My attention span, or rather lack of it, is a long running joke amongst my friends.
It’s true, I am easily distracted, and it’s difficult to stay still ‘mentally’ sometimes. If that makes sense? “Claire’s bored!” Somebody shouts. This would snap me back into reality, while I try and figure out what I’d missed. It was (and still is) always said with love, but the underlying issue is true. CONCENTRATING IS FREAKING HARD!
I’ve lost count of how many times teachers told me off for day dreaming. It’s weird, I never actually remember starting the daydream, but they’re so intoxicating. Sometimes in assembly I’d look up at the beams on the ceiling, how much fun would it be to swing on those? (Providing there were huge trampolines underneath). Suddenly, half an hour has passed and we’re leaving the hall.
At school I’d also freeze whenever somebody asked me a question. Afterwards, the answer was obvious, but I could never get my brain to focus in that moment.
I used to think it was just ‘one of those things’, but as an adult I can spot the signs. Oh, hiiiiiiiiiii anxiety. (9/10 times it’s you). It makes perfect sense when you think about it, if my brain is screaming that everyone secretly hates me, then I’m hardly likely to focus on that maths question.
Day dreaming was my unknowing way of dealing with anxiety. If I felt uncomfortable or bored in a lesson then away we go!
It can be difficult to get my subconscious brain to shut the f**k up at the best of times. Even when I’m happy it’ll tempt me with a “will you be this happy in a year” montage. (Hence the day dreaming). So, when I’m stressed there’s no chance. For a while at least.
I recently decided to look into this once more. Rather than simply accepting that I have the attention span of a child after too many smarties, maybe I could do something? After all, most things in life come with practice. You’d hardly be expected to run a marathon without training. Even reading is a skill. Think about, in terms of ease… TV or book, TV or book? Most of the time the TV wins because reading is that bit harder.
It turns out that I’m right. Concentration is a skill that can be improved. As usual it’s not easy, but it can be done.
Top concentration tips for the anxious person
- Practice being ‘present’ – sounds naff, but when you have a minute to yourself try this. Take some deep breathes straight from your stomach. Check out this video for tips on belly breathing.
How do you feel today, both physically and emotionally? Let everything go and allow yourself to feel exactly how you want to. Can you identify parts of the body that are uncomfortable? What about the comfortable parts? Feel your feet on the floor, pressing into the ground.
Do this for sixty seconds initially and see if you can work up to five minutes. If your thoughts are prone to wondering, then try dictating what you’re doing out loud. “I am scanning my body for pain. I am feeling my feet on the floor.”
- Shelve it – If you feel distracted/worried about an upcoming or past event, then shelve it. That’s right. Take a piece of paper, write down what it is that’s bothering you and mentally agree a time to look at it later. For example, if I’m stressed about a deadline I will write it down and say to myself; “At exactly 4pm I will devote all of my attention to this problem.” Then push it aside and be present.
This sort of designated scheduling can really help.
- Memory exercise – Memory games are really good at training the brain. It’s important to keep it active.
E.g. Look at a page in a magazine, any magazine, study it for thirty seconds. Now turn it away and see how much you can remember. Say it out loud or write it down. Memory requires a certain amount of concentration and this exercise will keep you present.
This website is really useful and good fun too!
- Walking – When my brain feels sluggish no amount of criticism, coffee or a smack across the face will wake it up. It’s hard to concentrate when your brain is tired. Fresh air is a great way to.. well freshen up the brain! If you’re in the office, just nip out for a coffee, (you don’t have to actually buy a coffee). Or a walk around the block will do it. You’d be surprised at how stimulating this is.
- Five minute rule – If you catch yourself being tempted by a daydream, and it isn’t appropriate to dive in, then tell yourself mentally that if you’re still struggling in five minutes time then you can submit. It’s only five minutes. Until then be present. Cross or uncross your legs, ask a question or try and relate to what is being said.
This is a tricky one, but five minutes is doable.
All the usual stuff too. Eat well, get enough sleep and drink plenty of water. (Boring as Hell, but still true).