We don't know what percentage of your personal self-study formula is "motivation", but we're willing to bet that it is not insignificant. Laziness is a natural mechanism for regulating the human body, but sometimes it goes beyond all limits and turns into procrastination.

And procrastination is one of the sworn enemies of self-learning. Especially online self-learning, where there are no deadlines and no strict teacher looking over your shoulder.

Procrastination and the ability to focus

In today's world, the ability to focus on a task and complete it without being distracted by anything else is becoming a rare superpower.

In 2013, Microsoft Canada researchers conducted a study to measure how much ordinary people possess the ability to concentrate. The study results were shocking.

The researchers determined the average time that people can concentrate fully on a task without being distracted by anything else. According to the study, if the average attention span was 12 seconds back in 2000, then in 2013 it decreased to 8 seconds.

If this finding doesn't strike you as alarming, perhaps it's worth adding that goldfish in an aquarium are able to concentrate for an average of roughly 9 seconds. In other words, when it comes to attention span, the average person is slightly inferior to a pet fish.

What's keeping you from focusing?

As humans, our attention can be either scattered or focused.

Our attention is scattered when we try to do several things at the same time, such as cooking, talking on the phone, and watching YouTube. In this case, the brain distributes energy across each type of activity, so we quickly get tired, and the results of our activities are often not very impressive. Moreover, we become distracted not only when we deliberately try to multitask, but also when something pulls our attention away from our primary task.

Focused attention is when your attention is completely directed at a single task, excluding everything else. This focus yields a job well done or constant progress in learning something. And this is what you need to strive for in order to be successful. Including in your studies of programming.

How to improve our ability to focus effectively

We are not doomed to procrastinate. Instead, we can learn and cultivate the ability to manage our focus and concentrate on the tasks that really matter.

  1. Eliminate things that prevent you from concentrating.
    Who is the main villain stealing our time? That's right, it's our phone. That means that when you're studying you should not only put it in silent mode, but also put your mobile device physically away from you so as not to succumb to the temptation to check new messages or reply to someone in a messenger app.
  2. Health and physiology.
    To learn really effectively, at least over the long term, you must keep your body in optimal working condition.
    How do we achieve this? Alas, there are no secret revelations or breakthrough scientific discoveries here: you need to get enough sleep (7-9 hours a day are considered the norm), eat well (fruit and vegetables, and that's all), and exercise (at least short walks and light calisthenics).
  3. The ability to concentrate is a skill...
    The ability to focus our attention is a skill like any other, which means it can be improved. How do we do that? Regular practice, nothing more. Start small and aim for continuous improvement.
  4. ...But it's also a habit.
    If you can convince yourself to study even for a short period of time, but every day, eventually studying will become a habit. It is widely believed that on average a habit takes about 2 months to form. In just 2 months of conscious effort, you can form a habit that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
  5. Proper and regular rest. It is also important to take breaks between study and work, giving yourself a break. But you need to do this the right way: during a break, don't switch to other stimulants such as your phone or online videos. Instead, it is better to shift to an activity that, though perhaps not the most exciting, can effectively restore your mental energy. Walking or simple physical exercises help the best.

Dopamine detox

Why are most of us able to spend hours surfing the Internet, chatting on social networks, or watching YouTube, but focused study for half an hour or working on a business idea for a couple of hours seems like a daunting task?

Well, isn't it obvious? In the first case, you need less commitment and energy. But why, then, do some people work unhindered and achieve their goals, while others never get beyond the planning stage?

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain, is to blame. Dopamine is one of the chemical factor involved in behavioral reinforcement and an important part of the brain's "reward system", because it causes a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction, which in turn affects the processes related to motivation and learning.

For example, your dopamine level determines the strength of your motivation to learn programming. Our brain prioritizes any given activity depending on how much dopamine it receives by doing the activity. Accordingly, the more dopamine that a particular activity produces, the more our brain tries to repeat it.

That is why, on a subconscious level, we are willing to sit on social networks or play video games for hours: these activities produce a rapid release of dopamine. But work or study do not provide instant rewards and therefore have less impact on the production of this important neurotransmitter.

A dopamine release reinforces any activity that the brain perceives as beneficial, including satisfying basic needs for food and drink, sleep, and, of course, sex. This is where the concept of addiction comes into play. As the level of dopamine secreted by the brain increases, the mechanisms responsible for adaptation are activated, and the body begins to perceive the new level as normal.

This is how addiction happens — we subconsciously strive to spend time and energy on the activities that give the most dopamine, and work and study fall off our list of priorities, since the reward for such activities does not come immediately.

A dopamine detox or dopamine diet is one way to increase your productivity.

The idea is quite simple: for a limited period of time, we deliberately restrict our participation in activities that lead to an increased dopamine release. For example, once a week for an entire day we completely refuse any entertainment activities, including using social networks or watching the latest news, and on other days we set aside a specific limited period of time for such activities (an hour or two per day).

This type of "diet" helps break the vicious cycle of addiction to activities that flood our brains with increased levels of dopamine.

With this simple method, you can lower your "normal" dopamine levels and increase your motivation to complete tasks that used to be difficult.

Of course, you get to choose where to direct your newfound time and energy.