Need to Focus? Turn Up the Volume!

Sitting in one place for hours, carefully checking your work for errors, editing your term paper for the 3rd time – BRING IT ON! Well…not so much, huh? What to do, what to do…

Every college student knows how important the ability to concentrate and focus is to succeeding in college. Finding ways to stay alert without letting your mind drift is essential – ’cause a lot of the stuff you’ll need to do in college won’t be intrinsically fascinating!

So the sooner you find ways to stay focused, the quicker you’re going to get control of the tedious tasks of academic life.

A Concentration Metaphor

Metaphors make intangible things like “focus” more “real” in a unique and practical way.  So here is one of my favorite metaphors for improving your focus and concentration!

Think of the amount of focus you give to a task as being comparable to the volume setting on a radio which can be adjusted anywhere from “0” to “10.”

A setting of “0” indicates you have the volume turned down so low you can’t hear what’s being broadcast.

A “10” indicates you can loudly, clearly, and comfortably hear everything coming through.

Having a reference point – particularly one that stimulates one of your senses, in this case hearing – will give you a way to monitor your level of focus and more easily recognize when you need to make adjustments.

Noticing Your “Volume Setting”

The next time you are actively and passionately involved in some task, stop and notice how it feels in your body. Pay particular attention to the sensations in your stomach and lungs. Believe it or not, these areas of your body are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in your level of interest in an activity.

The way it feels to you when you are passionately “in the zone” is the equivalent of a “10” on your focus volume dial!

To make the association really stand out to you, compare the way you feel when you are doing a boring or monotonous task to the way you feel when you are really enjoying what you’re doing. Notice how your stomach and lungs feel when you are bored and disinterested.

This is a setting of “0” on your focus volume dial. You may still be aware of sensations in your body, but the sensations will be different for monotonous tasks than they are for highly captivating tasks. Noticing the difference in the feelings is the key to being able to make a decision to take action to make the situation better!

Using the Metaphor to Improve Concentration

You can make this technique work for you if you make it a habit to notice how high your focus volume is set while you’re performing any task. You’ll need more focus for tasks that are less interesting and for tasks that require more attention to detail.

When you notice that you’re losing concentration, remind yourself that you need to “turn up the volume” on your “focusing radio”!!

How to Turn Up the Volume When You Need To

Try some of these strategies to increase your focusing volume for those less interesting tasks. These strategies can turn “no way!” into “OK!”

Listen to a favorite song or genre of music

Music uplifts the soul, balances the nervous system, and energizes the body for action! Music triggers your brain to release neuro chemicals that make you feel wonderful! It also helps decrease depression, speed healing, and improve coordination! Kick into gear with your favorite tune and you won’t notice that yucky task so much! And you’ll be more coordinated, so it will go faster!!

Look at pictures or objects that inspire you

Ok, so I have really cute pictures hanging in the room where I do my writing, which makes it a lot easier for me to stay focused! Ditto with beautiful pictures over the kitchen sink. If I’m going to wash dishes, I want to have some fun too!

Infuse the room with “get it done” scents

The sense of smell is the most primitive of all our senses, and in many respects the most powerful! It can trigger memories (good and bad) and mobilize the brain for action. Try infusing the room with one of these scents proven to increase concentration: peppermint, strawberry or lavender.

The bottom line is this: scent is so powerful that just smelling something you like goes a long way towards putting you in the mood to tackle a dreaded task. Find your favorite scents and be creative! Vanilla is a great “go to” scent, by the way! Sniff some scent from a bottle of vanilla extract and open that textbook!!!

Connect to your personal values

In addition to using one or more of the sensory triggers listed above, it will really help you to connect deeply with the personal meaning the task has in your life. The value it brings to you in terms of self-esteem, self-efficacy, and pride are great starting points.

The greatest trigger for getting started on tough tasks is feeling empowered and “on target” to pursue a task because it’s important to you!

Dig deep; why is this task meaningful? How does completing this task connect with the vision you have for your life?

Motivation is one of the few things that is TOTALLY within your own control. Pick one difficult task and decide exactly how you are going to create your personal motivation to complete it!

Remember to “turn up the volume” today whenever you need to focus and concentrate!


Dr. Kari Miller, PhD, BCET is a board certified educational therapist and ADHD coach who has been educating and coaching adults and young people who have ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, emotional challenges, and other complex needs for more than twenty-five years.  She holds a PhD in educational psychology and mathematical statistics, an MEd in Learning Disabilities, Gifted Education and Educational Diagnosis, and a BS in Early Childhood Education and Behavior Disorders. Dr. Miller provides support across the lifespan – to school-aged students with learning and attention challenges, to young adults in transition to college or the workplace, and to women with ADHD who have passionate dreams, but are frustrated by procrastination, lack of focus and difficulty following through.

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