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The Struggle to Pay Attention

I knew a high school English teacher whose favorite question was, "Are you paying attention?" He would lecture about an author such as Shakespeare for 10 or 15 minutes. He would then usually detect a student with a distant, faraway look in his eyes. The teacher would suddenly come face to face with this individual and shout, "Are you paying attention?"

The response was always the same, a frantic "Yes."

The teacher would then say, "Can you repeat what I just said?" At this point the student would begin to search for words in an effort to repeat what he hadn't heard about Shakespeare. The teacher would then say in a louder voice, "Can you repeat what I just said?" Usually, silence followed, as the bewildered student wasn't sure what to say.

Not only was there a lack of concentration by the student during the lecture on Shakespeare, there was a continued lack of concentration evidenced by the student's inability to answer the second question correctly. The answer the teacher expected for the question, "Can you repeat what I just said?" was simply a "Yes" or a "No." That's the only possible answer if the person is actually concentrating and listening to the question!

In contrast to the high school student whose concentration is lost because he is preoccupied with whom to ask to the next dance, as an adult, your brain is constantly being stimulated with thoughts, images, questions and problems. Your brain is overloaded with impulses and stimuli. To get the most out of your reading, you must be able to block out these problems and obstacles. It's like erasing a board, so that you have a clean slate on which to record information.