Pay Attention When You Are Confused

It's an all-too common scene - you're in a class or meeting and the presenter's words are going way over your head. You can't focus on what's being said - it's as if the words are in another language. Finally, you hear, "Any questions?" Where do you even begin? Keep out of this trap by learning how to pay attention when you're completely baffled by what's going on.


  1. Ask questions. If you feel quizzical, no doubt others will feel puzzled as well; so when you turn your confusion into questions not only will it be useful to you, but also you may help others. You can start by considering asking any of the 5 Ws: Ask what, when, where, why/how, and/or who?.

Focus is an altered state

  1. Keep your eyes on the ball or the road; on the speaker at work, the subject at school or wherever--in the game--on the sales floor; don't stare. Get in the zone, like an athlete who can't miss, in an altered state of consciousness. A synonymous phrase is "altered states of awareness" or "altered state of mind"... It can be associated with your creativity: artistic efforts or the reveries of the inspired engineer.[1] So be in a state of creative effort in your area of study or work. Be on the edge of your seat; lean slightly toward the speaker; be ready to learn and to make your inputs.
    • Get each and every piece of the puzzle and every phrase; understand each clause and sentence, and eventually fit it all together. The goal is to get the picture; see the panoramic picture by finding and getting the bits of the picture all together in your life and in studies and your short term and long term goals.
  2. Nod positively. Shake your head "Yes!" in class during lecture and class discussion or when hearing, reading and understanding a small point; it's all the small matters that form the whole subject; so work to understand each detail. Of course the wide view is equally important for seeing how it fits and to understanding--not to learn by rote (not by memorizing). The goal is to understand, not just to memorize nonsense (as it might seem without a better understanding).
  3. Develop the jigsaw of bits that you understand into the big picture like a puzzle. Concepts are to understand... But, memorizing rules, axioms, postulates, identities, concepts, history and definitions must be mastered, and then applied and manipulated in math and science, even details of history, foreign language, spelling or grammar, etc. must be mastered by memorizing and then applying them.
  4. Decide to puzzle-it-out; make your way through the maze... Many things like 1000 piece puzzles are not like a snap of your fingers--a subject to learn is like a big, new puzzle--but it is based on what you've done before and what you already know and built up. That is of course why there are fundamentals to never forget and review as you advance... You will begin to put the ideas together. Develop the small bits understood into the big picture like a jigsaw puzzle.
  5. Get in a habit of devoting time and mind-power: meet your own expectations that you will think, listen actively and read actively with total concentration like an extreme-athlete concentrates on the dangerous moves. Every move of a snow boarder or skier is a risk and a challenge. A great Become a Great Youth Athlete is on the edge; s/he knows what the other people are doing. So it is in your career, your art, your studying, your teaching, and your business: be there--on top of it. At the top of your game.
  6. Be interested: Avoid getting bored: so don't study the cracks in the floor tiles, or the grain patterns of the door or woodwork, or analyze the speaker's accent; that's called "spacing out" a form of dissociation...[2]
    • Some people appear to use milder forms of spacing out (but not when you need to listen and be aware of other people) as a strategy to get by under stress to avoid being overwhelmed. If you did not have this ability get in the zone to some degree, you might otherwise go nuts from emotional or sensory overload.[2]
  7. Purposely pay close attention to whomever has the floor. Keep your eye on the "ball" in sports or in keeping up with what people are doing in any competitive activity or business. Well in class, that means listen to the teacher and to the students who are participating.
  8. Smile and do a thumbs-up like when you understand a step in reading or listening, like getting an answer to a question. Build on the things that make sense, be glad when you understand.
  9. Say affirmations like "Okay, yeah!", "That's the idea!" or "You got it!" and "That's how to do (I did) it!" or "Sharp idea!"

