Lesson 14: Eliminating Internal Distractions
As the name suggests, internal distractions come from inside yourself. They stem from your own thoughts and emotions.
Here are some strategies to avoid or eliminate them:
Have a pre-study routine.
Focus is the absence of distraction. So, even before you start your study session, your brain needs to be focused. You can’t begin a study session efficiently if your thoughts are scattered all over your mind. So, before you study, do whatever you need to do to focus your brain on the task ahead. This will vary from student to student, so you need to know what helps your mind focus. Possible exercises include a short breathing session, meditation, a quick workout, listening to music or a combination of these. Besides, make sure you’ve eaten well before sitting at your desk. You don’t want to be disturbed by those hunger pangs, do you? Make sure you’ve gone to the toilet before starting the session too.
Take Regular Breaks.
It’s hard to maintain focus for a very long period of time because it requires a lot of effort. So, you need to take short breaks to let your mind cool down so you can get back to your level of focus again.
A good idea is to break your study sessions into smaller chunks.
One popular strategy you could use is the Pomodoro technique, invented by Francesco Cirillo. This involves dividing each of your study sessions into four 25-minutes mini sessions (called pomodoros). At the beginning of each pomodoro, you make a promise to yourself that you will study with all your focus for the next 25 minutes. Easy enough, right? It’s not hard to maintain full attention for 25 minutes. At the end of each 25 minutes, take a short 5-minutes break from studying. Do whatever you feel like doing, except studying. Then, start the next mini session with the same promise to yourself. Once you’ve completed four such mini sessions, take a longer break (at least 20 minutes) to refresh your mind. You can modify the Pomodoro technique to your liking. The duration of the mini sessions and the breaks are only guidelines. Feel free to tweak them, if needed.
Write down a daily plan.
Every morning, make a clear plan of what you intend to achieve during the day. Write down your main goals and be specific about when they should be completed. For example, your primary goals might be “Complete Trigonometry revision before 4 pm” and “Do your General Paper essay before 9 pm”. Having clear, written down intentions on what you are expected to do will make it easier to regain your focus when you lose it because this helps keep yourself accountable.
Tailor your work according to your energy levels.
During the day, you’ll likely need to do several tasks. Some will be easier, while others will be harder or will take longer to complete. As a rule, harder/longer tasks require more of your energy. So, you should balance your energy with the difficulty of the task. For example, if you feel more productive early in the day, you should complete harder tasks in the morning. If you complete easy tasks first and leave harder ones for later, you are more likely to let yourself be distracted when you do them because difficult tasks are more prone to distractions. Why? Because challenging tasks can be painful, so your natural response will be to seek a break from the ”pain”, that is, distractions.
Maintain an Internal Distraction Sheet.
Before starting your study session, write “Internal Distractions” in capital letters on a blank piece of paper. The first step of eliminating a distraction is to become aware of it. So, each time you feel distracted by a thought or emotion, write it down on that piece of paper. By doing so, you are transferring them from your mind to the paper. For example, while revising, you might suddenly remember that you need to call your friend to discuss something. Or, you might suddenly feel anxious because you haven’t yet completed your homework for tomorrow. Just write them down and forget about them for now. Once your study session (or mini session) is over, you can then go back to the list of thoughts/emotions and deal with them as you deem appropriate. If you don’t write the internal distractions down, they will linger inside your mind and will come back again and again to trouble you. So, better get rid of them the first time they arise!
Take Deep Breaths.
This technique works alongside the previous one. Once you’ve become aware of an internal distraction, breathe deeply. This will help keep your brain calm and enable you to see all your options clearly. Often, these options will be:
Succumb to the distraction and let your brain be carried away by it.
Dismiss the distraction by writing it down on the distraction sheet.
Distractions come in waves. The urge associated with them is intense but only last for a short while. The best way to resist them is to close your eyes, breathe in deeply for a few seconds, then breathe out slowly. Do this as many times as necessary to combat the distraction. This will help foster the “Be Here Now” mentality that is required to keep internal distractions in check.
To conclude this lesson, please find below three common internal distractions and suggested strategies to deal with them:
You feel bored about, or you dislike a particular subject.
Remember the “why” from the previous lesson!
You keep thinking of personal problems or worries.
Get them off your chest by talking to someone you are comfortable with. This might be a family member, a friend, a teacher, or even a complete stranger. It does not matter who it is, as long as you are letting it out of your mind!
Our minds can easily wander off while we are studying. When your mind is drifting to some fantasy world or some fantasy version of reality, just go wash your face to get it back to normal! If you don’t have water nearby, you could try slapping yourself gently (or not!) in the face. This will do the trick!
Like any skill, it takes practice to master the ability to control your internal distractions. However, it is definitely worth it because this will give you a key advantage over your competitors by enabling you to get more work done in less time!
Therefore, with regards to your study sessions, the Key Takeaway is:
“Be here now.”
Do you have any questions or comments? Post them below!