By Khalida Jalili
His Personal Struggle
He is sitting in a spacious lecture hall occupied with more than 200 seats; yet, he feels cramped and uncomfortable. He feels the headache coming back again, especially on the right side. He can hear the professor explaining notes on the PowerPoint slide, but his mind is hazy. He puts in effort to listen more attentively to each word and process its meaning.
To his dismay, he simply cannot process the entire lecture. His mind wanders off to the humidity in the room, how much he needs to study for his next exam, the last argument he had with his wife, the tasks he needs to complete for his work, and his hunger – how can he forget that he’s hungry?! So he quietly sneaks out in the middle of the class for the fourth time this semester…
“What is happening to me?” he asks himself, “Why can’t I just pay attention in class?” He decided to go home to rest. Two hours later, after taking a nap, eating, and remembering to pray Salah, he realizes that he had forgotten to attend a work meeting due an hour ago!
If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may be experiencing concentration issues that require attention. The good news is that there are many solutions for this, alhamdulillah!
Possible Health Issues
Struggling with focus does not necessarily mean you suffer from any disorder, as it may simply be a bad habit, especially in our current technology-centered age. However, it is important to know that according to WebMD’s Symptom Checker, memory and concentration deficits are associated with 30 conditions including:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Brain tumor
- Medication side effects
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Sleep apnea or sleep deprivation
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
Health Grades additionally mentions that psychological conditions such as emotional trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and even stress can result in poor concentration. Of course, all of the disorders just mentioned are only diagnosed following the presence of many other related symptoms; lacking concentration does not automatically imply that you suffer from any of these disorders; it is simply one symptom in individuals with these conditions.
What Should I Do?
Most of us do not sit home all day in front of the TV or computer. We may have a spouse, children, siblings, students, or employees we need to spend time with or manage. We have responsibilities regardless of who we are. So whether we spend most of our time at home, in school, or at work, there may come times when we feel overwhelmed. Here are some ways to modify and maintain our environment, mind, body, and soul for better focus:
Environment and Personal Assistants
Limit Distractions, Increase Motivation – Choose a quiet environment for work and/or studying purposes. Keep the area you are working in clutter-free so that your mind does not wander off. If your phone distracts you, keep it on silent, power it off, or remove it from your study area. Tell yourself that you will access social media if and only if you have completed your task. Correct intentions are important for gaining reward from Allah, but they are also vital in motivating us to focus on what we need to do; intentions keep us working on what is important despite potential distractions.
Break it Down – A tip often given by productivity experts is to ‘break down’ any task you need to complete. If you have to study for a test on 10 chapters, for example, you can break it down to studying two, three, or five chapters a day.
Write it Down – Allah revealed an entire Surah titled, “The pen”. If that is not enough to show us the importance of writing, then we must remember that we are humans and therefore bound to forget. Life will be a lot easier if you just write down your to-do list and reminders on paper or even carry it around electronically. This will help you organize and start completing your greater-priority tasks first when you have most energy and focus. Google calendar and Evernote are great personal assistants for this!
Time Yourself – When experiencing concentration issues, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, it is very easy to lose track of time or to not accomplish much within a certain time range. Track your time by setting alarms on your phone, use apps such as Task Timer, or simply write down your start and end times on paper. If you find it difficult to focus after 20 minutes, for example, set your timer for that task for 20 minutes and take a five-minutes’ break before the next 20-minute increment.
Body & Mind
Exercise Your Mind – Neuroscience research has shown that the human brain is incredibly malleable, so we must “use it or lose it”. According to Debbie Hampton’s article “Neuroplasticity: The 10 Fundamentals of Rewiring Your Brain”, “It’s almost as easy to drive changes that impair memory and physical and mental abilities as it is to improve these things.” Memorizing (no wonder huffaazh have such an incredible memory!), solving crossword puzzles, reading, answering math problems, and learning a new language (Memrise definitely makes this fun) are all excellent ways to exercise your mind.
Exercise Your Body – Exercise, according to Harvard Men’s Health Watch May 2013 Issue, is an effective way to increase your concentration and memory. Having the willpower or allotting time for exercising regularly may not always be easy, but if you go against those tendencies and exercise at least twice a week, you will see instant changes, in shaa Allah. You have options to exercise by following Youtube videos or by attending your local gym. Other options include learning martial arts, karate, or simply taking consistent (fast-paced) walks in your neighborhood.
Let Your Brain Rest – Allah created the day and night for a reason. Imagine how life would be if the earth was either always dark or perpetually sunny. Sleep with the intention of giving your brain and body rest so that you can be energized enough to worship Allah during the day. This way, you will be worshipping Allah even though you’re sleeping, subhanAllah! Based on the article Sleep, Learning, and Memory by Harvard Medical School, sleep is essential to paying attention and learning, so do not forget to sleep early tonight!
Watch Your Stomach – Do you feel a difference after consuming a burger with French fries and a soda versus eating salmon, fresh salad, and drinking organically? That’s because our diet has an impact on not just our physical health, but on our mental health as well. You might be surprised at your clarity of mind after implementing a few helpful diet tips.
Exercise Your Soul by Holding on to Prayer and Dhikr- The most essential action that we should always earnestly put in effort to revolve our life around is Salah and worshipping Allah in general. Dr. Bilal Philips said, “When we repair our relationship with Allah, He repairs everything else for us”.
When we remember to pray, life will become easier and more peaceful even if it is “chaotic,” in shaa Allah.
Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “There is none who performs ablution and performs the ablution perfectly and then offers two rak’ahs of prayers concentrating on them with his heart and face except that paradise will be incumbent for him” (Sunan Abi Dawud).
Dhikr is an extremely important nourishment for the soul. Choose at least one dhikr – whether it’s seeking istighfaar, saying subhanAllah, alhamdulillah, and Allahu Akbur 33 times after Salah, saying the morning and evening du’as, or any other dhikr – and maintain consistency.
Shaykh Moutasem Al-Hameedi mentioned in his lecture Sweetness in Prayer that one key to finding khushoo’ – awe, concentration, fear, focus, humility – within Salah is developing khushoo’ and remembering Allah outside Salah.
Remember: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The Mufarridun have gone ahead.” He was asked, “Who are the Mufarridun?” He (ﷺ) replied, “Those men and women who frequently remember Allah” (Muslim).
Create a Routine – The Prophet (ﷺ) was asked, “What deeds are loved most by Allah?” He said, “The most regular constant deeds even though they may be few.” He added, ‘Do not take upon yourselves, except the deeds which are within your ability” (Bukhari).
Consistency in our actions, according to this hadith, is important; however, this is also important in keeping us focused. If we do not pray regularly, for example, it is more likely that we will forget prayer altogether when something else distracts us. If we set a certain time and place for our daily actions, whether it is praying, studying, or exercising, our mind will maintain focus and we will engage in it even if we are tired.
May Allah bless us with a strong ability to maintain focus in whatever good we do. Ameen.