It might be that there are only two types of people in this world. There are those who can focus and concentrate and those who cannot. Probably, most of us fall into the latter group. We know we need to pay attention and we do indeed try. Our problem is keeping that up for a reasonable amount of time. Yet we can concentrate even if we try.

We put off beginning a task, and then before we do begin, we find the slightest distraction can prevent us from starting. Before we know it, we are wasting our time and letting our minds wander off the subject. We look enviously at those who seem able to focus on the task in hand. We wonder what their secret is and why we fall so short of the mark.

The truth is that there is no real difference between them and us. Those who can have simply learned to work through frustration and the rest of us just wish that we had. Those who can, wear a pair of blinkers that block out everything else around them. They are able to leave worries and ignore distractions.

Whatever our problem may be, we can learn to focus on it. Whether it is working in a busy office or studying in class we can learn to focus. Whether it is focusing on a meeting or writing a dissertation, concentration is something that comes with practice. It is something that we can improve. It is something that we can develop and what is more, the only person necessary for us to achieve this is ourselves.

If we think about it, we can all focus for a small period. The act of concentration is not really that difficult. We can all probably remember a time when we were so absorbed in a film or a book that we had no recollection of anything else around us. Perhaps we had a hobby that so engrossed us we knew nothing else. We seem to have lost touch with that ability. Today we find it hard to settle down and to block everything else out. There are too many distractions. There are too many other things we need to be doing. There are worries we have and things that are niggling at us.

I wonder how we would feel if we transported ourselves, somehow, to a deserted island. Apart from the temptation of taking advantage of the locality, something that can actually be turned to our advantage, many of our other distractions would suddenly vanish. The trick is to take ourselves in our minds to a place where nothing can reach us.

Distractions are as many as we allow. They can be classified as internal and external. The external list might include such items as noises and conversations. They might be our surroundings. They could include interruptions and distractions such as TV or music. They might include things such as other work we have to do or indeed a huge favourite, housework. What about the temptations of working at a computer that has access to e-mail and the Internet? Yet every one of these things is controllable by you. Without going to the desert island you can probably easily block out many of these distractions.

Internal distractions seek to gnaw away at our concentration like a bad toothache. They might be our thoughts and emotions. How difficult it is to concentrate if we are worrying about things we should have done or will have to do later? How difficult it is to work if we are tired and emotional?

Then there is hunger, illness and discomfort all of which led to distraction.

What about the task in before us? Perhaps we do not even like what we have to do. We might be bored with the whole idea. Personal pressures might keep us from focus. Stress and anxiety conspire to take over and dominate our lives. We might doubt our ability to complete our task. We might be prone to daydreaming or we might simply be badly organised. Again all of this can be changed and if we cannot change it we can learn to ignore it.

What we must do is believe that this is possible and believe that we can do it. Take the amount of time we can concentrate. However long that is, force yourself to add another five minutes. This is a manageable chunk of time. Every time you feel yourself wandering from the task, to another distraction or another thought, force yourself back on track, back to the present.

This may seem difficult at first but, if you keep doing it, it will become easier. Concentration is something that you build up. It is the mental equivalent of physical stamina. No athlete who is out of condition or does not train will win a race nor will they last very long. You too can find a ‘second wind,’ but first you must work on stretching your attention span.

Secondly, work on getting rid of all those other thoughts, worries, preoccupations and ideas that are interfering with your concentration. This is the equivalent of fixing blinkers to your head. Your telescopic vision needs to come into play. For now, or forever how long you need, nothing else will matter. Keep bringing yourself back to the task in hand.

Yet all those other thoughts are flying around your head. One way to get them out is to put them down onto a piece of paper. Write them out in a list. Place it to one side. You are now free to forget them. Now get back to the task in hand. Re-focus and look again at what is in front of you. You are ready to work.

Where are you working? That workspace is a vital part of the process. This is the place you come to work and nothing else. You should find or create a space solely for that purpose. You don’t eat or sleep here. This is where, when you sit down, you work.

When it is time for a break, which, of course, is five minutes longer than the last time, move away from the desk. Find a physical activity to do. Make your break into a period of time during which your body and mind can readjust. In the way that an athlete might rest for a while, so should you.

In your place of work you will have removed all the distractions. Hide the small toys and if this is your weakness, close down the Internet and email access. Switch off the phone. You will have everything by you that you need. Some of us are terrible at wanting to be distracted. Any excuse will do. Even an old neglected spot of housework can suddenly become an essential activity.

Really though, what can’t wait until your half hour or hour is up? The more you do the better you will feel. The more you do, the closer you will get to your goal. Are you bored with the task at hand? Find something about it that interests you. Make a goal of finding five separate points and achieve it. Find the key that will get you in there investigating and alive, looking for solutions.

Be realistic with your goals. Know what you can achieve. Reward yourself with a break and take some time to lap up the sunshine as a reward for your ‘incarceration.’ However, time the break and make a serious promise to yourself that you will return.

Why try and do the impossible? Why work when you are tired or disinterested? Try and work in the company of others who will inspire you and drive you on. Become involved in your work. Actively engage yourself by making notes and writing down questions. This is where concentration and focus come from. At the same time this deeper involvement helps filter and clarify what you are doing.

We all have the ability to concentrate. We can all find our focus. We simply need to make a personal commitment to ourselves to achieve our goals. We set a realistic and achievable pace and we remove the obstacles and the temptations. Of course we have to want to do it. Giving ourselves a reward is a great way of congratulating ourselves for the effort. Perhaps, though, the real reward is knowing that we have joined the ranks of those who can do it. If we have achieved this, then what other personal challenges could we take on? Come to think it of it, we are a lot more capable that we thought.

Best of luck for your future Entrance Examinations

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