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How to Focus and Master Distractions


How to focus and master distractions. In this lesson I'm gonna give you some tips on how you can set yourself up for some of those more in-depth focus sessions you're gonna need to do while you study for the ACT. Because even though many sessions are really, really helpful, so like listening to some videos on your phone in between activities or doing some flashcards.

That's really valuable but you will have those times where you need to just put aside dedicated time to do practice tests or timed sections. And I know it can be hard both to kind of find the space and the time, and then also just to keep your mind focused. Specifically, we'll be looking at how to set up your space. I'll go into a little more detail on how you might eliminate distractions, and then talk more about how do you keep your concentration once you are in a focus space?

And then we'll end by talking about motivation. But first let's talk a little bit about why it is so difficult to focus in the first place? And part of that is just the human condition, from an evolution point view, our brains and our bodies have been set up to seek stimuli. We wanna be entertained, we're always thinking about the future, we want to move.

People have always been interested in what is going on outside of me? And then from a neurological point of view, about 10 to 15% of the population has even added difficulties in this regard. People who have diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, there other kinds of cognitive processing patterns that make it hard for specific individuals to focus. And then from a cultural point of view, sociologists, anthropologists, talk a lot about how we are in a culture that can be called a rapid-fire society.

Meaning we're bombarded with things. We are on fast forward motion all the time, a frenetic pace. We are kind of in a situation where most of the time we have to multi-task, it's our environment. We're doing multiple things as once. We're trying to eliminate obstacles, we're trying to get to the destination.

And none of that is conducive to focusing, it's very adaptive to our modern world. And so really, if you're having problems with focusing, you should congratulate yourself on being adaptable. But it doesn't help when we're trying to do this really focused type of work. First I recommend that you schedule study time before or after an ongoing activity. I'm always helping students set up schedules, but then what happens is they forget to follow them.

What I found works really well for a lot of student, is to just kind of tack on study sessions to places where you already have recurring events. And so, say you go to school, then you have some kind of a practice, maybe. If it's sports, maybe you come home take a shower, and then you have a little break between that and dinner. So that's a natural gap in your schedule that's already kind of structured for you.

Another might be, maybe on the weekend, if you do some kind of part-time job right after that or right before that. Try and find the places in your schedule, they are already structured for you. You want to face a wall or a window? And so I say a wall, but it could also be a window if you have kind of like a pleasant scene outside.

Just looking at something green can actually be really calming to our nervous system and can help improve concentration. So if you're near a window with green trees, or something like that, being by a window might be even better than facing a wall. And then clear your work space. In this all you have to do, you can just take it off make a pile on the floor next to you.

Just for that period of time, you don't want anything competing for your space and for your attention. And then find your ideal rhythm. Cognitive psychologist and educational specialist have said for a long time that, to do 50 minutes of focused work at a time, and then take a 10 minute break, is the ideal rhythm for most people.

That's when our focus is at peak sharpness for those 50 minutes. And then a 10-minute break is long enough for us to kind of get up and stretch and move our bodies and get a snack and feel rested. You wanna make sure that you're not looking at a screen during those 10 minutes. However, even though this is best for most people, I find a lot of students I work with do have ADD or ADHD.

And many of them do better with 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off. The longest study session I would recommend would be 90 minutes on, 30 minutes off. And that would be for people who just really focus well and maybe even forget to take the breaks. Also, the way the ACT is set up is that your breaks could be naturally scheduled around length of time of an exam section.

So that might be 35 minutes for instance, if your looking at science or reading. And so that's kind of nice, because it's already built in, but make sure to take those breaks. Setting up your space is going to eliminate some of the distractions just automatically for you. But there are a couple other things you might consider doing.

For instance, remove your phone. Get it out of your room unless of course you're using it as your primary tool to do the Magoosh lessons or to answer questions. Otherwise, I say put it in another room and if you don't have one, download an app that produces automatic text replies. And so that way if somebody does try and contact you during this period of time, they'll get a note and they'll know when you'll be available again.

