by Judith Evans Thomas
With each passing year I find that my ability to concentrate for long periods of time has decreased. At first I assumed it was the process of aging or, going to extremes, a brain tumor. Worse yet, Altzheimers. I watched my stepfather die of that and quickly put it out of my mind. Or did I stop concentrating and just forget? I obsessed over this decreased ability for a couple of months until I had put myself into a real funk.
Last week I googled "concentration" and aside from a dizzying array of sites offering to help me, motivate me, cure me, and medicate me, one paragraph stood out as if it had been dipped in fluorescent paint and shot through the screen.
And this is the first paragraph that has changed my life:
Many people are not aware that as we perform tasks, including studying, we talk silently to ourselves. "Self talk" can be motivating - praising accomplishments, helping to sort out what to do next, monitoring progress and achievement. However, if it becomes overly evaluative or critical, self talk can have a negative effect on concentration. Have you ever started to write a paper, then given up in frustration because you can't even get through the first paragraph? An overly critical "inner editor" may be the culprit. Comparing your abilities to that of other students and having unrealistic expectations about how long or well you "should" be able to concentrate may also contribute to negative self talk. With coaching, you can learn to manage this distracting internal chatter.
Do you talk to yourself while writing? I do. It is distracting and tiring... like writing twice... without editing. I'm doing it now while writing this. I hear the words in my head and think about how they will read. Too much chatter kills the inner muse.
The second factoid that jumped out at me was the one about clutter. My desk is filled with "things to do." One folder marked "urgent" contains bills, thank you notes I need to write, column deadlines with ideas, to do lists about my novel, agent, kitchen granite and trip schedules. And this is when I realized that there was nothhing wrong with my mind. I was cluttered and chatty.
How do you deal?