Studies show the human attention span is eight seconds, a full second shorter than the common goldfish. So let’s jump right in on three tricks to help your concentration and memory!
Restrict Internet/Smartphone Use Before, During and After Studying
We live in an age of instant information. A steady bombardment of opinion, news and notifications is the new normal, and our decreased attention spans is just the beginning.
Simply searching the Internet for a specific answer is damaging your memory!
“Past research has repeatedly demonstrated that actively recalling information is a very efficient way to create a permanent memory,” says Dr. Maria Wimber, a Lecturer at the School of Psychology, University of Birmingham. “In contrast, passively repeating information (e.g. by repeatedly looking it up on the internet) does not create a solid, lasting memory trace in the same way.”
A recent Kaspersky Lab study names this phenomenon “Digital Amnesia.”
Memory traces exist in your long-term memory — that’s where we recall any information we’ve stored for longer than 30 seconds. But before a trace is formed, the information must survive in our short-term memory.
Normal adults have short-term memories with 5 to 9 “slots” as George Miller calls them. Miller is one of the founders of the field of cognitive psychology and authored a paper in 1956 called The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. He says we “chunk” fresh information into our preset available slots.
So say you’re in-the-zone mid-study session. Suddenly you hear that telltale smartphone chirp. The screen lights up with fresh, desirable information. Merely experiencing the desire to check your phone is enough to hog its own slot in your short-term memory.
Reasoning from First Principle
Some of humanity’s smartest minds apply a fascinating philosophy towards information retention: reasoning from first principle. This provides a strong tree trunk of understanding, rooting the fruits of the unknown to the sturdy branches of the familiar.
Elon Musk, the famed rocket-building billionaire is quite outspoken on his learning philosophy: “First principles is kind of a physics way of looking at the world,” Musk explained in an interview at Google Ventures. “You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, ‘What are we sure is true?’ … and then reason up from there.”
Bill Thurston, a pioneer in the field of mathematics, and Richard Feynman both also use personal mental models derived from conclusions made independent of any institutionalized consensus.
Feynman joyously recounted his independent path towards understanding difficult concepts in his book Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!
”The result was, when the guys at MIT or Princeton had trouble doing a certain integral, it was because they couldn’t do it with the standard methods they had learned in school… So I got a great reputation for doing integrals, only because my box of tools was different from everybody else’s, and they had tried all their tools on it before giving the problem to me.”
Following a set lesson plan might ignore your own perspective. If you find yourself not understanding a concept, take a step back and find where you’ve gone lost. What leap from the known has left you spiraling in the dark? You may find that your path to an answer may be wholly unique.
If you’re familiar with sports, you’ve likely heard athletes mention they were in-the-zone during a clutch play. This concept applies to more than sports, it’s a state of mind one reaches that psychologists call Flow.
Look at the spectrum of emotions you might encounter when a looming deadline is on the horizon. Dread and anxiety creep in when you know you don’t have the time or ability to complete a task. Boredom strikes when you’ve got it in-the-bag. And picking up a topic you know nothing about can feel downright impossible.
Ever been buried in a book and not notice the day fly by as you devour every last word? Your perception of time and surroundings melt away as you become engrossed in your activity. Artists often discover their best work in a state of flow. When challenge is accepted, comfort zones are left behind and your brain becomes fully activated, you’ll find your flow.
These three tricks will surely take some conscious effort in practice. But each are worthwhile when deep concentration is a must. Take your time, unplug, and understand what you know and explore from there. If you’re up to the challenge and your interest is high, you might surprise yourself at how much information you can absorb!