Professor Stefan van der Stigchel: “There are so many myths of concentration”

Professor of cognitive psychology Stefan van der Stigchel is fed up with all falsehoods that are written about concentration. He therefore comes with a new book: Grip your attention. “An alternative to all those books that just shout.”

Our concentration is worse than that of a goldfish. The blue light of our phone makes it difficult to fall asleep. We can concentrate ourselves for up to 25 minutes. And children today have less ability to concentrate than they used to.

All incorrect. Stefan van der Stigchel calls it “concentration myths”. He is a professor of cognitive psychology at Utrecht University and specializes in attention and concentration. But he does not call himself a “concentration guru” or huge “concentration pro”. “I’m just human too.” However, in recent years he has “become much better” in his specialties. And good news: you can learn to concentrate.

No more displacement

You are probably already making a nice attempt. For example, by making a good plan at the beginning of your working day. You plan to prepare a presentation in the morning, write a report and at least two more articles. But before you put the first letter on paper, your phone rings. If you hang up a little later, you will see an email that needs to be answered urgently. While tapping you will be distracted by a plant that now needs water. Before you know it it is half past eleven. You look at your intentions and conclude that you will never make it today.

In this photo a student is studying.

Occasionally such a day is not a problem, Van der Stigchel reassures. “Certainly not during this time of corona.” We used to sit in office gardens three months ago, but now working from home is the new normal. One finds it more pleasant (because: less distraction), the other finds it less relaxed (teaching children, worrying about insecurity, less fun). What is certain, says Van der Stigchel, is that you have less exercise. And then he is not talking about those ten thousand steps that you may not take every day, but about the location that has now become both a living and a working place for many. “You don’t have to move at home. And our brain finds that difficult. ”

Learning to concentrate

Van der Stigchel previously wrote That’s how attention works and Concentration, since this week there is his new book Grip your attention. Yet another self-help book on this topic? “Certainly not,” he laughs. “This book is an alternative to all those books that just shout. And quite a bit of nonsense is being written. ” He calls it “doomsday scenarios” that are not based on science. “A book based on the latest scientific insights was still missing.”

Somehow he understands that techniques such as the Pomodoro appear in such self-help books. “People want to get a better grip on their concentration and it is very tempting for authors to be concrete about that.” “Take a short break after every 25 minutes” is a simple motto. “But psychology is a lot more complicated than that, because every person is different.”

In this photo you see a woman who is looking at her mobile attentively and is unable to concentrate.

There are basic principles, the concentration expert emphasizes. In his book there are 49, he gives away a few favorites. “It is not a good idea for everyone to combine tasks too much,” he says. “Nobody can do multi-taxes and it takes an unnecessary amount of time and energy. You make more mistakes and don’t get into a flow. ”

Another important tip: use “attention rituals”. “You cannot expect yourself to be able to concentrate again immediately after a meeting.” You should therefore do something that prepares your brain for a new task, he says. And that can be anything. “Do the laundry, get coffee, get the bike. If it requires little attention. ” He is a music lover himself and will usually categorize some music on his computer for a new period of concentration. “By invariably doing this action before starting a task that requires concentration, I condition myself.”

A good break

“Taking good breaks” is perhaps his most important advice. The importance of this is often underestimated, according to Van der Stigchel. “You cannot expect to be able to work concentrated throughout the working day. So: do you feel that you are easily distracted? Then think of something that charges your attention battery. Grab that bike, go outside. And no, that is not truancy. Don’t always turn on that podcast, but daydream. Then interesting things happen. ”

Also read: Study pills for better concentration are “quackery”

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Professor Stefan van der Stigchel: “There are so many myths of concentration”


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