Maria came up to me after a weekend EPPP workshop, designed to help psychology students pass their licensure exam. Her problem was a familiar one.
"I know exactly what I need to do to complete my studies," Maria shared. "I have all the material, and I have a study routine all planned out. The problem is that when I sit down at my computer to study, I get distracted. My mind wanders and it's incredibly hard to be attentive for more than a short time."
Does Maria's problem sound familiar?
The problem of divided attention plagues students in other disciplines, whether potential counselors studying to pass the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification, or Marriage and Family Therapists trying to pass the National MFT Exam, or office workers struggling to stay attentive to their present-moment tasks.
The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will," wrote William James in Psychology: Briefer Course. James went on to point out that no person is master of himself without the capacity to control attention and reign in a wandering mind.Since the time of William James, science and research methods have advanced, enabling clinicians to measure with increasing accuracy the neurological and psychological effects of mind-wandering. All the research is pointing to the fact that James was correct: The capacity to control our attention is at the center of human well-being.
ABC News discussed research conducted on mind-wandering. They suggest that when our attention is scattered away from the present moment, we become victim to unhealthy ruminations and toxic cognitions which rob us of the joy and productivity that comes from attending to the moment.
For a more detailed discussion of the type of mind-wandering research referred to in the ABC News report, we recommend the following Ted Talk from Matt Killingsworth. Killingsworth has collected thousands of pieces of data to show that a wandering mind is correlated with an unhappy mind.
If Killingsworth is correct, the problems of divided attention, mind-wandering, and distracted focus do not simply hinder us from attaining our academic and professional goals; rather, these problems actually hinder us from achieving well-being and happiness.
For some practical recommendations on how to reign in a wandering mind, see Rick Hanson's Huffington Post article '”Is Your Mind Wandering?”
For an informative and accessible survey of the brain mechanisms behind mind-wandering and divided attention, see Jean-Philippe Lachaux talk at TEDx 'Attention, distraction and the war in our brain.'
Finding your mind wandering when it comes to setting up your study plan? Give our educational coordinators a call: 1-800-472-1931