When you sit down to read or learn ahead your trips, do you struggle to concentrate?
Do you find that no matter how hard you try, sooner rather than later a distraction appears to break your focus?
If so, you’re not alone.
According to a recent survey conducted by Udemy, almost 70% of people said they felt distracted regularly.
And another 16% said they almost always feel distracted.
Not great news for your learning!
In this article, I’ll show you how to concentrate while studying and explain why concentration is such an important part of learning in the first place.
Let's dive in...
The Dangers Of The Digital World
The digital world we live in has revolutionised learning by providing us with easier access than ever before to an almost infinite library of information - the internet.
But it has also slowly started training us to neglect the one mental skill that’s arguably most important if we want to learn and use all of that information…
It’s no wonder that when you sit down to read or learn, you’re left with feelings like these...
- I can’t study for more than a few minutes. I find I get distracted very quickly. How can I improve my concentration when reading?
- When I'm learning, my mind wanders and I am not as productive as I should be
- I am pretty intelligent but losing the spark to study and work hard. I feel like my mind is more and more easily distracted. Concentration is elusive.
Worse... the inability to concentrate prevents you from having the kinds of deep immersive experiences you crave when travelling:
- You forget dates and history almost instantly
- You can't learn the words you need to communicate respectfully with the locals
- You get sucked into staring at your smartphone... instead of appreciating the beauty (or chaos!) that's unfolding around you
The good is news is that this cloud has a silver lining.
You can train yourself to concentrate better.
What Is Concentration & Why Is It Important?
Concentration is the ability to focus intently on a problem, challenge or piece of information.
You don’t need me to tell you that when it comes to learning, being able to concentrate well is essential.
But it’s interesting to think about why concentration is so important…
When you concentrate on something you want to learn, you use what’s called the focused mode in your brain.
This method of thinking helps you analyse the details of a particular topic and search for solutions.
It’s the first step to learning and understanding anything, be it a book you’re reading or a cultural concept you want to understand.
In fact, it’s precisely the process of concentrating attentively on the most difficult part of what you’re trying to learn that is the key to your success.
Put simply, without good concentration, your learning is doomed to failure from the outset.
The Concentration Problem
The problem is that in our 21st-century digital society, concentration is a skill that’s becoming more and more neglected.
In fact, much of how we live our lives is actually subconsciously training us to decrease our concentration… and we often don’t even realise it!
Do you know how often the average person checks their phone nowadays?
That’s a stat worth reading again.
How on earth are you supposed to maintain levels of deep concentration if you’re being interrupted constantly by messages, notifications and an infinite barrage of content?
And that’s before you even open a site like Facebook or YouTube and get sucked in further...
(For me it’s YouTube video recommendations. Talk about a dangerous wormhole… That algorithm knows me too well!)
How To Concentrate While Studying - 7 Tips To Improve Your Concentration For Learning
To help you reclaim control of your brain, I’ve put together 7 quick tips that can help you improve your concentration.
By applying these techniques you should see some immediate improvements in your ability to focus on what you’re learning.
And if you continue to apply them over a period of weeks or months, you’ll notice your concentration increases significantly.
In that sense, your brain is a little like a muscle. Exercise it and it will get a hell of a lot stronger!
Let’s get to it…
Do Your Learning In Environments With Minimal Distractions
First things first, you have to set yourself up for success.
If you’re surrounded by noise, interruptions or people walking around and about you, you’re going to struggle to concentrate.
Whether you like to learn in a café, the library, a co-working office or a spare room at home, you need to find somewhere to go where you feel calm and are unlikely to be interrupted.
For me, this place is often a café.
Sure it’s not the quietest place in the world.
But if you can find a good café where the music is not too loud and there are no screaming babies, you’ll be amazed how quickly all the other little sounds blend into the background like “white noise”.
Plus it’s often easier to get started when you have a good macchiato or cortado by your side. More on that later...
Once you find a location that helps you to concentrate, I suggest you keep it exclusively for your learning time.
In fact, I wrote this article at one particular café in Lyon I used to love visiting.
Ninja Travel Immersion Tip
Find cafés, bakeries, and little shops you like while on your travels, then go back to them every day. Quickly, the locals who work there will get to know you and you'll make new friends. This is a great way to connect with people and get to learn a little bit more about their lives and culture.
Anyway... the thing is, I ONLY went there when I wanted to sit down, focus and get sh*t done.
I never came here just for a drink.
My brain is trained by now to associate this environment with focus and concentration.
As soon as I sit down and open my MacBook or notepad, I’m in the zone.
And blog posts like this one get written!
Plan What You're Going To Learn In Advance
One certain way to end up distracted is to start reading or studying before you know what you’re actually going to focus on.
So next time you sit down to learn or read… don’t just dive in.
Take 5 minutes before you start to plan out what you’re going to focus on and commit to it.
Because if you don’t, you’ll be second-guessing yourself as you go.
“I know I started reading this book, but maybe learning that other topic first is more important”.
