Young People Ask . . .
Why Can’t I Concentrate?
“Sometimes it’s accidental. I’m listening at a congregation meeting, and then, all of a sudden, my mind starts to wander. Ten minutes later I come back.”—Jesse.
“PAY ATTENTION!” Do you often hear those words from your teachers or parents? If you do, then maybe you are having a problem keeping your mind on things. As a result, your grades may be suffering. And you may find that others view you negatively, brushing you off as being zoned-out, spacey, or just plain rude.
More important, an inability to pay attention can have a negative impact on your spirituality. After all, the Bible itself commands: “Pay attention to how you listen.” (Luke 8:18) In fact, Christians are commanded to “pay more than the usual attention” to spiritual matters. (Hebrews 2:1) And if you find it hard to concentrate, you may find it hard to heed this counsel.
What may be the problem? In some cases lack of concentration may be the result of a physical problem. Attention Deficit Disorder, for example, is believed by some researchers to involve a malfunction of the brain’s neurotransmitter systems.a Some youths have undiagnosed problems, such as hearing or vision loss. These too can impede one’s ability to pay attention. Researchers have found that youths in general have more difficulty concentrating than adults. Inattentiveness is thus common among youths, though it is seldom the result of a medical disorder.
Your Changing Thought Patterns
If you are having trouble concentrating, more than likely you are simply suffering the pangs of growing up. The apostle Paul wrote: “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Yes, as you move toward adulthood, your thinking patterns change. According to the book Adolescent Development, “new conceptual abilities . . . emerge in early adolescence.” You develop the ability to comprehend and analyze abstract thoughts and concepts. You begin to have a deeper grasp of morals, ethics, and other broad issues. You begin thinking about your future as an adult.
The problem? Having all these new thoughts, ideas, and concepts swirling around in your brain can be very distracting. You no longer think on the simple, basic level of a child. Now your brain impels you to analyze and question what you see and hear. A comment by a teacher or a lecturer can trigger an exciting mental excursion. But unless you learn to control your stray thoughts, you can miss out on valuable information. Interestingly, the Bible says that the righteous man Isaac spent time quietly meditating. (Genesis 24:63) Perhaps setting aside some time each day to sit back, meditate, and sort things out might help you to be more focused at other times.
Emotions and Hormones
Your emotions may also be a source of distraction. You try to concentrate on what you are reading or listening to, but you find yourself thinking about other things. You alternate between boredom and excitement, depression and elation. Well, relax! You are not going crazy. In all probability, it is simply a case of your hormones playing havoc with you. You are experiencing the changes of puberty.
Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman write: “Feelings abound in the adolescent years . . . This moodiness is, to some extent, part of being an adolescent. Part of this has to do with the stress of all the changes you’re experiencing right now.” Furthermore, you are approaching “the bloom of youth”—the time when sexual desires are at their peak. (1 Corinthians 7:36) Says writer Ruth Bell: “The body changes of puberty often bring stronger sexual feelings. You may find yourself thinking more about sex, getting sexually aroused more easily, even at times feeling preoccupied with sex.”b
Jesse, quoted at the outset, experiences the mental wandering that is so common among teenagers: “Sometimes I think about girls or some worry I have or what I’m going to do later.” Eventually, the storm of emotions will settle down. In the meantime, work on self-discipline. The apostle Paul wrote: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) The more you learn to control your emotions, the more you will be able to concentrate.
Your Sleep Habits
Your growing body needs sufficient sleep to help you develop physically and to allow your brain to sort out the many new concepts and emotions you encounter daily. However, many teens keep a schedule that affords them little time for sleep. A neurologist comments: “The organism will not forget the hours of sleep that a person owes it. On the contrary, it will always remember and will suddenly present a bill that can be translated into lapses of memory, concentration problems, and slow thinking ability.”
Some researchers believe that simply adding an hour or more of sleep each night can greatly improve one’s ability to concentrate. True, the Bible condemns laziness and love of sleeping. (Proverbs 20:13) However, it makes good sense to get enough rest to function efficiently.—Ecclesiastes 4:6.
Diet and Concentration
Another problem may be diet. Fatty and sugary foods are popular among teens. Researchers say that while junk foods may taste great, they appear to reduce mental sharpness. Studies likewise indicate that mental performance wanes after a meal of carbohydrates, such as bread, cereal, rice, or pasta. This may be because carbohydrates increase the amount of a chemical called serotonin in the brain and make a person feel drowsy. Some nutritionists thus suggest eating protein-rich foods before any activity that requires mental alertness.
The TV and Computer Generation
For years educators have felt that TV and its fast-moving images shorten the attention span of youths, and some are now pointing a similar finger of blame at the computer terminal. While there is much debate among experts as to exactly how these modern technologies affect young people, spending an excessive amount of time watching TV or playing computer games can hardly be healthy. Admits one youth: “With things like video games, computers, and the Internet, we kids are conditioned to get what we want fast.”
The problem is, many things in life are only achieved through effort, perseverance, and old-fashioned patience. (Compare Hebrews 6:12; James 5:7.) So never assume that things must be fast-moving and entertaining to be of value. Although watching TV and playing computer games can be entertaining, why not paint, draw, or learn to play a musical instrument? Such skills may enhance your powers of concentration.
Are there other ways you can develop your powers of concentration? Indeed, there are, and a future article will explore some of them.
a See Awake! issues of November 22, 1994, pages 3-12; June 22, 1996, pages 11-13; and February 22, 1997, pages 5-10.
b See the article “Young People Ask . . . How Can I Get My Mind off the Opposite Sex?” in our August 8, 1994, issue.
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Researchers say that junk foods appear to reduce mental sharpness
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“Sometimes I think about girls or some worry I have”
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Do you often find it hard to pay attention in class?