The ability to focus on demand is the holy grail for success in life. Both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates attribute the ability to focus for the stupendous successes they have enjoyed. Nowhere else is the power of attention so directly observable than the examination setting. Students must consume vast amounts of content from the syllabus and spend hours in deep focus on a regular basis.
But there is one walk of life where attention is bread-and-butter- meditation or spiritual practice where monks sit in singular focus for hours, weeks and sometimes year on end. What can you learn from them?
And what insights do the Cognitive Sciences reveal about Attention and deep focus which you can tap into?
Luckily, a lot.
Ground Rules for achieving Deep Focus while Studying
When you think you are multi-tasking, you are just rapidly switching your attention between one activity in the other.
Research from Psychology has revealed that Multi-tasking is impossible. Therefore, you must have One and only one task in front you before you can expect to enter deep-focus. Do this by ruthless elimination and force yourself to boil down your goal into ONE micro-goal for the next hour or two.
Carve out separate time for Planning
Planning and Strategizing uses a completely different set of mental functions than reading text or studying about a topic. You should have clarity about which is your target for the study session. This means both planning and content-consumption are important and need separate sessions.
But make sure to maintain 1-2 hours/week dedicated to planning.
Focus is a function of Mind + Body
Focus is dependent on a calm body as much as it is , a calm mind. It is nearly impossible to do deep focus during sickness, dullness or over-excitation – which are all physiological states.
Deep focus is found in the sweet spot of Optimal arousal where your heart-beat is stable and the body is free from coarse discomfort.
Optimal Exercise for Brain health
Exercising for building a physique or losing weight is very different from exercising for optimal brain performance for studying. A combination of HIIT , Cardio and Weight training is ideal for neuro-genesis.
Optimal Brain Exercise Protocol (OBEP) for Students
- Exercise 5-6 hours a week
- A combination of HIIT , Cardio and Weight training is ideal
- Cardio= Running, Brisk-walking, swimming, treadmill
- Weight-training= Using Kettlebell or Dumbbells or Barbells. See home workouts here
- HIIT= High-Intensity Interval Training. See Tabata workouts here
- Increase or decrease the intensity of your work-outs according to your fitness level.
- Do not exceed 70% of your maximum capacity.
Get Deep Sleep
Sleep is essential to brain health to the extent that sleep-deprived brains actually shrink in size and efficiency. The optimal amount of sleep is roughly 6-8 hours/night punctuated with a 30-40 min nap during the day.
Sleep Quality Enhancement Protocol (SQEP)
Calibrate your Set and Setting
Your relationship to your study environment matters because our moods, memories and states of mind are to some extent, cue-dependent. This is why you should plant triggers and cues which remind you of your goals and commitments in and around your study area. Needless to say. you should keep your study area clean and organized because your mind will subconsciously capture the signals of disarray and confusion from your study area.
Your brain adjusts it’s expectations according to your environment so create a special, welcoming and warm place for you study. Make sure to do nothing else in your study area but study.
Don’t try too hard
Attention-control is a very subtle and tricky affair which usually requires some training. The best training protocols for attention are the ones developed by meditation masters over the years. Tibetan Buddhist techniques are specially powerful in this regard. The difficulty lies in the fickle nature of the mind which resists stability.
Most times, you will either find yourself in dullness and sleep or in a state of over-excitation and anxiety.
Calm, deep focus exists in the sweet spot between the two and to be able to find it and enter into it, is the ultimate meta-hack of mind-training.
Some powerful attention training protocols are-
SECRET SHORT CUTS TO DEEP FOCUS FOR STUDYING
Biofeedback is using the sensations of the body and becoming aware of it and using the signals to change the state of mind. You can do so by becoming mind-full of the body and it’s sensations by scanning the body. Alternatively, you can use this meditation for body scanning before studying.
A useful system of vibrations and acoustics based on research is Hemi-sync meditation.
A binaural beat is an illusion created by the brain when you listen to two tones with slightly different frequencies at the same time.
Your brain interprets the two tones as a beat of its own. The two tones align with your brain waves to produce a beat with a different frequency. This frequency is the difference in hertz (Hz) between the frequencies of the two tones.
Set Your Intentions
It is very important to prime the brain and to command it to do what you need it to do. This is done by self-suggestions or in other words, stating your intentions clearly. State the purpose and intention of your studying session clearly and unambiguously to yourself. Hope and wish for an excellent quality of learning while you do so.
When the suggestion is repeated, it is most likely to be accepted by the mind. There is much to be said about hypnosis and Neuro-linguistic programming which promises drastic results. But all depend on the one central idea of issuing a deliberate, conscious command to the brain.
Guided Meditation before Studying
The synthesis of all the above techniques methods, and insights have been compiled in my guided meditation for students which you will find in this video-
If you use even some of the techniques mentioned above and possess the will to carry it through, you will see noticeable enhancements in your focus and attention within a few weeks. I hope you make the most our of it.
-Ravi Kapoor, IRS