I like to use a different browser for my work and studies than I do for anything communication oriented. So I use Chrome for things like Facebook, email, YouTube, shopping online, Amazon, all that stuff, and then I use Firefox just for work related stuff. And I make sure that I never use Firefox to log in to an email account, because then it's there in its memory and it's just too easy to click on.

So you might experiment with that. And then a really valuable tool, it has been for me. It's to keep a note pad nearby and dump intruding thoughts. So while you're trying to study, if something distracts you, like I wonder what's playing at the movies this weekend? Or I wonder what's going on with Ethan, I haven't heard from him recently, or anything at all.

And if you can just jot down one or two words to kind of capture what that train of thought is and just remind yourself you'll get back to it later. So what about improving concentration? I know some students actually don't have difficulties at all getting set up. They set up ideally, they are really organized, they've got the ideal schedule, they're space is clear.

But when it comes to actually trying to concentrate on the material, their thoughts wonder, or their thoughts just kinda go blank. They find themselves reading the same paragraph over and over again. So a couple tips you might use here. Taking notes or doodling, the big benefit of taking notes often is not because you gonna go back and read the notes.

In some classes you need to, a lot of times you never do. The main benefit is it focuses you as you're listening. And also it's just a lot less boring. When you're doing something, when you're kind of making a little bit more of a challenge. It's so much better, entertain yourself with different colored pencils, different colored pens, just kind of add that a little bit of extra stimuli in there.

And they have found that doodling actually does increase retention for a lot of people. By doodling I don't mean really complex drawings, but just moving your hands, having something to look at, having a little bit of movement. Breathe in from your belly. If you breathe from the top part of your chest what you find over time is that you actually start to get a little bit hyper.

If you breathe from your belly it's gonna kind of calm you down and center you and you won't be quite so antsy, won't be quite so on edge. Both Kristen and I highly recommend that you read aloud for both the English and the reading sections. And you obviously can't do this during the actual exam. But it just keeps you focused, consumes more of you, and so all of you is focused on one thing.

And then I also recommend that you write large when you're solving math problems. A lot of students get, their numbers start to get microscopic. They start to get really squished together, and over time that's a real strain. It's a strain on your eyes, mentally, it kind of creates a constrictive feel psychologically and cognitively.

And so by opening up a little bit, making your numbers or letters bigger, that can improve focus also. Last, let's talk about maintaining motivation. And the most important thing of all here is that you want to constantly know, what is your why. Why are you doing this?

The more you can remind yourself what the purpose is, what the long term reward is, the better. And so whether that's kinda some sort of visual picture that you conjure up about your future, or it's just kinda imagining what it might be like to get your score. But I find in particular, thinking about college, thinking about your future, that's motivating.

I found college to be an amazing, really, really fun time. And so the more you can think about that, even some of the social things, that might happen at college, your ACT scores are related to that. Not just get you into a score, not just get you a score. They are going to shape those four years of your life in really monumental ways. And I did put together some sheets and I'll show you.

This one I call the Simple Focus ACT Study Sheet. And so for this one what I recommend, if you decide this looks like something that could be useful for you, is you just print this out and then tape it on your wall. And so you don't need to write anything down. You can just kinda look and mentally go, yeah, check, did that, did that. Did you eliminate the distractions?

Do you have your supplies with you? Are you pumped about your top three motivations for crushing ACT? I've also made a version for people who wanna track each and every time they sit down to study. You would actually want to print out more than one copy, so you can fill it out for each session.

And I also recommend, kind of on a similar level, of actually counting and keeping track of how much time you put into study. And practice tests do count, by the way, towards your studying. I've also made a blank graph so you can chart your progress over time, and this is kind of how it would work. So at the end of each week, you would just put a data point down for how many hours you studied that week.

And then also another data point for how many hours you are at total, and then you can just kinda see your progress. And we know from lots of psychology studies that just seeing any visual representation of how much work you've done is motivating. I hope some of these skills, some of these techniques are gonna help you out and we're always interested to her your experience too.

So if you have other tips that have worked for you and you think they might be useful for other students to hear, you can let us know. And I am wishing you the best in your studies.

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