This post is inspired by an email from a reader. The reader mentioned that he found it very difficult to concentrate. He felt his mind was ‘random and is in utter chaos’.
Firstly, you are not alone; generally it is the nature of the mind to be unruly. However, it is possible to slowly and steadily improve your concentration. Do not expect instant results, and do not get despondent if it is more difficult than you would like. Perseverance is important. These are some tips:
Some Places are more conducive to concentration.
Some students have great difficulty working in certain environment’s yet, when they are placed under timed conditions in an exam hall they often find concentration much easier. If you are getting distracted in one place, trying working somewhere else. Generally, the less distractions the better.
With any form of concentration it is important to concentrate on only one thing at a time. If you are working, but half your attention is elsewhere, you will always struggle to maintain good concentration. Set aside time for work and focus only on that and nothing else. You need to make a conscious decision to concentrate on your work. If you just drift into work, with a relaxed care free attitude you will probably start thinking about other things. If you sit an exam, feel that nothing else exists or matters apart from doing the exam.
Don’t Allow Thoughts to take you away.
This is the key to concentration – don’t allow your mind to distract you with random thoughts. When unrelated thoughts appear in the mind, pay no attention to them and try to immediately switch off. Even if thoughts keep coming, you must distance yourself and detach from them. It is important not to get mad with yourself or frustrated if thoughts are persistent. If you persevere in rejecting useless and unhelpful thoughts, there will come a time when they stop bothering you. It is important never to give up in your attempt to control your thoughts – it is possible.
Understand What You are trying to Do.
Concentration is particularly difficult if you have uncertainties about what you are doing or if you find the task perplexing. When work is difficult, the mind looks for easier things to do. If this is the case try to get a general overview – try simplifying it so you understand the basic concepts and framework. If you can conceptualise the whole project in question, it is easier to concentrate on the small details. When I was studying for an Economics degree at Oxford University, the most useful book was always my high school revision notes. Understand the essentials and then work on the complexities; this made work and therefore concentration easier.
Regular readers of this blog will know I believe in the benefits of meditation. I began meditating in my final year of university (8 years ago), and I felt it definitely helped. One thing I noticed was that I would work with great concentration for 5 hours a day; my friends would often work for 10-12 hours but still felt they hadn’t done enough work. Meditation is not a miracle cure; but, if you can practice sincerely and learn to control the mind you will notice a difference.
Slow but Steady Progress
If you feel you are hopeless at concentration, try to make small improvements every week. If you get distracted for 50% of the time, make a conscious effort to get distracted for less time each week. Even if you make small improvements you will feel a sense of progress. Like anything else concentration is something that will improve through practise. The other option is to try and concentrate 100% for say just 10 minutes; then try to increase this time period each time you practise.
The reader also asked a question about Meditation Music. I think the right music can be of help in quietening the mind.
Here is some meditation music compiled at Radio Sri Chinmoy – Music for Meditation
Photo by: Jowan Gauthier, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries