There are many ways to improve your focus as a law student, but sometimes the simplest things can be a huge help. Fidget spinners boomed in popularity a few years ago, and though their presence has faded, other fidget toys have entered the market. Fidgets are well documented as a tool to help people with disabilities such as anxiety or ADHD focus in environments like a classroom, but even if you don’t have one of these disabilities, a fidget may help you cope with the lack of focus that comes from ordinary law school stress.
If you suspect that your ability to focus is being impaired by something like ADHD or anxiety, please seek appropriate treatment – this is not medical advice.
Fidgets aren’t just hype. Humans are sensation seeking by nature and different levels of external stimulation work best for different people. We adjust our environments to the appropriate level of stimulation for the task at hand, and fidgets are an easily controlled environmental factor. They are used to provide sensory input and tactile distractions in a way that doesn’t interfere with learning. They allow the brain to filter out other extra sensory information, so they help improve attention and concentration. A fidget toy may encourage self-modulation and allow you to hone in on important information.
Not everyone will benefit from using a fidget toy, but if you find yourself spacing out in class or while you are trying to study, there is no harm in giving them a shot. You may find that one kind works better for you than another, so experiment to see how they can suit your preferences. Some people find that doodling or doing low-level movements like ankle and shoulder rolls accomplish the same thing.
Don’t think you need to buy something that is specifically marketed as a fidget toy to get the benefits – just about anything you can touch or hold can be used as one. People have had good luck with ordinary items like paper clips, smooth stones, and putty. Using a fidget in conjunction with other coping strategies like regular exercise and getting enough sleep can help you improve your ability to focus on and absorb dense materials.
Everyone fidgets. It’s not always deliberate, but it is hard to sit anywhere for an extended period of time without moving. Fidget toys can help channel your attention so that you can do a better job of paying attention in class, and may help you avoid distracting behaviors like drumming or clicking your pen. Many students bring laptops to class and allow themselves to zone out on social media during lectures, sometimes unconsciously. This is a terrible waste of time and a fidget can be one way to break that cycle.
These fidgets serve an important purpose, but watch out for your neighbors. Fidget spinners are mesmerizing – that’s sort of the point. They’ve been banned from many a classroom because they’re distracting to other students. There are plenty of other options. My personal favorite is small magnets. They’re easy to manipulate and don’t make noises or a mess. Some people like playing with different putties. These are fine, but can be messy.
Whatever you choose, make sure it is silent and has a low visual profile. The goal is for the fidget to fade into the background as your focus increases.
At Home (or wherever you Study)
You have a lot more flexibility when it comes to studying. Some people do really well pacing while reading, some need loud environments, and some can only focus in silence. If you find yourself prone to distraction, incorporating a fidget into your studying may help you remember things in greater detail.
My mom used to tell me that chewing a particular kind of gum while studying and then chewing that same gum while taking an exam would help me remember important facts. I’m not entirely sure that was true, but, like playing with fidgets, chewing gum is a sensory experience that can help you ignore external distractions. Experiment with different sensory tools (this is a broad category!) until you find something that clicks for you. This can be as easy as popping bubble gum or drinking sparkling water.
If you study better while using a fidget, try to use one in class or during exams, if permitted. It is always a good idea to prepare for tests as you intend to take them.
Some professors are very strict about what you are allowed to bring into the room during exams, and you should follow those rules. Violating them can lead to academic sanctions, or worse. If you have leeway or flexible professors, the suggestions for bringing fidgets to class would apply and you should feel comfortable bringing something that will not distract you or your classmates. However, if there are hard rules against bringing anything into the room, and you have a qualifying disability, you will need to request an accommodation.
It’s a good idea to request accommodations (not just for fidgets, but for all accommodations) as early as possible in your law school career, just in case you want to use similar accommodations during the bar exam. The bar examiners are more likely to view your request favorably if you can show a pattern of having used the accommodation before in school and on other standardized tests.
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