Tips for Maintaining Focus
Have you ever been reading, gotten to the end of the page, and wondered -- “What on earth did I just read?” Rather than absorbing the words and understanding what was written, has your mind simply wandered midway through the page onto something else?
Does this sometimes happen when others are talking to you? Then there is that awkward pause, where you are expected to reply but you have no idea what the other person just said. What if they had given you specific directions and you haven’t a clue what they were because your mind was off on something else.
You are not alone. This is common for those with ADD. The trick is finding strategies that can keep your mind from drifting. In her book, The New Attention Deficit Disorder In Adults Workbook, Dr. Lynn Weiss calls this learning to “anchor your attention” and she provides some simple strategies.
Anchoring your attention is an important skill. As your attention drifts, the likelihood that you will miss important information increases. The next time you feel yourself losing focus, try these tips.
The first step is awareness. Be aware that you mind tends to wander and try to catch yourself as it does.
Tips For Dealing With Intervening Thoughts While Reading
If you are reading a page in a book and you realize you haven’t comprehended the words because your mind is thinking about something else, Dr. Weiss suggests placing your finger by the paragraph in the book approximately where you began to lose focus.
Decide whether you will continue reading or spend time on your other thoughts. If reading is a priority, take a brief moment to jot down the thoughts that made you drift. You can jot down a few key words or draw a quick picture to remind you. By doing this, you can put these thoughts on hold to return to as soon as you finish reading. Your note will serve as a visual reminder of your intervening thought.
Now you can refocus on your reading and return to your creative thoughts as soon as your reading is complete.
What About When Your Mind Drifts During Conversations?
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking a person to repeat what he has said. If you catch yourself drifting during a conversation and realize you have no idea what was just said, simply ask for it to be repeated. Not only do you get to hear what is said, but by asking you are also letting that person know that what he says is important.
Ever heard of active listening? It is making a conscious effort to attend to what is being said and restating the message that is being conveyed by the speaker. As someone is talking to you, try to paraphrase back what is said periodically during the conversation. This keeps you active and involved and helps assure that you are getting and understanding the important points the speaker is trying to convey.
Dr. Weiss explains that physical reinforcement is also helpful in anchoring your attention. Nodding your head slightly during the conversation, maintaining eye contact –- these tactics help you actively affirm to yourself that you are paying attention and help keep your focus on the speaker.
Here is another strategy. If you feel yourself becoming bored in a conversation or while listening to a lecture or in a meeting, grit your teeth, move your toes around in your shoes, or try other techniques that are quiet and unnoticeable but stimulate you enough to refocus.
It is often helpful to hold something tactile in your hands to help you stimulate alertness -- a pencil, a paperclip, a small eraser, a marble, a pad for doodling (if you are in a meeting or lecture).
Practice Makes Perfect
Don’t get discouraged and don’t be too hard on yourself when you experience setbacks. Understand that your mind will most certainly drift at times. Practice these techniques and any other strategies that work for you. Try to view things in a positive light and use humor rather than being hard on yourself. Value your strengths and know that we all have areas to improve upon. The trick is finding strategies that work for you and practicing these techniques again and again and again.
Lynn Weiss, Ph.D. The New Attention Deficit Disorder In Adults Workbook (Companion to Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults, 4th Edition). Taylor Trade Publishing. 2005.