BY ANTON LUCANUS
Blame smartphones: Students are more distracted than they were a few years ago.
Thanks to our digital devices, the average person’s attention span is now a mere eight seconds. That’s four seconds shorter than when Microsoft researchers first studied the subject in 2000, or around the start of the mobile movement.
Although spending less time on your smartphone is a start, it’s only part of the solution. Internships, test prep, and everyday college life involve distractions that can’t be put away in your pocket.
Retrain Your Brain
When your mind is on your inbox or Facebook feed all day, it shows. Whether you’re traveling, working, or taking summer classes, you need your focus. Here’s how to find it:
Skip Illicit Substances
Pharmaceutical drugs may help some students cram for tests, but they’re a short-term solution at best. Not only is off-prescription use illegal, but ADHD treatment experts are finding alternative solutions are more effective even in clinical cases. Plus, amphetamine abuse raises health risks, from heart arrhythmias to sleep disturbances to addiction.
Get More Sleep
If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, you know how much lack of sleep scrambles your brain. Harvard Medical School warns that sleep deprivation inhibits acquisition, consolidation, information recollection. Without adequate sleep, your short-term memory can’t store the information you need for complex reasoning. Particularly the night before an exam or job interview, be sure you get at least eight hours of sleep. Importantly, stay up to date with the latest trends in sleep science, for example the benefits of weighted blankets. This will help reduce insomnia, sleep apnea, and other related conditions.
Get More Cardiovascular Exercise
There’s a reason universities encourage physical activity, and it’s not just that sports teams attract students and alumni contributions. In both children and adults with clinical attention disorders, physical exercise improves cognitive performance and social-emotional functioning. In order to maximize the functioning of your brain – and thereby enhance cognitive functioning – you need healthy blood flow and circulation throughout your body. Thus, it should come as little surprise that aerobic exercise that targets the body’s cardiovascular system is key to enhancing intelligence.
The health and fitness community has long suggested getting at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical activity per day. For best results, set your sights a little higher and go for 45 to 60 minutes of uninterrupted exercise.
One way to achieve this is simply to get a dog as it has been scientifically proven that having a dog will encourage owners to lead a less sedentary life. Roy Stein, dog lover and founder of Babelbark has introduced a health monitor on their app that can track your dog’s activity level on your phone.
“More than half of America and their pets are overweight, do yourself and your furry friend a favor and get off that couch,” says Stein who believes that having a canine companion can help fight obesity in America.
If you’ve never meditated before, know that it’s a lot less intimidating than it sounds. Try sitting under a tree and listening to your breath for a few minutes. Don’t judge your breathing, yourself, or other people around you. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. After 10 minutes, quietly open your eyes and ask yourself how you feel.
You know from experience that you shouldn’t skip lunch before a big test. As it turns out, you also shouldn’t overeat. Yale Medical School researchers found that moderate hunger might stimulate focus because it marshals the mind’s resources around a single task. Go in slightly hungry to a long exam or job interview, but eat a hundred calories or so every couple of hours. That way, you’ll stay in that sweet spot where hunger’s attentional advantages outweigh the stomach’s cravings for food.
Especially if you work or exercise outside in summer, it’s easy to get dehydrated. An Emory University study found that just two hours of yard work is dehydrating enough to impair attention. Whether you’re outdoors or indoors, carry a water bottle with you. If you need a reminder to drink from it, set an hourly reminder on your phone or watch.
You might think multitasking makes you more productive, but you’d be wrong. When Stanford University researcher Clifford Nass studied frequent multitaskers, he found that they actually fared worse than their peers at distinguishing relevant and irrelevant details. This applies to people of almost all professions, from a medical doctor to a personal injury lawyer. Instead of trying to juggle multiple tasks at a time, prioritize. First tackle the most mentally challenging and time-consuming ones — those that require the most concentration — before turning one by one to the easier things.
You can’t escape technology in the classroom or workplace, but you can protect your mind in other ways. When in doubt, follow mom’s advice: Don’t use drugs, get enough sleep, eat right, and drink plenty of water. And if you forget, she’ll surely remind you.
Byline – Anton Lucanus is the Director of Neliti. During his college years, he maintained a perfect GPA, was published in a top cancer journal, and received many of his country’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarships. Anton writes for The College Puzzle as a means to share the lessons learnt throughout his degree and to guide current students to achieve personal and educational fulfilment during college life.