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Trek Literature "...Good words. That's where ideas begin."

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Old December 8 2008, 11:32 PM   #1
tmclough
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Location: Greenfield, MA
OT: Reading concentration

Let me start out by being blunt: My mind loves to wander. It doesn't seem to matter what the medium or subject is, my mind will usually wander. TV or movies (yes, even ST), radio shows (new (public radio) or old (Jack Benny, etc.)), or reading (again, even ST (even the ones I like the best)). Especially reading.

For radio shows, I have discovered something that helps keep my mind from constantly wandering: simple video games or puzzles, such as various types of solitaire (patience), Minesweeper, Tetris, Sudoku (both on paper and electronically), etc. Playing these types of games or solving these types of puzzles while listening help me to concentrate on the show much better than just listening alone.

This leads me to the main question of this post: Are there any similar techniques you can think of to help my concentration levels while reading, especially ST novels?

Audio books would be a great choice, in that I could listen to them like the radio, and play games/solve puzzles, except that relatively few ST novels are available in audio format, and extremely few are in unabridged audio format (the only way acceptable to me). So that's out.

Another idea I thought of was ebooks with text-to-speech (a sort of computerized audio book). The problem with that, according to online research, is that ebook publishers don't usually allow text-to-speech capabilities for their ebooks. So that's out too.

As far as I can tell, this leaves me with one option: find some other activity or activities to occupy part of my mind that won't interfere with my reading. Does anybody out there have any suggestions? Do any of you have a similar concentration problem, with techniques/activities that help you? Even if you don't have a reading concentration problem, do you often do other activities at the same time you're reading? If so, what? Background music, even if it's only instrumental, isn't enough for me. I've thought of maybe something to occupy my hands? Of course, that would require a way of holding the book open and turning the pages.

Any other thoughts or advice is definitely welcome. Hopefully somebody(s) will suggest something(s) that will work for me.
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Old December 8 2008, 11:37 PM   #2
Marie1
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

I prefer silence to immerse myself... but I'm a reader above all else- I can read, lose myself, and hours pass...

For you... soft music may not work, but what about the TV? I know that if I'm surfing, even while watching a show I like, I forget about the TV...

Or, what about reading at night when your brain should be starting so shut down and maybe isn't as... all over the place?
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Old December 9 2008, 12:57 AM   #3
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

I know many psychologists recommend playing a computer game like Tetris or Freecell for 20 minutes or more before going back to tasks that require a lot of concentration. It will help smooth your brain out and keep it from wandering so much. I have a Chiropractic doctor who has trouble concentrating ever since he was in an auto accident and he found playing Tetris worked for him.

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Old December 9 2008, 03:56 AM   #4
JNG
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

I don't mean this sarcastically at all, but maybe there is some medicine that would help you concentrate the way you want. I think consistently being unable to concentrate on a self-selected book enough to stay focused on reading it is a problem, and a doctor might be able to help with it. I'm not a huge medicine guy or anything, but there are people who benefit from that approach.
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Old December 9 2008, 04:48 AM   #5
Christopher
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

^^That sounds like a rather drastic solution. Surely it's better to try other options rather than immediately jumping to pharmaceutical options.

The computer-game recommendation sounds like a good one. The brain is like any other part of the body -- exercise helps it work better. Giving it a "warm-up" at a task involving concentration before moving on to another task involving concentration makes good sense.
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Old December 9 2008, 05:04 AM   #6
The Grim Ghost
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

I suggest that you try reading in short bursts. Sit down and read for 10, 15, 20 minutes or whatever..when you feel your mind start to wander just put the book down and go do something else. Sure it might take longer to finish that way, but reading isn't a race.

One other suggestion, find something to do with one of your hands. No not that! Get your minds out of the gutter people! I mean something like a stress ball to squeeze, one of those hand grip/squeeze things for exercise or even just a pen to click. Might help you to get some focus..or not. Worth a try anyway.
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Old December 9 2008, 05:05 AM   #7
tmclough
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

I agree that medicines are much less preferable to changes in lifestyle (or environment when appropriate; I don't think that's my problem in this case, though).

