How to get laser-sharp mental focus
No, it’s not just you, many of us are sleeping less and less these days. It seems to be a symptom of the busy busy, information-rich, multitasking environment we live in. It’s almost as though with so much going on through the day, never mind turning off our devices, it’s difficult to switch ourselves off!
And so what happens when we attempt to revise for our next exam? Hmmm… not going to be easy to knuckle down, is it?
You do know, don’t you – there is no such thing as multitasking? We’ve perpetuated a myth that women are better at it than men, and perhaps it’s true that some women seem to be able to cope with more going on at once. But, the truth is, according to the neuroscientists and their fancy machines, (some) women are quicker at switching from one activity to the next and the next and back again to the beginning, creating the illusion of multi-tasking.
But it comes at a cost.
Research by London University shows that multitasking lowers your IQ! Not a terribly useful starting point if you are trying to revise for an exam!
Also, there seems to be some link between flipping backwards and forwards across several tasks and brain damage! Admittedly, which comes first, the brain damage or the flipping, isn’t known, but perhaps trying to do too much at once isn’t good for us after all. And why should it be? Physiologically, we’re the same as we were 10,000 years ago when we lived in caves.
We wouldn’t expect our ancestors to have been equipped to cope with our 21st-century life, so should we be surprised if it turns out that neither are we?
So how do you avoid spreading yourself too thinly?
- Spend a few moments at the beginning of the day, planning what jobs you will get done, come hell or high water. And picture yourself getting them done. This sends a powerful message to the unconscious mind, which otherwise would rather you were comfortable, if unproductive!
- Throughout the day, practice focusing your attention on the activity that you’re doing right now. Some people call it ‘mindfulness’. It can be anything, even, for example, the washing up! But by focusing on what you’re doing, instead of allowing yourself to daydream, or worse, worry about something else, you are practising focusing.
- Clean up your study environment. Move everything that is not needed for your revision session. Clear the decks of all that other stuff that will act as a distraction and bug the heck out of you. Disappear it!
- Make a list of what you could be doing right now, and deliberately choose one thing from the list. If it is revising for your exam, then decide how long you have got for this activity and put everything else on the list to one side for the duration.
- Turn off the TV, the phone and anything else that may interrupt you. Tell the rest of the family you’re not available until after your study session.
- Remind yourself why you’re doing it in the first place. Focus on what you will have and what you’ll be able to do as a result of passing this exam, and what difference it will make to you.
- Get into the ideal learning state and let your unconscious mind know that this time is for studying and nothing else. You might want to take a few deep, calming breaths to help you relax and focus.
- Whether it’s general stuff that needs doing at work or at home, or information you need to learn, recognise the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’. Make sure you start with the urgent stuff! Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But many of us fall into the trap of trying to do everything at once, and of course you can’t. So prioritise, prioritise, prioritise.
- Make sure you’re doing everything else you can to support your brain. Eat right. Get some exercise. Make sure you get plenty of good quality sleep. All of these things have been proven time and time again to make a massive difference to your IQ and your ability to focus, not to mention how much you remember for the exam.