Finding your focus

By Juliana Liévano Uribe
Staff Writer

Many students find they have a hard time focusing on getting their work done or studying for a test. Sometimes it’s too noisy, or it’s too quiet, or sometimes they have too many things on their mind and they are not productive.

However, there are ways that students can focus better without taking amphetamines or any other drug — not even coffee.

William Mikulas, professor emeritus of psychology at UWF, specializes in Buddhist psychology and learning, among other things. He gave his perspective on how millennials’ minds work, and what people can do to focus better.

“Everybody has a mind that’s racing like a drunken monkey,” Mikulas said. “It’s not just when you study. It’s when you’re listening to music, in sports – it’s universal. It’s just the way human mind goes.”

He said over the past decade college students have been having even a harder time focusing, and it’s been getting worse. He says it’s all due to social media.

“Everyone is set to continually have an input,” Mikulas said. “They have a short attention span.”

Mikulas said that students are not very conscious about multitasking, as they do too many things at the same time. He said multitasking becomes a problem when people who multitask try to do several important things at the same time.

For example, people engage in an important conversation with someone else, but they’re also on their phone talking to other people, and checking social media, while eating food, all at the same time. Mikulas said that kind of multitasking is very unhealthy.

So, to focus better when you study, the first thing to avoid would be multitasking. Mikulas said if people want to really learn something, they must give the attention to just that single thing for the moment. However, as he said, the human mind wanders all the time, but  people can develop skills to control the mind.

“You can control your mind, and it will get you focused,” Mikulas said. “It’s one of the most important things that anybody can do with their life.”

Mikulas said the trick he uses is very simple, but the person has to be willing to do it. It consists on picking one thing for the person to focus on. For instance, he uses music a lot with the students he’s worked with. So, they listen to music and focus on the music. When their mind goes elsewhere, he says they must go back gently to the music, and be aware of the music again.

“Suddenly, the senses, everything starts getting better,” Mikulas said. “You start doing it with other things.”

Breathing techniques are well-known to release anxiety and stress and to calm the mind. “I like to use breath work,” Mikulas said. “Every time their mind runs away breathing helps.”

Now that finals are coming, it is a good time to practice these exercises so that you can perform better on finals.

“It’s a basic task, but it will significantly improve one’s mind,” Mikulas said.

Mikulas has worked with people classified as ADD or ADHD many times, and he said these techniques will help them. He said the use of amphetamines such as Adderall or Vyvanse is unnecessary if they learn to control their minds.

Mikulas also emphasized that in order for people to actually gain focus, these exercises must be done on a daily basis for a long period of time – preferably a month in advance.

However, a 2013 article in the New York Times on meditation discussed a study carried out by researchers in Santa Barbara, where a group of students went through a “two-week intensive mindfulness training program,” and as a result they were able to have a better focus and memory, and their test performances improved too.

Although not all students are familiar with mindfulness, meditation and breathing techniques, they have other techniques that work for them.

Neil Teller, a senior music performance and telecommunication and film major, said he needs to find that inner motivation. Teller, who plays the saxophone in the jazz combo and jazz ensemble, and he said in order to perform well he needs a lot of practice. He said planning out times to practice helps him get focused.

Mary Addeline Venz, a senior marine biology student at UWF, said avoiding distractions helps.

“I make it a point not to be in a bedroom, because I will fall asleep,” Venz said. “The best option is usually the living room or the library.

“I usually just put on my headphones and listen to relaxing music, and just write everything down, use repetition.”

For more information on mindfulness, visit the Counseling and Psychological Services web page, “Stress Management Through Mindfulness.”

If you are interested in practicing the art of meditation and learning to use it to manage stress, you may attend the Weekly Meditation Hour, noon-1 p.m. on Fridays in the Green Studio of the HLS. It is free and is facilitated by Eric Schade, registered Clinical Social Worker. Call
474-2420 or email eschade@uwf.edu for more information.