Besides, with medicines, you get side effects, so more medicines, etc. (The cynical side of me believes that the pharmaceutical companies intentionally make them with side effects, just so you'll need more of them, etc. Profit!)
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Old December 9 2008, 03:35 PM   #8
JD
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

Reading for only short bursts sounds like it might be a pretty good option. I even do something like that myself, when I'm watching TV I'll read during the commercial breaks.
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Old December 9 2008, 03:45 PM   #9
Dayton Ward
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

Wow. And here I am complaining that I don't have enough time to read.
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Old December 9 2008, 04:46 PM   #10
PaulSimpson
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

Dayton Ward wrote: View Post
Wow. And here I am complaining that I don't have enough time to read.
^QFT!
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Old December 9 2008, 09:58 PM   #11
BaloksPuppet
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

I've had concentration problems, too, especially when reading. Sometimes I'll notice I've read three or four pages while my mind was on something else and I have no idea what I was reading about. It's something I've been trying to work on. One thing that you can do is to stop after every page or two and kind of summarize in your mind what you were just reading. Try to remember names, try to visualize scenes with who was doing what and where, etc. Literally try to compose a quick summary in your head of everything that just happened. By stopping and thinking about what you're reading that way, it will enrich the experience dramatically and help immerse you in the story, but it will probably increase the time it takes to read anything by at least 50%. So it slows you down, but you get more out of your time than just driving through something without retaining any of it.

I don't have a good quick fix for concentration problems, but I've been practicing meditation for several months and I have noticed some improvement, but it's slow going. Meditation is much, much harder than you might think and it will probably take many months if not years to show definite results. So if you're impatient and don't put in a lot of effort it probably won't help, but it's a good long-term solution that should provide added benefits in other parts of your life, too. Here's a geeky trick that I use to help me focus when meditating: I imagine I'm Spock, or at least some Vulcan, since they're known to meditate. Believe it or not, it helps.

I've also recently started taking aikido classes because it requires a lot of concentration (or I'll get my ass kicked). The theory is that doing anything that forces me to concentrate will have an impact later when I'm doing other activities. It seems to help, and it has also seemed to make me more relaxed during the day. In general, any kind of good exercise should help with stress and concentration problems. So the other suggestions about doing Tetris and things like that should help, too. There are lots of brain training software programs out there with games that are supposed to help build your concentration (like MindFit), but most of them are pretty expensive.

As for medication, a year or two ago my doctor prescribed Ritalin as a stimulant to help me feel less tired in the mornings. I'm basically a night owl so morning's are hard for me. Anyway, I was hoping it might have the added benefit of improving my concentration. As far as I could tell, though, it had no effect in that area. I'd avoid the meds. Diet, exercise, watching less TV, getting lots of sleep, drinking lots of fluids (probably)... you know, all those things that they say you're supposed to do to stay healthy should help with concentration problems, too. But they're not easy fixes.

The only other trick I know of that can momentarily get you to focus is that every time you find your mind wandering, you say out loud, "Stop!" And then try to return your focus to what you were reading. I've done that before and it helps a bit, but your mind will probably drift again after a few minutes.

Good luck!
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Old December 13 2008, 03:40 PM   #12
JWolf
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

If you do find that having active hands helps you while reading, then there is a possible solution. You can get a Sony Reader and read eBooks. It can lay flat on a desk/table and you can read the page without having to hold it and the only time you'll need to touch it is to push one of the page turn buttons.
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Old December 15 2008, 10:48 PM   #13
Thrawn
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

JWolf, ebook cheerleader, to the rescue!




Edit: Sorry, just realized that could come off as mocking or mean; I just meant light sarcasm. I appreciate your perspective - it's part of the reason I bought myself a Kindle.
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Old December 17 2008, 07:12 PM   #14
Ktrek
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

I'm wondering if so many people have trouble concentrating today because of all the multimedia stimulation they get? TV shows are generally very fast paced because they only have 40 minutes to tell a complete story. Most songs are only 3 to 6 minutes in length, unlike the heyday of progrock, and many younger people do not listen through complete albums anymore like we did when I was growing up. Then there is the Internet which takes you click after click to more visual stimulation. If you get tired or bored with what you are reading it's just a click away. The discipline of solitude and quite has been lost and I think the ability to concentrate on any one thing for very long has been affected.

Kevin
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Old December 17 2008, 07:32 PM   #15
Thrawn
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Re: OT: Reading concentration

Ktrek wrote: View Post
I'm wondering if so many people have trouble concentrating today because of all the multimedia stimulation they get? TV shows are generally very fast paced because they only have 40 minutes to tell a complete story. Most songs are only 3 to 6 minutes in length, unlike the heyday of progrock, and many younger people do not listen through complete albums anymore like we did when I was growing up. Then there is the Internet which takes you click after click to more visual stimulation. If you get tired or bored with what you are reading it's just a click away. The discipline of solitude and quite has been lost and I think the ability to concentrate on any one thing for very long has been affected.

Kevin
I don't want this to sound like I'm lamenting the downfall of modern society, because I'm not (I think we're commensurately better at multitasking, which is also an important skill), but as a high school teacher who reads a lot of educational research I can tell you that what you're talking about here is actually a measurable fact. They even tell us, at professional development meetings, that the period of time you can use one teaching technique before your students' minds start to wander is a whopping 11 minutes. Yes, that's right - nowadays, the average teenager attention span is 11 whole minutes.
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