As you might have noticed, most of the toppers of UPSC Civil Services Examination (CSE) talk about quality of the study you put in to prepare for any competitive examination. Their advice, invariably, is to not to count the number of hours you spend studying but to look at the quality of the hours you devote in preparation. What do they mean by the quality of study or quality of hours? They simply mean that whatever you read in those hours, you must try and get a good grasp of the subject. It means reading as long as you can with full attention and diligence. In other words, focus and concentration are essential ingredients of the quality of study.
There are so many distractions these days that many young aspirants like you find it hard to
focus when they sit to study. There is a continuous inflow of text messages, videos, e-mails and
feeds on various social media platforms to divert your attention. Not to mention your own constantly wandering mind that just looks for an opportunity to fly away in unchartered territories. You are, of course, on your desk and your eyes are very much on the study material, but your mind is just not willing to go with what you are reading as it has already flown away somewhere else.
That is why they say that focus is more important than intelligence. Many successful persons belonging to various fields attribute their success to the sheer power of concentration. Time and again, they have emphasised importance of focus and concentration in whatever you attempt to do. While world-famous martial artist Bruce Lee says that “concentration is the root of all the higher abilities in man”, Mr. Bill Russell, the noted American athlete, finds that “concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.” The 19th century poet, essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson put it in other words when he said that “concentration is the secret of strength”. American actor Mr. Harrison
Ford gave it a further new dimension when he said, “the focus and concentration and attention to detail that flying takes is a kind of meditation; I find it restful and engaging, and other things just slip away”.
So, how can you hone and sharpen your power of concentration? There are some simple tips suggested by experts that can be used to make your study more meaningful and qualitative. One, use your phone camera or webcam to record yourself while studying. This may sound strange. But the idea is to create accountability. Knowing that you are being watched will remind you of your objective. Two, if you do not feel like starting a work, take one minute to prepare yourself mentally. Set a timer for a minute and tell yourself that you will start the work when the timer goes off. This is called an “implementation intention”. By doing this, you are much more likely to get to work at the end of the minute. Three, create a plan for the day. Make the plan as detailed as possible. There is good reason for this. You must be clear in your mind about what you are going to achieve during each study session. Another advantage of creating a detailed plan is that it becomes easier to assess your progress.
Four, write down exactly why you want to study hard. Another way to stay focussed when you are studying is to be clear about why you want to study hard in the first place. For example, you might write down : “I want to become a more self-driven person” or “I want to cultivate the habit of always doing my best” and so on. Try to focus on process-oriented reasons rather than outcome-oriented reasons. The reason is that outcomes are often beyond your control whereas the process is always within control. So never write down the reason of you studying hard as “I want to figure in the list of top 10 successful candidates of CSE.” Process is something you engage in every day. Five, get rid of the clutter. Put only the material you need for your current task on your desk. A research by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute supports this. Having things light, neat and tidy has a calming effect on your mind and will help you to concentrate.
Six, do deep breathing exercises before each study session. Deep breathing exercises increase the ability of your mind to focus. Researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience have studied the effect of breathing exercises on the body’s production of noradrenaline which functions as a neurotransmitter and affects your concentration. The researchers concluded that “there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind”. So, close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose for four seconds. When you feel that your lungs are full of air, hold your breath for two seconds. Then slowly exhale through your nose for four seconds. Do this exercise three times in succession before the start of every study session. Last but not least, do not study in bed. It is important that the place where you study is not the same as the place where you sleep. Staying focussed while studying is something that all aspirants struggle to achieve. Once you are conscious of the problem, you can devise your own ways of solving it. So keep on studying with a greater focus and concentration to accomplish the desired goal.
With best of the wishes for all your endeavours.