Staying up to date with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and everything else means it’s hard not to look at your phone every five minutes, but all of this has made us less efficient. Microsoft released a study last year showing that people generally stop concentrating after about eight seconds. That’s one second less than a goldfish can focus for, and this short attention span has been attributed to our digital lifestyle.
With exam season coming up, Young Post asked Angie Bucu, a certified mindfulness instructor and the owner of Ingredients of Wellness, which specialises in teaching mindfulness to young people, for some tips on staying focused.
Bucu suggests paying attention to the present. There’s no easy way to say this; but the first step is putting your digital devices away. It doesn’t need to be a permanent break; just putting them away for a certain amount of time every day while you work can keep you focused. It’s not enough to put it in your pocket, though, where a buzz or a beep will still distract you, you need to put it in another room, or switch it off so that you won’t be tempted. Even if you do this for 30 minutes a day to begin with, it will help.
Being mindful is all about small, simple steps, so it’s easy to incorporate some mindful habits into your daily routine. When you’re brushing your teeth, do nothing but brush your teeth. Don’t think about the day ahead, or the fight you had with mum last night, simply enjoy brushing your teeth. When you walk to school, feel your feet as they touch the ground. Take note of how your backpack feels on your body, and how that makes your body feel. Simply notice these feelings.
Exercise is another great way to be mindful, and you should exercise as often as you can. That includes dancing and walking. Just focus on the movements, your physical body and how the exercise is affecting you.
Making sure that you get enough sleep is important, too, and if you find it difficult to drift off, listen to some guided meditations specifically designed to help you get to sleep.
Do a random act of kindness. Thinking about others, and their needs, is a great way to train your mind. That could mean volunteering, where you devote yourself completely to someone else for a short period of time. You’ll find that by doing nice things for other people, you’ll be rewarded yourself, with a good sense of mental well being.
Bucu also suggests keeping a gratitude journal and writing three things from the day that you are grateful for. Again, this doesn’t need to be done every day, a few times a week is enough. It will help you forget your worries and focus on the good things in your life.
Spend time in nature without your headphones and without music. Listen to the birds, and pay attention to the way the ground feels beneath your feet. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for dinner, or the amount of homework you have to do. Simply enjoy being in nature.
Bucu's final words of advice are that wherever your intention goes, your attention follows. So just think about being mindful and you're sure to be more focused!
Mindfulness on the go
When you are struggling to focus on your homework or when you're distracted and need an instant burst of concentration, Bucu suggests practising this short mindfulness routine:
- Pause / stop
- Breathe in and out slowly
- Notice what is happening in your inner world (what you are thinking) and your outer world (what’s happening around you)
- Take note of it all and acknowledge that this is enough
- Move your awareness to your breathing again
- Put your attention where you need it to be