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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

Student Tip 8: Deep Thought

Have you ever been scuba diving?

There’s lots of fascinating stuff at the bottom of the sea but it’s not easy to get to. You have to do a lot of preparation and then swim down further and further, slowly moving through the layers of water until you get to where you want to be.

In this way, thinking is similar to scuba diving.

If you want to consider all the points of a difficult essay or solve a tricky problem or practise a particularly challenging manoeuvre, you need to focus your thoughts as much as possible.

If you want to learn stuff better, you need to concentrate.

As a diver, if you had to keep coming up to the surface to say hello to a friend, read a text message or get something to drink, you’d hardly spend any time at the depth where you wanted to be.

Similarly, if you’re constantly being interrupted or distracted, you won’t be able to delve down into the inner recesses of your mind to get the important bits of your brain doing what you want them to do.

Do yourself a favour and avoid interruptions.

Go somewhere where you won’t be disturbed, put a sign on the door or simply ask your family not to interrupt your study.

Get rid of as many distractions as possible. This includes the TV, the radio, etc. It means putting your phone on flight mode and closing down your social media.

If you find this a challenge, there are apps designed precisely for this purpose. Look up productivity apps such as ‘Freedom’ or ‘StayFocused’. These apps either block or limit the amount of time you spend on potentially distracting sites such as YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat.

Think seriously about turning off your music, too.

If you have to listen to music, best listen to music without words. You might think it doesn’t matter but there’s part of your brain that pays attention to lyrics. If it is paying attention to lyrics, it can’t help you do your homework if your homework involves thinking in words.

This is partly why some experts recommend a nice bit of Chopin or Mozart as classical music doesn’t have words.

This isn’t so important if your task is drawing, sculpting, dancing or playing any type of sport. But if you’re writing, reading, listening or speaking, stay away from music with lyrics.

Maybe you’ve heard this sort of thing before and think it doesn’t apply to you.

Maybe you’re convinced you’re an expert multitasker.

You know, the sort of person who can read, watch TV, text and have dinner all at the same time.

Unfortunately, it’s normal to think like this. This is because it’s difficult to realise how inefficiently you’re doing something when you’re in the middle of it.

Test after test after test shows how we fail to notice stuff, or make unnecessary mistakes, or do stuff more slowly or fail to remember stuff when we multitask.

When you’re multitasking, you’re superficially engaged most of the time and constantly backtracking to find where you were when you flipped your attention from one task to another.

What doesn’t help, either, is it takes mental energy to keep shifting your attention.

This means your brain gets tired much quicker.

This is another reason why it’s better to concentrate only on studying for just a short period of time of, say, half an hour.

Then take a break and eat, text, whatever in between.

In fact, even if you don’t have anything else to do, it’s recommended you get up, stretch and do a bit of exercise. It gets the heart pumping, which gets more oxygen to the brain.

With deep thinking, it’s definitely quality rather than quantity that counts. An hour of shallow thinking is not as good as half an hour of deep concentration.

So do yourself a favour and practise improving your power of concentration by focussing on your task and ONLY on that task for thirty minutes.

Just like the scuba diver, if you stay deep down in your thoughts, you’ll find those important ideas and connections you need to get the task done quicker.

This means you’ll be able to complete your work sooner and have it done better, while all the multitaskers are still taking twice as long to produce stuff that’s only half as good.

Tip 8: Save time and work better: concentrate more.

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