keep a pen and notepad handy, write down what it is that is worrying or distracting you and then schedule in time to address it. This way you are no longer holding the thought in your mind, instead it is sitting on the notepad waiting to be attended to when you are ready.
  • Reward yourself – If you’ve been working steadily for 50 minutes on a single task, reward yourself with a 5 minute break, a cup of coffee, something that motivates you but won’t distract you.
  • Take short breaks – You need to refocus and re-energise at least every hour. Try dividing your work / study sessions up into hour long periods, with a 5 – 10 minute break between tasks. You should take a longer break, 20 – 30 minutes, every 2 – 3 hours.

References:

Funnell, A. (2016). How to Deal with Distraction in an “Attention Economy”. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/how-to-deal-with-distraction-in-an-attention-economy/7497196. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].

Improve Your Concentration. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_78.htm. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].

Murray, B. (2016). Distractions: Are They an Addiction? Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/blog/distractions-addiction/. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].

 

How to Be More Active

We all know that physical activity is good for us. Regular physical activity may help prevent or delay a variety of health problems from developing. Being active helps you look and feel better, now and in the future. 

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Why do you need regular physical activity?

There are a variety of physical and mental health benefits that stem from regular physical activity:

  • Improves concentration, creativity & performance.
  • Reduces stress, anxiety & frustration levels.
  • Strengthens bones & improves muscle strength & endurance
  • Reduces the risk of developing heart disease.
  • Improves blood circulation throughout the body.
  • Is a natural way of lowering blood pressure & preventing high blood pressure from developing.
  • Helps control appetite.
  • Improves digestion.
  • Helps maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Improves self-image and sense of well-being.
  • Improves mood.
  • Improves your immune system.
  • Helps you sleep better.

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

For healthy adults at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise is recommended, per day. Examples of aerobic exercise include: fast walking, jogging, cycling, dancing, sports (soccer, hockey, netball etc.), swimming – any activity that gets your heart rate up and causes you to breathe harder, but without making it impossible to speak several words in a row.

Strengthening activities are also recommended, at least twice a week – this includes activities that require you to push or pull against something (e.g. lifting weights, doing push ups and sit ups).

If you suffer from health issues, such as heart disease, high or low blood pressure, diabetes etc. it is best to consult with your doctor about the amount and types physical activity that are right for you and your condition.

How Can You Start Increasing Your Activity?

Perhaps the best place to start is by picking an activity you enjoy. It’s difficult to stay motivated if you are doing an activity you don’t like. Make a list of activities you enjoy or would like to try and alternate between them, thus staving off boredom and keeping motivated.

Next, remember to start off slowly and gradually build up time. If you are currently inactive, the thought of doing 30 minutes of exercises can be daunting. Start off with 10 minutes of sustained activity, five days a week. After a few weeks, add 5 – 10 minutes until you are able to comfortably sustain 30 minutes of activity.

Finally, set yourself some goals. Start with short-term goals, such as: walking 30 minutes a day, three times a week. With time and increased endurance you can set new goals, such as taking part in 5 km or 10 km walks and fun runs.

Overcoming Obstacles

Below are some tips for overcoming obstacles and blocks to your new exercise programme:

  • If you find it difficult to do 30 minutes of sustained exercise in one go, break it up into 10 minute bursts spread through the day.
  • Add a 10 or 15 minute walk to your daily routine – take a walk around the block during your lunch break, take a walk with your family after dinner.
  • Get a friend or family member to join you. Getting someone to exercise with you makes it more fun, you get to spend quality time together and you can motivate each other to stay on track.
  • You don’t need to join an expensive gym to get active. Use YouTube exercise videos or choose an activity you don’t need special or expensive gear for – walking, you need a good pair of shoes; dancing, you need some music.


References:

Tips to Help You Get Active. (2009). Retrieved from:  https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/tips-help-get-active/Documents/tipsactive.pdf. [Accessed on: 28 February 2017].

Why Move More? (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.eatsmartmovemorenc.com/MotivationalPosters/Texts/MM_Poster6.pdf. [Accessed on: 01 March 2017].

 

Marijuana: Dependence and Addiction

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Physical Dependence vs. Addiction:

Physical dependence refers to when a drug user’s body normalizes / gets used to the presence of the drug; thus the user only “functions normally” when the drug is used and present in the body. Physical dependence is common with the chronic / prolonged use of marijuana. Withdrawal symptoms (physical symptoms when the dosage of a drug is seriously lowered or abruptly interrupted) can be experienced by those who are physically dependent on marijuana.

Addiction refers to behaviours which meet the criteria for substance dependence as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  The addict’s mind does not accept abstinence (non-use) from the drug of choice and consciously forces the user to get more of the drug or even to increase the usage and amount of the drug so as to intensify the effect. Addictive behaviour is characterised by a pre-occupation, compulsive need to use a drug. Addiction is psychological in nature whereas physical dependence is a condition which can be overcome following a period of withdrawal.

Physical Dependence and Addiction to Marijuana:

Clinical evidence shows that marijuana withdrawal symptoms manifest following a period of dependency and that marijuana users qualify for diagnostic criteria of addiction.

Many find it hard to equate marijuana with addiction especially with its increasing use as a medicinal and recreational drug. However, the following is a list of the most common physical signs of marijuana dependence and addiction:

  • aggression
  • anger
  • anxiety
  • craving
  • depression
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty falling asleep
  • difficulty sleeping
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • mood changes
  • raise in temperature
  • restlessness
  • sweating

Exposure to marijuana has physical, biological, mental, behavioural and social consequences. The decision whether or not to use marijuana will always be a personal one. 

Please refer to the Policies page of this blog for BMH’s Student Policy on the Possession, Use and Distribution of Illicit Substances (including marijuana).


Adapted from: 

Physical Addiction to Marijuana – Addictionblog.org and Dependence on Marijuana – Addictionblog.org