The average human attention span is currently believed to be anywhere between five minutes and just eight seconds, but regardless of divergence over the exact figure one thing is agreed upon – it has decreased dramatically over the last decade.
A world of social media, two minute YouTube videos and 140 character Twitter updates have indoctrinated us to expect immediacy and struggle to stay focused. Whether you’re a first year pharmacy student braving nine-to-fives, or a third year humanities student making the unfathomable leap from two to three hour seminars, here are some tips to make you go the distance.
Eat. Being hungry is distracting – not just that gnawing feeling inside, but also the constant worry that your stomach might interrupt the person reading and inform the whole room of how malnourished you are. Whether it is breakfast or lunch, don’t skip meals and go to your classes satisfied. If you need a quick boost, the high potassium levels in a banana will help improve your concentration. Even better, milk chocolate has been shown to improve verbal and visual memory, whilst dark chocolate – rich in flavanols – boosts blood supply to the brain and increases cognitive skills. So grab yourself a Dairy Milk; for the benefit of your education of course.
Drink. When you become dehydrated, your brain releases a hormone called cortisol which actually shrinks the branches of your brain (dendrites) which store information. So keep hydrated throughout the day and be sure to take a water bottle into your lectures.
Exercise. Staying active is key to maintaining your concentration levels. Simply skipping the bus and walking instead will increase your blood circulation, allowing more oxygen and glucose to your brain. Falling asleep in your seat? Wiggle your toes! It may sound strange but this has been shown to activate nerves which stimulate the brain and other internal organs, making you more alert. It’s also more subtle than cracking out a set of press ups in the middle of your seminar.
Doodle – it might be more productive than you realise! Kinaesthetic activities, such as drawing, tapping and chewing gum, can actually help you engage better with what’s going on around you. It’s even been suggested that tracing over your doodles later on can trigger you to recall what was being said when you drew them. So dig out those smelly gel pens and get creative!
Most importantly: don’t give up. Your attention span is like a muscle – work it out frequently and your endurance will improve.