Your mind jumps from one thing to another and you’re not able to give 100% of your concentration to anything.
Avoid Digital Distraction
When possible, take notes on paper, read on a Kindle or e-reader (not a tablet!) and avoid your computer or smartphone.
Not only will this help you improve your concentration, research shows you remember more when taking notes by hand than if you type them on your computer!
If you can, it’s best to just leave your computer and smartphone in a different room so you’re not tempted by them. But at the very least, put your phone on silent and turn off notifications.
Trust me… your aunt won’t mind if it takes you an extra hour to respond to the silly memes she sends you on WhatsApp.
But if you get distracted by that message in the middle of your learning, it could be enough to completely derail your progress.
If you need to use your smartphone or computer, use blocking software to block websites and apps that might tempt you to your break your focus.
My personal favourite is Cold Turkey. I love it… and I hate it!
When these guys tell you their software will lock you out of Facebook while you learn, they mean it!
Get Your Beauty Sleep
This is, without doubt, the most important tip for improving your concentration.
It also happens to be something you can easily take action on right away.
Good sleep is the foundation of good learning and you simply won’t be able to concentrate without it.
Ever come into work or sit down to study after half a bottle of wine and a choppy night’s sleep?
I’m guessing you struggled to concentrate on what you needed to do.
In order to maintain optimum brain function and support your learning, aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Your learning (and your health!) will thank you for it!
Take Regular Breaks
Before writing this post, I decided to research some of the main questions people have about concentration.
This one popped up on Quora...
I probably don’t have to tell you that trying to concentrate intently for 17 hours a day is an utterly ridiculous idea…
It’s just not possible.
But it’s a good way of illustrating this point nonetheless.
Trying to concentrate deeply for hours on end is unrealistic and actually harmful to your learning.
Try to concentrate for hours at a time and you’ll end up:
- Exhausted and frustrated
- Concentrating weakly for longer periods but with a much lower quality of thinking
- Blocking yourself from making the neural connections necessary for good learning
Instead, you should try to focus for short blocks of time and give yourself regular breaks.
By doing this you’re able to give 100% attention to what you want to learn.
And after taking a short break you’ll be ready to go again!
Everything in moderation (including moderation!)
It’s also worth noting that if you’re working on something that involves problem-solving, the breaks you take are probably what will help you come to the solution.
It’s no coincidence that most people have their “eureka” moments when they’re relaxing and not in the middle of a period of intense concentration.
When you’re concentrating intently, you often can’t see the woods from the trees.
Treat Yourself To A Cup Of Coffee
The elixir of life… well, maybe not.
But the elixir of concentration… perhaps!
If used properly, caffeine can help you muster the concentration you need for an extremely productive learning session.
The thought of sitting down with a nice hot drink can also be just the motivation you need to kick your procrastination and get started!
But when used improperly, a caffeine addiction can drag down your energy levels all day, and suck away your ability to concentrate consistently.
The trick is to drink the right amount of caffeine without going overboard.
A cup of coffee (or tea or mate) at the beginning of your study session is a great idea.
4 or 5 espressos throughout the day are not.
Hydrate with water and use the coffee to give you an occasional boost.
And remember, caffeine is NOT a replacement for good sleep. If you don’t get your beauty sleep, none of the other tips on this list can save your concentration!
Practice, Practice, Practice
Last but not least... if you truly want to improve your concentration, work at it.
If you struggle to concentrate for more than 5 minutes right now, don’t expect to be knocking out 50-minute blocks of intense focus by next week.
Instead, work on building up your concentration stamina gradually by training it every day.
Grab a timer, set it to 5, 10 or 20 minutes and get started.
Then give yourself a break.
Rinse and repeat.
And do it every day (or as often as you can).
As long as you put in the time and effort, you will begin to notice an improvement in your concentration levels.
Now It's Over To You To Improve Your Concentration
So there you have it - 7 actionable tips to get you started improving your concentration quickly.
Not only is concentration an essential mental skill for learning…
It’s also an increasingly valuable in a world that’s becoming more distracted by the day.
Learn to how to concentrate while studying and you give yourself a massive advantage over the competition in travel, learning and life.
You'll to prepare for your trips and to live in the moment more when you get there.
So you can actually enjoy and remember all the amazing experiences you'll have.
So what are you waiting for? It's time to get started!
Resources Related To This Article
The Anti-Tourist Club
The Anti-Tourist Club is a training and support centre for curious adventurers who want to do travel differently.
It is where anti-tourists like you and I come together with a common mission:
To put learning at the heart of our adventures and unlock the kinds of meaningful travel experiences most tourists never have.
Cold Turkey is a blocking extension that allows you to block websites, applications or even internet access on your computer temporarily so you can concentrate with distractions. The reason I like Cold Turkey? It works. Unlike other website blocking apps, with Cold Turkey it's impossible to cheat. So when you block Facebook for a few hours so you can focus on some productive... it really is blocked!
What are your 3 big takeaways from this article? Leave a comment below and let me know!