Many students ask me on my articles on study motivation and smart studying tips what they can do to increase their study focus. In fact, I have received more than 500 comments on these articles. In almost all cases, students reported that they felt distracted and unable to properly concentrate on studying. They all were looking for a working solution that could help them to better focus on studying. Whenever I get such a comment, I take myself the time to answer it. Over time, I answered hundreds of questions from students who had different kinds of difficulties with their concentration. In some cases, the problems were relatively easy to approach, in other cases it was more difficult. Answering these questions has become a second nature to me. It helped me to develop an approach that helps students to effectively concentrate on studying. With every question, I answered the approach became a little bit more holistic and a little bit more effective.
As I’m still getting many comments on this issue I decided to finally write an article about this common problem, as it really needs to be addressed.
Stay Focused When Studying
Let’s jump right into the subject matter with the following question: what do highly focused people do differently than others? And how are they able to establish an extremely high level of concentration? Let’s try to answer these questions in the following. Find out now how to dramatically improve your focus and concentration with the following holistic approach.
The following hints and tips are extremely effective and will deliver quick results. However, it is absolutely necessary that you follow these tips with great determination.
The right study environment
If you want to improve your study focus you will have to take some radical measures. One of them is that you make certain changes in the environment you study in. For this purpose, let’s have a quick look at your study environment.
In general, there should be nothing—absolutely nothing—in your environment that distracts you from studying. Ideally, you study in a silent environment without anything that drives your attention away from studying. You should purposefully create a study environment that is so boring that you have no other option than studying.
The best scenario is an empty room with a table, a stool, and your study materials. Anything else will distract you. In such a boring environment studying will seem like an entertaining thing to do, after some hours of being there. Trust me on this.
Some students visit the nearest library for this purpose. This is of course not necessary if you have your own zero distraction zone.
Things to lock away while studying
Lock away the remote control of your TV, your computer, smart phone, MP3 player and anything else that distracts you. Make sure that you have no access to these kinds of distractions while you study.
The ability to concentrate and to properly focus largely depends on your ability to block out distractions. If you are highly distracted, your concentration level will decrease.
Many students use music to block out noise or to simply create a comfortable and relaxing environment for studying. The key here is to choose the right kind of music that aids you in concentrating on your study materials. Certain types of music will dramatically improve your study focus, while others harm your concentration.
Try to avoid music with vocals, as it engages your brain in processing the language, which in turn will reduce your level of attention. Feel free to have a look at more than thousand studying music playlists at 8tracks.com.
The following music genres are excellent for studying:
Eliminate internal distractions
Let us assume now that you have created a distraction-free environment where you can study without being interrupted. The second problem most students face is that their thoughts start drifting away while studying. The following is intended to help you maintain a higher level of study concentration and to avoid mental wandering.
If a student asked me to reveal the most effective method to boost concentration, my answer would only require one word: meditation. Unfortunately, no student likes this suggestion. It is rather ignored because it’s not cool. But if you really want to bring your ability to focus to the next level, meditation is a must. It is one of the most effective things you can do to increase your study focus. Would you really want to ignore the most powerful tool you can use to improve concentration?
By means of meditation, you train your mind’s ability to concentrate on only one thing. This kind of concentration is exactly what you need while studying or reading through your study material.
You can make use of two different types of meditation in order to increase your focusing skills.
The first approach consists of a short meditative session before you start studying. Such a session helps you to calm your mind and to get rid of distractive thoughts. Just take yourself a couple of minutes before each study session, close your eyes and try to eliminate every thought. This isn’t easy, but with practice, you will quickly see astonishing results.
The second approach is designed to improve your concentration skills in general by means of meditation. You can practice this approach daily, for instance, half an hour before going to bed. Meditation requires practice, but with dedication, you will be able to quickly improve your study focus.
Feel free to have a look at this meditation 101 to learn more about meditation and its benefits.
Start studying and stick to it
At this point, there are no longer distractions in your environment and your mind should be relatively calm. The next major issue is that you will have to motivate yourself to start studying. Most students know that this is a major obstacle. Whenever you are confronted with it, try not to think about the issue itself. Instead, try to force yourself to pick up your study material. Sit down and do it.
Once you have overcome this obstacle you will be confronted with another one, which is the difficulty to continue studying. This issue will be addressed in the next point.
Train your willpower on the go
There are two major problems students face when it comes to studying: no motivation to start studying and a lack of willpower to continue studying. This lack of willpower causes the mind to invite distractions, which in turn will decrease your ability to focus. If your mind is not strong enough to continue studying it will wander around looking for excuses to quit studying. Every other activity will seem a lot more exciting than studying does. You begin to daydream and your concentration is gone.
What is necessary to overcome this problem is a good portion of willpower—the mental strength to keep yourself going. This willpower, however, needs to be developed. Studying is an excellent opportunity to train this kind of mental strength.
