With the start of the fall semester, comes the return to university life – new information to digest, a flood of urgent assignments, long lectures, and the social engagements of student life. While this change can come with excitement and a healthy dose of academic and social stimulation, it can also be a significant adjustment from a more relaxed summer schedule.
A side effect of these types of transitions can be exhaustion and difficulty concentrating. Have you ever come home after a day of class and wanted nothing more than to lay down? Have you found yourself unable to direct your attention to a person speaking for an hour or more during those first few weeks of class? I certainly know I have. To better prepare for returning to campus in the fall, here are three strategies I’ve used to deepen my practice of mindfulness and meditation to improve my focus and concentration to successfully tackle the semester.
Practice focused meditation on any aspect of your choice
It’s no secret that mindfulness can have a profound impact on our ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time. In our ordinary lives, we may find ourselves inundated with a flood of thoughts or feelings that constantly distract our attention from what we should be focusing on. Attention training, whether it is done by focusing on the breath, a physical sensation, or a mantra, gradually leads to an increased ability to focus more “single-pointedly” on an element of our experience.
By carving out a small portion of our day to attend to a single anchor point of attention, the energy of focus will disperse through the activities in which we engage. You will find it increasingly easy to return to this place of concentration with the simple reminder of the breath, the body or a mantra. Then, in a class, meeting, or conversation, the same quality of attention will manifest and allow you to be more effectively present to anything that requires attention.
Notice, without judgment, when thoughts become a distraction
Anyone who has practiced meditation and mindfulness can attest to how often our minds get distracted. When we try to focus, a range of stimuli can pull us away, most often thought. Distracting thoughts generally serve no intellectual, creative, functional, or intentional purpose, but rather arise in the name of the urge to resist the current experience.
For example, daydreaming in class can be a form of escape from the boredom one may feel after having to attend a lackluster lecture. Likewise, sitting for 10 or 15 minutes to focus on the sensations in our body or on the breath can leave us defenseless against a range of feelings that may have been hidden by work routines or engaging activities. Without any of the conventional outputs of distraction, the thought becomes the primary means of avoidance and resistance to the current experience. The goal is not to be distraction-free, but simply to notice when the quality of thought becomes a distraction.
It’s up to you to discern which thoughts arise in the name of distraction. However, know that it is not a lack of noticing such thoughts. Self-criticism and frustration are not necessary. On the contrary, noticing the distraction is actually a form of success – the practice works as intended!
Give yourself a break
A serious request is placed in our minds as we enter the semester. Large amounts of information weigh on our neural pathways and the approach to essays and reviews requires the use of critical thinking, writing skills and information recall. The wheels of the mind turn all day, which can be very useful for daily life functions, especially as a student. However, it can also wear us down. Just as physical rest and recovery is an important part of an athlete’s regimen, you can think of meditation as a space for rest and mental recovery.
While meditation doesn’t magically turn your mind to a blank slate, it does create a space where we don’t demand anything from our mind. Sitting without a task can actually be deeply uncomfortable due to how often there is something to do, but gradually relaxing into a practice and routine will gradually become comfortable and second nature.
Contact Alexandre Christiano at [email protected].