Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Keep My Mind on Things?
“I spent years sitting at the meetings and not getting much out of them. I would just zone out.”—Matthew.
HAVE you ever been sitting in a school classroom or at a Christian meeting and suddenly realized that you had no idea what was being discussed? Well, if your mind tends to wander at times, you are not alone. As a previous article pointed out, short attention spans are common among youths.a However, with a little effort and some attitude adjustment, you can learn to increase your powers of concentration.
Think of a trained athlete. “Every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things,” says the apostle Paul. If an athlete allows himself to be distracted for even a moment, it can cost him the game. To win, he must learn to concentrate—blocking out the sound of the roaring crowd, ignoring his pain and exhaustion, dismissing the very thought of failure. But just what motivates athletes to put forth such extraordinary effort? According to the apostle Paul, they do it so “they may get a corruptible crown”—the trophies and accolades given to victors.—1 Corinthians 9:25.
Similarly, you have to be motivated to pay attention! The book Study Is Hard Work, by William H. Armstrong, says: “It is the responsibility of the student to be interested. No one can be interested for you, and no one can increase your interest unless you so will.” Knowledge is the key to understanding the world around you. The more you know, the more you can learn. “To the understanding one knowledge is an easy thing,” says Proverbs 14:6. You may not remember all the things you learn in school, but at the very least, school helps you to nurture and cultivate thinking ability. (Compare Proverbs 1:4.) Having mental discipline and an ability to concentrate will benefit you throughout your life.
Bored and Boring Teachers
However, some teenagers complain that even their teachers seem to lack interest. Says a youth named Jesse: “Teachers stand up in front of you, say something, give you your assignment, and then dismiss you. I think they’re slacking off. The teachers don’t act like it’s important, so we don’t see the need to pay attention.”
Should you conclude, then, that it is a waste of time to pay attention? Not necessarily. Many teachers may simply be trapped in a vicious circle. A teenager named Collin explains: “No one pays attention to teachers, so the teachers think that nobody wants to learn. Then they don’t put much energy and enthusiasm into teaching.”
Believe it or not, you may be able to help break this pattern. How? Simply by paying attention. Having just one interested student may be all that it will take for a bored teacher to have a renewed interest in his job. Granted, some teachers simply do not have the ability to hold the interest of a class. But before you allow yourself to lapse into daydreaming, ask yourself, ‘Does he know what he is talking about?’ If so, make up your mind to learn something from him. Listen carefully—concentrate! Get involved in classroom discussions. Ask pointed questions. The book How to Study in High School notes: “Many students find it helpful to jot down diagrams, words, charts, definitions, and main ideas that the teacher puts on the board or otherwise emphasizes.”
Paying “More Than the Usual Attention”
The stakes are much higher, however, when it comes to listening at Christian meetings. Admits Jesse: “Sometimes young people don’t pay attention to things like meetings because they don’t realize how important the meetings are.” At Hebrews 2:1, we are commanded to “pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” After attending a congregation meeting, can you recall something from each presentation? Or do you sometimes find that you cannot even remember who was on the program?
Once again, it is a matter of seeing the importance of what you are learning. Why, your very life is involved! (John 17:3) Another point to ponder: When you are learning about the Bible, you are learning to think like God himself! (Isaiah 55:8, 9) And when you apply what you learn, you are putting on what the Bible calls “the new personality.” (Colossians 3:9, 10) On the other hand, if you fail to pay attention, you may not make the needed improvements in your life; you will stunt your own spiritual growth. Jehovah knows that all of us tend to let our minds become distracted. Thus, he implores: “Listen intently to me . . . Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, and your soul will keep alive.”—Isaiah 55:2, 3.
How to Get More out of Meetings
Even so, paying close attention at meetings may be tough at first. But researchers claim that the more we practice concentrating, the more adept our brains become at the task. Matthew, quoted at the outset, overcame his tendency to zone out during the meetings. He says: “I found that I have to discipline myself to pay attention. After a while it gets better, and you can pay attention for longer periods of time.” Matthew also points out the single biggest factor in making meetings enjoyable for him. He says: “I study ahead of time.” A youth named Charese similarly says: “When I’m prepared, I feel more a part of the meeting. The talks seem deeper and have more meaning for me.”
Blocking out distracting thoughts is also important. True, you may have a number of legitimate worries on your mind: that test coming up next week, a personality conflict that’s causing you stress, some upcoming expense you have to cover. But Jesus gave this advice: “Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his life span? So, never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.” (Matthew 6:27, 34) Focusing on congregation meetings will not make your problems go away, but it will help renew you spiritually, so that you can better cope with problems.—Compare 2 Corinthians 4:16.
Listening attentively can also help you stay focused. Says Matthew: “I try to anticipate what the speaker will bring out during the talk and then see how he does it.” Ask yourself, ‘What are the main points under discussion? How can I use what is being taught?’ Anticipating what the speaker will say next may also help you to keep your mind on track. Try to follow his line of reasoning. Note the Scriptural arguments he uses. Reflect on and summarize his main points. Take brief, meaningful notes. When a part calls for audience participation, participate! Doing so can help keep your mind engaged and your thoughts from wandering.
Admittedly, listening can be a challenge if a particular speaker lacks enthusiasm or has a lackluster delivery. Recall what some first-century Christians said about how they viewed the apostle Paul’s speaking ability: “His presence in person is weak and his speech [is] contemptible.” (2 Corinthians 10:10) But Paul responded to such criticism by saying: “Even if I am unskilled in speech, I certainly am not in knowledge.” (2 Corinthians 11:6) Yes, had his listeners looked beyond Paul’s speaking ability and focused on the substance of what he said, they could have learned many of “the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10) In a similar way, you can learn, even from a “dull” speaker, if you concentrate and listen. Who knows? He may even touch on some shade of meaning or apply a scripture in a way that has never occurred to you before.
Jesus’ words at Luke 8:18 sum things up nicely: “Pay attention to how you listen.” Granted, learning to tune in—and not zone out—will take effort and practice. But in time you will reap benefits. Learning to concentrate could mean better grades and, more important, spiritual growth!
a See the article “Young People Ask . . . Why Can’t I Concentrate?,” appearing in our July 22, 1998, issue.
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Developing an interest in what you hear is the key to paying attention