While studying, you will notice all kinds of distractive thoughts that try to pull you away from your tasks. Whenever such a thought starts to appear, try to become aware of its distractive nature, process it and then let it go. Do not allow this thought to invade your mind. Do not think this thought through. Instead, allow it to pass by.
Right at the particular moment, you have identified such a distraction, redirect your point of concentration back to your study material. Make it a mental habit to first ignore distractions and then to intensify your focus.
The ABC & spider technique (for insane focus)
Your mind is susceptible to distractions because it could be an alert of a potential threat that requires your attention. What was once vital for your survival has now turned into a huge problem for students. Fortunately, there are two incredibly effective techniques that allow you to prevent distractions from hijacking your attention.
The first technique is called the ABC technique. It utilizes your brain’s capability to classify a distraction as non-threatening. The abbreviation ABC stands for “awareness,” “breathing” and “choosing.” The technique helps you to become aware of a distraction. In this stage, you pause your activities for a split second in order to recognize and process the distraction. The second stage you take a deep breath to reflect the options you have. The third stage consists of choosing to either respond to distraction or to simply dismiss it without it being allowed to disrupt your workflow.
The second technique is called the spider method. It is a simple but effective strategy to recognize false alerts, which was conceptualized from the behavior of spiders. Have you ever held a small branch into a spider’s web? You will notice that the spider responds immediately to see what is caught in its web. If you do it several times, however, the spider starts to recognize the false alert and does no longer respond to it.
You can learn this skill, too. All you need to do is to train your ability not to give in to distractions. Do not allow these distractions to engage your mind. Instead, maintain your focus.
Another neat concentration trick
Many students face the problem that their mind starts drifting away while studying. I was once confronted with a particularly challenging situation of a student who was absolutely not able to avoid this kind of mental wandering. For this student, I developed a method to help him increase his ability to focus and concentrate.
One simple but effective trick you can use to maintain the proper focus is the index card trick. Just take a note or index card and write with big letters the words “focused and concentrated?” on it. The card is used in this technique as a quick reminder to help you maintain concentration. It is also used as an anchor. It trains your mind to constantly question its mental activity. This is exactly the skill you need to maintain a high level of concentration. The following procedure needs to be repeated again and again until a mental habit has formed.
Every time you study place the card somewhere close by so that it is within your range of motion. You could place it for example on a page of the opened book that you are reading. Or, use the card as a reading aid that you drag slightly down as you continue reading. Whatever you do, try to stay constantly in contact with your card, which is there to remind you of your task.
Make it a mental habit of looking at the card every five minutes or after finishing a paragraph. When you look at the card, ask yourself if you are still concentrated and focused. If this is the case, continue studying.
Doing so allows you to create the mental habit of questioning what your mind does. It will allow you to break the negative habit that leads you to lose the threat along the lines.
After a while, you will no longer need the card. Your mind will now automatically check if your concentration level is high enough. A new habit has formed.
But why does this technique work so effectively? By doing repeated “concentration checks” you establish many little focus points on your study path. Previously to this, you were walking on the path until you zoned out, leading to a drastic decrease of concentration. However, with the aid of these focus points, you can avoid falling into an unfocused mental state. By using the cards you will continuously check your focus which allows you to maintain it at a high level.
A common pitfall for me and many others is failing to update our current focal point. […] To focus, you must know your current task in each moment. When you no longer have a specific task to carry out, you will lose focus.
Stay focused on eating the right things
Many students overlook the important influence that nutrition plays on their ability to focus. Hunger and dehydration can significantly reduce your concentration skills. This does not only make all your efforts to focus redundant, but it also wastes important study time. Try to improve your focus by choosing the right things to eat and drink.
The first step to improving your ability to concentrate through nutrition is to maintain a proper level of hydration. Make sure that you have always something to drink at hand, preferably clean and fresh water.
Try to avoid the following beverages at all costs:
- Fruit juices
- Energy drinks
- Sugared coffee
The second step to improve your ability to focus is to integrate light and healthy meals into your nutrition. You can also add fruits, veggies and especially nuts. Try to avoid the following foods at any costs:
- Foods heavy in sugar
- Foods heavy in carbohydrate
In general, you should try to avoid overeating as this will also decrease your attention.
Take regular breaks
Regular breaks are essential to maintaining a high level of concentration. Make sure to take enough breaks as it allows your brain to recharge.
Most of us can only intensely focus on something for an hour at best. Take at least a few-minute break every 30 or 60 minutes to clear your head. […] Find a fun way to get you free and clear. Take a walk, meditate, […] get a snack or some water or listen to an inspiring song.
That is it. Feel free to comment if you have any further questions and I will try to get back at you as soon as possible.