How long can you pay attention? I mean really pay attention? Do you skim? Or do you read? Have you gotten distracted while reading this?
I have noticed that my ability to pay attention has shrunk over the past few years. I seem to be constantly distracted. I check my phone an embarrassingly large number of times per day. I have to constantly pull my attention back to what I was doing. Even writing this paragraph I have had to pull my attention back three times.
Is this something we need to accept? Or can something be done?
Human brains are adaptable. We learn new skills. We learn how to extrapolate the knowledge we have into new situations. We learn how to use new tools, new machines and new ways of thinking. With each of these changes comes physiological changes; regions of our brains have grown more prominent while others have shrunk.
Is it so illogical,then to think that our brains are being rewired by technology?
A study by Microsoft in 2015 found that our that the digital lifestyle makes it difficult to focus. We flit from device to device, constantly shifting our attention, never able to stay focused on any one thing. The study found that our average attention span has shrunk to 8 seconds…shorter than that of a goldfish.
Looking At Acquired ADD
A researcher at Harvard Medical School has take to calling this “Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder.” It mimics the symptoms of non-acquired ADD, such as difficulty focusing, problems paying attention and short attention spans. Unlike non-acquired ADD, though, you can train yourself to get past these things.
What Can Be Done?
There are some simple things you can do to increase your focus and attention span.
- Meditate. Meditation requires you to focus on something – your breath, a mantra, sounds – while excluding other thoughts from your mind. The practice of meditation, and stretching the time you can meditate will strengthen your ability to pay attention in other situations.
- Exercise. A study done at the University of Illinois found that students with ADHD who took a brisk walk were able to pay attention longer. Taking a short, brisk walk can help you focus for the short term.
- Drink water. The brain fatigue that we experience when dehydrated can zap our ability to pay attention. Make sure you get enough water so that you’re not fighting a physical fight to pay attention.
- Single task. Not only can the brain not truly multitask (it is constantly switching between activities), it can make the ability to pay attention worse. Practice single tasking. Remove temptations that pull at your attention: put your phone out of sight; clear off the desk; work in full screen mode.
- Play a game.No, not Candy Crush. A game called dual n-back is designed to help you pay attention. It is available on most platforms.
Do you feel like your ability to pay attention has shrunk? What have you tried to reclaim it? Share below.