Here is my Spring Equinox inspired tip for engaging with your studies. It should only take a few minutes and allow your mind to better focus on the tasks you're attempting to undertake, especially if you have anxiety about getting an assignment finished or identify as neurodiverse.
Collect your essentials.
Take the time to gather the necessary study tools in your comfortable study spot. Make sure not to leave anything behind that could distract and need you to move later.
Sit in your comfy spot having first ensured that any bodily considerations are taken care of.
Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you need the loo? Is your jumper itchy and annoying you? Are your socks too tight? Make sure you’ve taken care of these things so they’re unlikely to distract you.
Take a few deep breaths.
When people say this, it's easy to assume a mutual understanding of what it means but I’m autistic so I don't assume a mutual understanding.
Take your hand and put it on your heart. Feel the beats of your heart and once you're sure you can count the beats in patterns of four, take a breath in for four heartbeats and then out for four heartbeats.
Many people will advise you to breathe in through the nose and blow out through the mouth and that's fine, if you want to do it that way but, in this instance, it doesn't make much difference. Concentrating on your breathing and heartbeats in the moment are the point here.
Close your eyes.
This is actually more important than you think, it allows you to block out the sensory input of what's visually around you and further focuses you.
While your eyes are closed, you can continue with the breathing exercises if you choose but the point now is to listen. Take stock of all the noises around you, identify them and then move on to the next thing until you've identified them all.
Your neurological pathways are, 100% of the time, assessing all the input they're getting at any given time. In this kind of situation, we're trying to take control of that process by limiting the extent to which our neural pathways can become distracted by the environment. Unfortunately, our auditory processes tend to be the ones we can least control. So, instead, we allow our brains the time to procrastinate and analyse the sounds so they have the information they need and can move on to focus where you direct them.
Picture your long-term goals.
This may seem like a distraction but this is the intention part of the process.
Look at the long-term goal in front of you. Do you want to go into finance? Are you training in law? Studying to become a nurse? Wanting to get a degree in a subject you enjoy for the fun or just to see where it takes you? Whichever it is, look at it now.
This will be easy for those of you with a strong mind's eye (the ability to see images in your mind) but some of you may struggle with seeing specific pictures (if you have aphantasia, here is an interesting site ) so do whatever it is you do that focuses you on that end goal (as someone with hyperphantasia, I haven't a clue what that looks like in your mind so forgive the stingy instructions, feel free to comment with tips of your own on this!).
Bring it back.
Now step back from your long-termgoal and see what needs to happen before you get there.
This could take a few steps if you need it to. What comes immediately before that goal? Getting your degree or certification? Are you picturing your graduation? That's great!
Now pull it back some more, perhaps to your final assignment for the academic year or to choosing your next module.
Now pull it back again and focus on the thing immediately in front of you. In order to do all the things in the timeline you envisaged, you need to focus on this first. This is a small step, as insurmountable as some chapters, activities and assignments may sometimes appear.
Are you reading the chapter in a book? An online module? Do you need to watch and rewatch videos, to take relevant notes? Focus on doing this, in your mind. If you can, try to picture doing it. What will it look like? What will it feel like? Imagine a highlighter in your hand or the feel of your fingers on the mouse or mousepad or screen of your device.
Are you listening to any focusing music (check out this article for information on how music can focus even the ADHD brain)?
If you’re struggling, open your eyes, reach out and touch the study materials in front of you and focus on that. The pen, the highlighter or the device; the smooth surfaces, the rough, the edges, the dents and nuance of shape.
Disengage from the mindful moment and re-engage with your surroundings. Open your eyes and take your hand off your heart, if you haven’t already, and take the steps necessary to put those thoughts into action.
Take out your books, stationery and devices and do the thing that you need to do to focus on your studies.
When we're studying, focusing on the end goal is a necessity and often a coping mechanism for dealing with the stresses of academic life, especially as many of us are also working, raising a family and dealing with all the other issues life throws at us. For a while though, do try to focus on the journey too.