Improve your attention skills to learn more effectively

If you’re anything like me, you can go through an entire day with your head in the clouds and not recall much, if asked later to recall specific events from the day. Do you recall what color the shirt of the first person you saw yesterday was? How about what the news headlines were two days ago? Thankfully, those types of inconsequential things aren’t important enough to cause any issues if we don’t recall them, but what about when we need to recall particular events as a witness to a crime, to relay the events for a story or to remember key points from the text book you’re reading?

Once upon a time, humans relied on good observation skills to survive. To them, it wasn’t an option – you either observed your surroundings thoroughly, or you died! We have lost some of those instinctual skills since the early days of man, with information overload making the act of being always observant a painful one; however, it’s still very important to use your senses to be mindful of some things, otherwise we might just walk into the path of traffic, fall down a cliff or cut our finger when chopping the vegetables for dinner.

We can easily improve our ability to observe the world around us though – and by doing so, we can increase our ability to recall specific incidents, things around us and information. There is obviously great benefit in doing this for students, so read on to learn how!

Understand the whole subject
Whether you’re learning something as a student, or just sussing out the way in which a workplace operates, knowing as much as you can discover about a subject will help pique your interests and become more observant about its aspects overall. So for example, if you want to know about the way the muscular system works, you’ll learn much faster if you learn how the skeletal system works and how these two things interact.

Take a chill pill
If you’re overloading your brain with a thousand things, you’re very likely to overlook specific facts. By slowing down and eliminating some of the often useless information you’re taking in, you’ll be able to concentrate more on the things that are important. Give the use of mindfulness a go and you won’t just be more observant, but you’ll also shed some stress too. A simple technique for increasing mindfulness is to find a quiet room or other quiet place, close your eyes and just try to clear your head completely. It’s more difficult than you may think, but if you can master it, it’s an excellent technique for clearing mind chatter, de-stressing and relieving anxiety.

Break away from monotonous routine
If you do something or go somewhere out of the ordinary, your brain forms new connections, which improves your intelligence overall and increases your ability to pay attention. Try learning a new skill, visiting museums or art galleries or finding a new place to study each time. While you’re doing or seeing these new things, really pay attention to what you’re observing, using all your senses to take it all in.

Ditch distractions
Perhaps utilizing the above method to find a quiet, new place to study, ensure that the area you’re using has little or no distractions. Turn off your phone and focus your mind on the thing you’d like to concentrate on. It can take quite a long time to re-focus your attention after a distraction, so minimizing it can help you memorize more and cut the time needed to do so.

All work and no play…
Isn’t good for your brain, so try to challenge your brain by playing games that are designed to stimulate it. There are a plethora of great games online designed specifically for brain elasticity, so play these to increase your power of reasoning and logic, memory and brain agility.

Use it or lose it
Similar to the above tip, you need to keep your brain stimulated in order to keep it healthy and testing your memory recall is the best way of strengthening it. Good observation cannot function well without good memory, so try these little memory-boosting exercises:

  • Take ten unfamiliar items (new packages from the supermarket are a good choice) and lay them out on a table. Study them for five minutes, then cover the items with a tea towel, wait another two minutes, then write down as many items as you can remember. To make this trickier, write down as many as you can remember, but also write down as many identifying features – such as colors or textures – as you can. Increase the number of items as you progress.
  • Each time you go out to do shopping etc, observe the details of at least three things, such as the details from a shop window front, the clothing worn by a random stranger or the number of colors of flowers in a florist display. When you return home, sit down, close your eyes and picture these things in your mind, recalling as much detail as possible. It’s such a simple method but really works!
  • Read sentences from a book, starting with easy sentences from a child’s book or similar. Really pay attention to what you’re reading, so you’re learning what the sentence says, rather than just reading it. Then, close the book, wait five minutes before trying to write down the sentence verbatim. Check how close you came to writing the sentence down exactly as it is written in the book and when you’ve mastered short easy sentences, advance to longer, more difficult ones and eventually, whole paragraphs.

Dear diary…
Keeping a diary or journal is a great way of becoming more aware of the events happening in your life and helping you realize which things you notice the most. Don’t just write down the basics though – get really descriptive with your diary entries and even include pictures, if you think it will help. Don’t worry if your writing or drawing skills aren’t great – nobody needs to see it but you!
To take your diary-keeping skills one step further, why not try to remember your dreams and write those down too? The more often you do this, the easier it will become to 

remember your dreams as your brain realizes it needs to retain them in the same section of your brain as your memories.

Think like a student
Critical thinking skills are something every student learns and the act of questioning everything is a surefire way of improving your observation skills. There are a number of ways to use your critical thinking skills, but the easiest is by taking a course!

By doing some or all of these things, you’ll be observing everything important in no time at all, which will improve your ability to learn.

The CFS Team
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