In a culture of rapid pace and endless distractions swarming around us, it has become increasingly difficult to employ a laser-like focus on whatever is requiring our attention at the moment. Our attention spans have decreased with the rapid growth of technology, entertainment, and daily obligations at work and at home. If you want to strengthen your focus and increase your attention span, it helps to know what causes it so you can know how to combat it effectively.
According to research, a short attention span is caused by conditions such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, depression, and learning disabilities. It can even be caused by multitasking, which gradually causes our brains to lose that concentrated focus on a single task.
Here are several proven ways to increase our short attention spans.
Ask questions and stay engaged. During a lecture or training session, or even when listening to podcasts or watching a documentary, keep your mind actively engaged by asking questions during the lecture. Asking questions keeps your curiosity satisfied and growing. Also, taking handwritten notes improves our attention and listening more effectively than taking notes on an iPad or a computer, where there are bound to be a stream of endless distractions emanating from it.
Meditate. Meditating for about 20 to 30 minutes a day is crucial for our mental health and will help lengthen our attention spans. The purpose of meditation is not to empty our minds, but to redirect our thoughts and to focus on positive thoughts and emotions. Meditation can also include focusing solely on our surroundings, so it’s imperative to meditate in a calm, yet stimulating environment. What it all narrows down to is focus. So the more we strengthen our focus, the longer our attention span will be.
Listen to music. Studies have shown that listening to classical music helps one pay attention! Listening to classical—no matter what the theme or mood of the piece—activates areas of the brain involved with paying attention and making predictions. Have you tried listening to classical music while studying, cleaning, reading, writing, or even driving? Because classical music helps the mind focus, our quality of work (or whatever we are doing while listening) is much higher because we can truly focus on what we are doing. So blast that Mozart!
Stay hydrated. Water is paramount for our minds and bodies to function at their maximum level. Even a 2 percent decrease in hydration can impact one’s ability to focus properly! So make sure you have plenty of water in your system before doing something that demands great concentration.
Exercise. Physical activity improves us mentally by helping one to focus as well. But exercise doesn’t always have to be strenuous; a 30-minute walk is just enough to stimulate the concentration areas of our brains and improve cognitive functions. Want to know something fascinating? Studies from the University of Illinois discovered that students with ADHD who participated in 20 minutes of exercise regularly were able to pay attention longer and even scored higher on academic tests, particularly in reading comprehension!
Stop multitasking! While being able to multitask may make one feel more productive, and while it is rewarded when done on the job, multitasking hinders our cognitive performance when we do it habitually. According to research, multitasking negatively impacts our ability to pay attention and recall information. It is a fact that working on only one task at a time is far more productive than attempting to work at several tasks at a time. Monotasking—performing one task at a time—helps one to be present and focus and, ultimately, helps us to stay calm.
Sleep, sleep, sleep…while most of us depend on caffeinated beverages such as coffee and Coca Cola to keep us alert, we tend to forget how our minds benefit from a good night’s sleep! Quality sleep rejuvenates our brains and renews our energy level, which is advantageous because our attention spans are fueled by our energy levels. If we’re tired, we cannot focus properly. It also helps to not engage with smart devices prior to falling asleep and right after waking up.
Once you become focused on applying these strategies, your attention span will take you far.