On Tuesday I had my “Introduction to Economics” exam. It took place in the largest lecture hall of the university, though we weren’t that many students. The entire atmosphere was very inviting to let your mind wander. I felt no stress whatsoever. Everyone was calmly answering questions. The two professors and the tutor looked so small sitting at their desks in the front. The tutor was writing flashcards and I remember wondering what exam he was studying for. I started answering questions but my mind quickly wandered off. While my thoughts were wandering I suddenly realized what was happening and I was able to consciously take note of what I had thinking been about: a new pair of pants that I planned on buying, what my family in Uganda was doing at that very moment, content strategy and how to apply what I had been reading about to my non-profit work, how one would go about starting a library, and much more, I can’t even recall everything. Sometimes I would sit there just staring into the distance and only when my eyes would meet my professor I’d realize I should keep writing. I wasn’t pressed for time so it was okay. Last week though during my “Economics and Politics in Africa” exam getting distracted was quite the struggle. I was under lots of pressure not only time wise, so I had to try much harder to stay focused.
I can’t be the only one who gets easily distracted. And I can’t be the only one who gets easily distracted during exams. While most of the time it seems like a curse let me tell you how getting distracted might actually be beneficial. The key is to channel and control getting distracted. That sounds contradictory but after reading “A Mind for Numbers” by Barbara Oakley which I will review on Sunday, I learned how to use getting distracted to my benefit. Basically when you get stuck trying to answer a question the key is to get your mind to think about something entirely different or even better about nothing at all. Then when you get back to the problem the answer will come more easily, provided you focused on the problem first. I was able to apply this technique during my exam last week, when I did not have lots of time to work on a problem. For instance I couldn’t think of the word “currency” so I took my eyes of the papers in front of me and thought about something else. I don’t recall what it was, probably Uganda, because for me that is a good starting point to let my mind wander. A few seconds later when I focused again I had the word. Of course it can be applied on much more complex problems. I have used that technique in multiple situations and it is working for me, though I may struggle with making myself focus again.
I guess getting easily distracted can be both a curse and a blessing.