Be a bit of a fanatic

  1. Participate in the whole meeting or class activity, discussion, your small group, or paperwork/board work (go to the board and try the problem). Be into it. Be on.
  2. Be agreeable, working with the manager/teacher and contributing to discussions with coworkers/or fellow students who give solutions (putting solutions on the chalk-/or marker-board) -- helping sort out ideas or showing how the answer is/was found. Being positive, involved, if only smiling, nodding "yes", saying "Right; I agree!" which makes you alert and engaged!
  3. Get into the subject as if it belongs to you. Don't fight it! Try reciting main ideas in your mind when there is a lull or pause in presentation, material, or lecture in other training; don't break the reverie. People can feel as if they're living in a bubble, which they don't necessarily wish to come out of... Concentrating and feeling protected by some sort of separation from the rest of the world. It helps feeling generally relaxed and hyper-focused on the here and now.[2] Committing complexities to memory and understanding it in context is necessary. Make it part of you... not just the facts; the drama, the scheme of it all; what is it, and how does each concept fit into the whole panorama of your subject.
  4. Be on time; stay up to date: do the homework in your area of expertise or in school... Get help to clarify ideas or technical matters if you need it. Maybe you have a friend in the same class who will work on studying for a big sales presentation or a test or hard homework or other assignments with you. Make a friend! Do your part.

    ~ Be like a performer or an athlete in the zone. You can find that space for that special activity in the rush and crush of the moment when working to finish on a deadline, or to finish a work. Polish that piece of a report or that creative writing...

Checkout the highlights

  1. Read captions, footnotes, subtopics when reading the chapter or a financial report, check out the boldface and italics, quotes, etc. You can pick up a lot Scan backward through the material to help see how the conclusion was reached.
  2. Take short rest Go on a wikiBreak when reading or studying; try standing up while scanning over the material. Change your posture. Try to get into a kind of mind-control, almost like self-hypnosis, if you need to use some meditation, and use prayer.
  3. Underline or highlight important issues. Make dots next to things to think about and check marks for things understood, etc. Disciplines that are intensively connected to visualizing and imagining are especially able to be absorbing to your mind and even nerve racking. So try to relax a little.

Techno Analytics

  1. Get up for the technical and analytical matters by kinda being on the edge. Relax your muscles and your mind occasionally--don't get too tight, but stay engaged and involved in the topic at hand.
  2. Take good notes. Study the company products and know the subject backward and forward. Learn to abbreviate long words. By getting it down on paper you are forced to concentrate.
  3. Develop an avid interest in the subject, by really trying to listen and comprehend each sentence of the material, and you will become sharper, keener and wiser... You are paying attention even if you are a little bit confused. Confusion can develop into clarity by understanding each sentence and each paragraph.
  4. Be sure you know and understand your assignment, objectives -- how to do your job, as a unique individual with unique needs and backgrounds. Obviously, one must/should take responsibility for ones own success in work or learning experiences in ones own way.
  5. Do what works for you: as a strategy. Learning styles come from the perspective that you, as an individual, respond uniquely to the world in ones own way. This as a result offers experience as an approach to learning (your practical needs versus courses of theory) which is called an "experiential model of learning." [3]


  • Consider dropping a college course and try again next semester, if you need a chance to "re-concentrate" (study and get it clear). For example, when you don't think your grade will be good enough for your objectives, i.e.: the Dean's List: Honor Roll!
    • Give yourself a chance to come back with some understanding gained from this sort of "course introduction" -- from which you withdrew to start over.
    • Study terminology and concepts, in the meantime, to be ready take the course again.
  • While trying to learn in your own way, it doesn't help to answer the wrong questions (misunderstanding) -- or to use a procedure that was for yesterday's assignment (was up to date), but is not today's concept... So be in touch with the reality of always changing goals and next plan.


  • The "dumb questions" are ones that you do not ask, but need answers (but were asked by no-one).
  • Not accepting the teacher, subject, assignments, or concepts--means a "mental block" and likely confusion or withdrawal. So then it's harder to pay attention or to understand. Your best motivation is impossible when you are not "in", so get involved.
  • Be bold. Never fear: "asking too many questions."

    Be polite, but ask! Lean forward, but if you let critics put you off -- then you may "slump-down" in your seat, in your class grade and in your frame of mind.
  • Do not accept less than being on the top of your game. Don't coast or sit. Make sure you are getting good traction: keeping a grasp and making the necessary Put More Effort into School and Chores... in the zone (learning).

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